Written by Megan E. Thomas
For an older generation, sometimes referred to as the “cradle of bishops”, Sunday morning worship was morning prayer. And the songs intended for that day always seem to be remembered Celebrate deodorant (Psalm 100).
O be happy in the Lord, all countries! These words are a bucket that collects my memories of Sunday morning on the choir bench from a deep well, swings my patent leather feet and presses my black cap against the back of my head. And singing: “O be happy in the Lord, you all LANDS, serve the Lord with joy and stand before his presence with a SONG! “Church music is the music of my earliest memories. As a result, I cannot hear Psalm 100 – in any of its various translations – without singing, be it as an Anglican song or to a metric hymn or one of the great hymns for choirs. Any choir director , who was worth his salt, composed a setting for Psalm 100, reproduced it and pasted it onto the back of the hymns.
So why a cry of joy in this first week of Lent?
Because today the Episcopal Church remembers Reverend Paul Cuffee (1757-1812), a member of the Shinnecock nation who served local communities in the east of Long Island near today’s Hamptons. It was a time in early American history when the indigenous people of southern New England had already been decimated by disease and violence. Those remaining on Long Island were greatly reduced. (Rev. Paul Cuffee should not be confused with his close contemporary, the Quaker abolitionist of the same name.)
“Priest Paul,” as he was sometimes called, appeared in a number of New England clergymen who were inspired by the great awakening of the 1740s, including Reverend Samson Occom and Cuffees grandfather, Reverend Peter John. Raised and ordained by English colonists, they primarily served and supported indigenous peoples.
Paul Cuffee was ordained to the Congregation in 1790 and helped found a church in Hampton Bay. In 1798, the New York Missionary Society commissioned Cuffee as a missionary to the east of Long Island, where he worked at Shinnecock and Montauk until his death. His tombstone, built by the New York Missionary Society, is still on Shinneock tribal land. It is reading,
In memory of Rev. Paul Cuffee, an Indian of the Shinnecock tribe who has been employed by society in eastern Long Island for the last thirteen years of his life, where he worked with loyalty and success. Humble, pious and tireless in witnessing the gospel of God’s grace, he finished his course on March 7, 1812 with joy at the age of 55 years and 3 days,
His grave is surrounded by a modest white fence on the floor where his church once stood and near Long Island Rail Road. Perhaps a suitable resting place for a man who was used as a missionary. (The photo above is from Jeremy Dennis, an artist and a member of the Shinnecock tribal nation. www.jeremynative.com/onthissite/, Use with permission.)
The psalm that was appointed for Paul Cuffees feast day is psalm 100. Perhaps the church chose it To cheer because the mission society remembered him as a man who joyfully testified to the good news. Priest Paul probably said Psalm 100 regularly, probably in the King James Version. Personally, I like to imagine that he taught his congregations how to add the hymn “Old Hundredth.,“
All people live on earth
Sing to the Lord in a cheerful voice.
He serves with fear; to continue to tell his praise.
Come before him and be happy.
O be happy! No matter that we are now in the festive Lent. It doesn’t matter that my hands get cracked from frequent hand washing and disinfecting. It doesn’t matter that it’s Super Tuesday as I write, and this evening’s news is full of political problems.
I will be happy and serve the Lord with joy and step before his presence with a song, sure that the Lord is God, that I am his, a sheep of his pasture, ready to step into his presence with gratitude and good by him speak name because he is gracious, his compassion is eternal and his truth lasts from generation to generation.
Reverend Megan E. Thomas is a priest at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Ewing, New Jersey, and a lawyer in private practice.
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