The Church that Birthed America

Learning from Pilgrims’ global evangelization.

In reality, the Begijnhof’s English Reformed Church could be considered the sending church that birthed America. In Holland its remnant congregation faced hardships but sent more Pilgrims to America over the next decades. These and others founded churches and schools that a century on would power Great Awakenings on both sides of the Atlantic leading to great missionary movements. Sending provoking more sending.


AMSTERDAM—The brick alleyway leading to an inner courtyard may be lined with bicycles, but inside the cloister and across the lawn the English Reformed Church stands as it has since 1607.

The building itself dates to the Middle Ages and once served as a chapel for Beguines, a Catholic order that helped to care for the elderly in the housing enclave known as the Begijnhof. Following the Reformation it became a Protestant church and a haven for Separatists who fled England, the center of English worship in the Dutch Calvinist city.

About 100 Separatists worshipped in the garden chapel before most made their way to Leiden, and—as any fifth-grader in America should be able to tell you—40 of them set out in 1620 aboard the Mayflower.

It was a stormy passage before a brutal winter spent aboard the Mayflower in the New World harbor they called Plymouth Colony. Half the colonists died. But the Native Americans, led by the English-speaking Samoset, came to their aid, teaching them to hunt, fish, and plant crops. But upon arrival, William Bradford, fluent in Greek and Hebrew, recalled a Jewish service for thanksgiving and deliverance, birkat ha-gomel, and held a first Thanksgiving service even before the better-known harvest feast.

Bradford recounted the voyage as Moses leading God’s people, the Pilgrims arriving at  “a hideous and desolate wilderness,” then he turned to Psalm 107:

When they wandered in ye deserte wilderness out of ye way, and found no citie to dwell in, both hungrie & thirstie, their sowle was overwhelmed in them. Let them confess before ye Lord his loving kindness, and his wonderfull works before ye sons of men.

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