Pastor to the Pilgrims
Bridget had her arms around Mercy and Fear in the corner of their house. Her younger sisters were crying. Bridget just sat there, comforting them, while trying to make sense of what had happened. Earlier that day they watched as their father, John Robinson, was buried in the floor of St. Peter’s Church. The church was just across from where they lived; yet now it seemed so far away. Their father had been ill for only eight days. He had been so strong and in charge for so long. What would they do now?
John Robinson had big plans for his family, but he never thought those plans would happen without him. Born in Nottinghamshire in England, he believed he would be a pastor, completing his education at the University of Cambridge. After receiving both his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees, he remained at the university to teach four more years.
Agreeing with the Puritans
John began pastoring St. Andrew’s Anglican church in Norwich, England, in 1604. Norwich was home to a growing number of people who called themselves Puritans. The Puritans believed the Church of England was becoming too much like the Roman Catholic Church with its heavy emphasis on tradition and ritual rather than on the word of God.
John soon found himself in agreement with the Puritans, particularly when the King of England issued a proclamation requiring all Anglican ministers to conform to a new set of church rules. The pressure to conform became so great that John decided to officially leave the Church of England. He stepped down from his role in Norwich. He and his wife, for whom their oldest daughter Bridget was named, then moved in with her parents in Sturton-le-Steeple while they figured out what to do next.
Within two years John found himself working as assistant pastor in the church again, but this time his congregation wasn’t part of the official Church of England. Instead, they were a group of Puritans known as Separatists who met in the village of Scrooby, England, in a member’s home. As the Puritan movement began to grow throughout England, so did persecution against them by the Church of England.
First to Holland
John decided his congregation should move to Holland where they could enjoy religious freedom. The first time they tried to leave England, they were caught, jailed, and put on display as a public example. Two years later, they tried again. This time they were successful, eventually settling in Leiden, where John was ordained as their official minister. Others left England to join their congregation as well. Soon they had several hundred people attending.
John Robinson continued his studies in theology at Leiden University. He also began to write. Over the course of his life he wrote 62 essays and a handful of pamphlets defending and explaining Puritan beliefs.
Though the years in Holland were ones of spiritual growth the group of believers—now calling themselves Pilgrims—they also took an emotional toll. Fitting in to the Dutch culture proved more difficult than they imagined. They were English, and they wanted to live as the English. So John and his congregation made a decision to move again. They believed they could keep their English culture in the New World, while remaining free to worship God the way they believed the Bible directed them to worship.
John helped his people prepare for their big move, but when the actual time came for them to go, he stayed behind. Only 35 of the congregation’s hundreds left on the Mayflower for America. John felt strongly he needed to be where the majority of his church was, so though he craved a fresh start, he remained behind.
Staying in Holland with his family, John continued to preach and prepare the rest of the people to join their congregation in the New World. His greatest desire was to unite his congregation as a whole in America. Sadly, though, he never made it across the ocean. John became sick on February 22, 1625. One week later, he died in Holland.
Though John Robinson never made it to America, he continued to pastor the Pilgrim flock from a distance through letters until his death. His longing to be with them and encourage them in unity and perseverance was evident in those letters.
In 1891, he was recognized for his part in establishing the church in America. A bronze marker was placed on the wall of St. Peter’s Church where he was buried. The marker reads:
“In Memory of Rev. John Robinson, M.A.; Pastor of the English Church Worshipping Over Against This Spot, A.D. 1609-1625, Whence at his Prompting Went Forth The Pilgrim Fathers To Settle New England in 1620.”
— by Megan Dunham
Bible 2 Life
1 Timothy 6:10 reminds us that it isn’t money that is evil—but it’s the love of money that is the root of all kinds of evil. People have struggled with this concept since the beginning of time.
The people in John Robinson’s day struggled with it as well. John was concerned by how the people in his congregation desired to pursue financial gain and the division it caused among them. He worried about the people who left for America without a pastor to help guide them.
In the last letter he wrote to the Pilgrims before he died, he urged them, once again, to “Repent of all their sins, both known and unknown. Store up patience against the evil day, without which we take offense at the Lord himself in his holy and just works. Avoid the pursuit of private profit as a deadly plague and direct their efforts to general convenience.”
His words should be taken to heart by us still today, so that we take care to use God’s gifts for more than just personal gain and luxury.
In that Day
1580—Francis Drake completes his second circumnavigation of the globe; 1600—William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is performed for the first time; 1609—Galileo Galilei demonstrates his first telescope; 1611—The King James Bible is first published in London; 1620—The first merry-go-round is seen at a fair in Philippapolis, Turkey; 1621 - The Pilgrims observed what is now recognized as the first Thanksgiving.
A Pilgrim Museum in Holland
You probably know the story of how some Puritans left England back in the 1600s to begin a new life in America. Much has been written about their voyage across the sea and the struggles they faced once they arrived. But did you ever stop to think about what life was like for these same people before they set sail on the Mayflower?
Historians have studied these pre-American Pilgrims and set up a museum in their honor. The museum, called the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum, is in a building that was first built in 1365! It is located right next to the bell tower of the Hooglandse Kerk Church in Holland. Those who visit can get a first-hand taste of what life was like for Pilgrims before they came to America. Imagine getting to see the style of furniture they had, the type of dishes they ate on, and the kinds of wall décor they hung. It is all here at the museum.
Leiden is the same town were John Robinson pastored many Puritans before they came to America. The museum was established in 1997 by the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum Foundation. The founders’ goal is to educate the public about the Pilgrim way of life.
1___ John Robinson’s greatest wish was to _________.
a) meet John Calvin, b) pastor a church in Holland, c) join the Pilgrims in America
2___ The _________ were frustrated with the Church of England and desired to separate from it.
a) Anglicans, b) Catholics, c) Puritans
3___ In 1620, 35 members of John Robinson’s congregation set sail for America on the ___________.
a) Mayflower, b) Santa Maria, c) Plymouth Voyager
4 . . . . One of John Robinson’s greatest desires was to join his congregation in America. Was he
able to do that? Why or why not?