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American Roots

by the Rev. Raymond Hess

In June, Deborah and I went to my prep school reunion at The Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia. We were able to visit some of the wonderful historic sights around Philadelphia – the Liberty Bell, Christ Episcopal Church, Betsy Ross’ home, the Ben Franklin museum, Independence Hall, and Valley Forge. Visiting these places was a great preparation for celebrating July 4 th this year.

Independence-Day-PicturesSome contrasts struck me as we visited the historic sights of our nation. We had not been to Philadelphia for a long time, and there is a new entrance way to see the Liberty Bell. The entrance has displays about the famous bell and describes the struggle for freedom in our nation, a struggle that continues in our day. The displays especially emphasized the irony that many of the founders of our nation fought for freedom, yet kept African-American slaves in their homes. Many have been left out of our freedom and democracy – blacks and other people of color, women (who could not vote), native Americans, and more recently gays and lesbians. The hope of the Liberty Bell is that freedom will ring for all in our nation.

When we visited Independence Hall, the guide told us about the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the creation of the Constitution that happened in that place. He also said that Independence Hall was one of the important sites where people could see the body of President Lincoln after his assassination. This hall has been a place of freedom and a sign of our struggle in civil war and violence.

Deb and I also were able to take a tour of Valley Forge. I was impressed by the description of the sacrifice by the soldiers who fought for our liberty – their struggle through the harsh winter in Valley Forge and bravery in battle. They also struggled with the great threats of disease and infections. Many of them never were paid for their service and had a hard time after the war making a living; they did not get to reap the rewards of forming the new nation. The guide also told us that many of the farmers of the area around Valley Forge were ruined by the war because of the destruction of their farmland by the fighting. Our nation was founded through the sacrifices of many little-known and non-famous people.

We were moved to visit Christ Church, Philadelphia again on our recent visit. This beautiful church building reminded us that our Episcopal Church played a central role in the forming of our nation. Many of those who formed our new nation were members of the Episcopal Church. These people where guided by their faith in creating our nation, and the Episcopal Church itself was organized as a representative democracy, just like our country.

What do I take away from our visit to our American roots? My hope is that as followers of Jesus, we will continue to be people of compassion and non-violence in our nation. I hope that we will press on to make our country a place of freedom for all people. In a time of contentious divisions in our nation, I hope that we will practice understanding, respect, and civil dialogue.

I wish us all a wonderful celebration of our freedom and democracy this Independence Day! `


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