1st Anglican Service in the New World

Dan Graves, MSL

1st Anglican Service in the New World

Sir Francis Drake and his men plundered their way up the coast of South America, robbing and killing Spaniards with glee. Their ship, the Golden Hinde was battered by the time they reached the coast of what is now California. On this day, June 21, 1579, the first Sunday after Trinity, they landed for repairs in "a convenient and fit harbor." That landing ushered in a significant date in church history.

No one is quite sure just where Drake touched, but it is believed to have been on the shore of San Francisco Bay near the Golden Gate. A couple days afterward, probably on June 23rd or 24th Drake and his men participated in a religious service.

Leading the worship was the Anglican clergyman Rev. Francis Fletcher, who was not only the ship's chaplain but Drake's "historian." The two men had not always see eye to eye. Notes from earlier in the voyage indicate that some rough play took place between them. Whether this was in jest, or whether Francis Drake really was angry at his chaplain is unclear. Whatever the circumstances, Francis Fletcher led the service--the first Protestant service in North America.

A number of Indians gathered to watch the men. Drake had worried that these natives were blaspheming, because they received the English sailors as if they were gods. And so the rough sailors lifted their hands to heaven and prayed God to open the eyes of the idolaters "to the knowledge of him and of Jesus Christ, the salvation of the Gentiles."

The ship's chaplain, Francis Fletcher, read from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. This was the first time that it was used within the region that would become the United States.

Today, a 75 foot tall sandstone cross stands on a rise in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park to commemorate the service. Anglicans and other Protestants make pilgrimages to the site which naturally holds a special attraction for them because of its historic association.

Bibliography:

  1. City of San Francisco Recreation and Park Department. Historical Photo Archive. http://www.parks.sfgov.org
  2. Drake, Francis (from notes by Francis Fletcher and others). The World Encompassed. London: Nicholas Bovrne, 1628.
  3. Thomas, George Malcolm. Sir Francis Drake. New York: Morrow, 1972.
  4. Various internet articles.

Last updated July, 2007

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