Plymouth UCC parish to celebrate 400th anniversary, here’s what they’re planning

OLD COLONY MEMORIAL – The Church of the Pilgrimage, Plymouth’s United Church of Christ parish, will celebrate its 400th anniversary with a weekend commemoration on Oct. 29 and 30.

The commemoration will be highlighted by a special performance of “A Pilgrim Canticle,” an abridged version of a collection of anthems, hymns, narration and readings that follow the journey, arrival, and many challenges of the first settlers in the new world all those years ago.

The quadricentennial event, “Celebrating 400+ Years of Pilgrimage,” will feature the first local visit from the national leader of the UCC church in more than a century and a half.


Visit from UCC church leader

The Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ, will address “The Shame and Scandal of Christianity” during Saturday’s commemorative events. Dorhauer will also preach and deliver the sermon, “That They All May Be One,” at Sunday morning’s worship service.

In this file photo, the Rev. Gary Marks give a blessing during a Pilgrim Progress procession on Burial Hill.

“A Pilgrim Canticle” is rooted in the writings of the Rev. John Robinson, the first pastor of the Pilgrims as they arrived in Plymouth, and Govs. William Bradford and Edward Winslow. The piece was assembled by the late Rev. Gary Marks, a John Robinson scholar, and William B. Richter and Elizabeth Chapman Reilly, both former members of the church music staff.

Revisions have recently been implemented into the original version of “A Pilgrim Canticle” to ensure it focuses on the early parts of the story — the desire and subsequent pilgrimage for religious freedom and the building of a society based on a shared covenant.


‘A Pilgrim Canticle’ updates

The update to the original work was implemented by Kelley DePasqua, music department chair at Silver Lake Regional High School, and Richard Dower, chair of the music team. A newly commissioned choral anthem, “Out of Small Beginnings,” composed by Carson Cooman, concludes the performance, with text drawn from the writings of Bradford.

The newly commissioned choral anthem, “Out of Small Beginnings” by composer Carson Cooman, will be dedicated to the late Rev. Gary Marks, left, former minister of The Church of the Pilgrimage, and Rev. Dr. Peter Gomes, Church of the Pilgrimage friend and founding celebration committee chair.

The work was first performed in 1996 as a facet of a community-wide celebration of the 375th anniversary of the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth. The performance is dedicated to Marks and the late Rev. Dr. Peter Gomes, the celebrated Baptist minister who used to preach at the church every Labor Day.

Admission to many of the weekend’s events are free with registration at sneucc.org. Tickets to Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. performance of “A Pilgrim Canticle” are $20, available at brownpapertickets.com.

The performance is directed by DePasqua, with accompaniment by church organist Michael Eaton and features a festival chorus comprised of the Church’s Sanctuary Choir and alumni singers and select readers.


Marks, who served as pastor of the church for decades before his retirement in 2011, was a driving force in organizing the commemoration.

He started planning for the anniversary in 2018, with the expectation of holding the event in the fall of 2020, during the town’s 400t h anniversary. The celebration was postponed until this fall by the COVID-19 pandemic. Marks died in the interim, last October.

Kathy Marks, Gary’s widow and co-chair of the quadricentennial organizing committee, said the commemoration will look back on the church’s rich history, but also ahead to its continuing mission or pilgrimage.

She noted the weekend events will include a tour of nearby Burial Hill and will feature workshops with various community partners to expand on the congregation’s work in the community.

The national leader’s visit and the Burial Hill tours will reflect on the last visit of the church’s national president in 1865 and a famous effort to unite congregations of the church in the North and South after the divisive Civil War.

Kathy Marks said her husband was all about finding the middle ground and that same philosophy could apply to the divisiveness splitting the nation today. She said the Church of the Pilgrimage is also committed to moving forward, while acknowledging its own past and looks to repair its relationship with Indigenous people of the community.

“Celebrating 400+ Years of Pilgrimage,” is organized by the 400+ Committee, which includes Kathy Marks and Co-chair Linn Peterson as well as Mark Coombs, Richard Dower, Brian Payne, Rev. Dr. Doug Showalter, Rev. Stephen Washburn and Rev. Dianne Arakawa.

For more information about the event, the church or its community and beliefs, visit churchofthepilgrimage.org, call the church office at 508-746-3026, email office@8townsquare.org, or follow The Church of The Pilgrimage on Facebook.

By Rich Harbert, Old Colony Memorial