Today's feast was the occasion of the first celebration of the Eucharist according to the prayer book rite in what is now the continental United States. The celebrant was the chaplain of Sir Francis Drake's ship, the Golden Hind and the celebration occurred while the Golden Hind was being prepared for a trip across the Pacific and around the tip of Africa to avoid the Spanish fleets.
It used to be believed that the place of this celebration was at Drake's Bay just North of San Francisco and the Golden Gate, but historians now seem to believe that the latitude which Drake posted was more nearly correct and that would place Drake's landing in the Oregon-Washington coast range. But the place is not important while the fact of the celebration is. Even as Drake claimed the territory around his landing for Elizabeth I and the English throne, the Eucharist claimed it for English and Anglican Catholicism.
In learning about the history of our country, we forget - or rather, we are not reminded, not taught - about the Anglican settlements of Virginia, about Roanoke and Jamestown because for political reasons beyond my taking time to explain here or now, the emphasis in American history is now on Plymouth and the Puritan dissenting settlement there. We are not taught about the Anglican majorities that signed the Declaration of Independence and wrote the Constitution of the United States. It is not pointed out to us that the form of government we find in our constitution was first to found in the government of the provinces of the English Church from the eighth century onward, that is to say a legislature consisting of a lower and upper house with an executive and a judiciary. In the case of the Church it was the archbishop with the house of clergy and the house of bishops which gave us the president with the House of Representatives and the Senate. No matter! It is all there for us to find out and to enjoy. The important thing to realize, to know is that where the prayer book tradition is strong, the tradition of ordered freedom with a value on the rights of every human being is also strong. Indeed, with the exception of Switzerland, the five nations with the greatest freedom are all those with a strong Anglican tradition in their history.
St John Baptist died as the result of his protest against vice and tyranny. That protest sprang from his faith and obedience to God which should be the fountain of all our actions as well. Let us remember his feast and keep it that way.