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Steeple Newsletter

On the High School Mascot: Congregational Letter

We must address that local Tribes find this symbol demeaning. In days in which images associated with slavery are being removed from breakfast foods, we have the opportunity to teach our youth the value of respecting and loving our neighbors as they need to be loved. 

by The Rev. Dr. Ginger Brasher-Cunningham on June 24, 2020

Dear Church Family, 
 
In these evolving days, we explore being followers of Christ as life feels explosive, confusing, overwhelming, and late. Today we narrow on one topic and focus our attention on the conversation surrounding the Guilford mascot. We understand that, for some, this is a tender topic. We ask that you prayerfully read on with an eye for inclusive community.
 
As people of faith we are called to support one another’s spiritual wellbeing and love neighbor as self. Therefore, when four Connecticut tribes have asked that the Guilford High School mascot be changed to an animal rather than a person, we must listen. 
 
We must address that local Tribes find this symbol demeaning. In days in which images associated with slavery are being removed from breakfast foods, we have the opportunity to teach our youth the value of respecting and loving our neighbors as they need to be loved. 
 
Additionally, as First Congregational Church, we are the connected with the Town of Guilford of the offices held by those the clergy/ politicians who negotiated questionable land deals with local Native communities. We remember that our congregation and the town were one, unitary political entity through those early years of “negotiation” and settlement. We are therefore also obliged to speak as a function and a responsibility of our office. 
 
In the case of First Church and Guilford, according to History of Guilford and Madison, Connecticut by Bernard Christian Steiner (1975), it wasn’t a hired translator or outside party that negotiated the contract with the local Native communities, but our second minister and Henry Whitfield’s son-in-law, Rev. John Higginson. Our own church history, written by Rev. William Moe in 1945, confirms this fact: “It was most natural for Mr. Higginson to follow Mr. Whitfield, as the second pastor of this church in 1650, as he had been the Indian interpreter for the pioneers, and one of the pillars of the church when organized…At an early age he united with the church, mingled with the local Indians and came to understand their language…he was recommended to Mr. Whitfield’s party as their interpreter in dealing with the Indians…He served as religious teacher until Mr. Whitfield’s resignation in 1650 and then as pastor until 1659.” Our church is part of this legacy. 
 
We stand at a threshold of understanding the complications of our past and how they continue to play out in our future. We can reflect on flags or symbols some declare heritage and realize they actually offend. We can discuss the setting and belief systems of those whom we appropriate in Guilford as a mascot and begin to digest that local tribes do not find this mascot an “honor.” We have an amazing opportunity at this critical time in our world, to hear the voices of those who have felt marginalized and in Christian spirit and with humble hearts love them anew.  
 
We support the efforts of many of the students at the high school to listen to the voices of our local tribal leaders and start the process of changing the mascot. 
 
Faithfully,
Ginger and Jake 

Read the full Steeple Newsletter for June 24, 2020 here. 

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