I grew up in the heartland of Congregationalism. The Pilgrims landed 10 miles and 365 years from my front door. Raised as a Unitarian Universalist in Massachusetts, I attended the town's "First Parish" church - the original congregational church that was founded with the expansion of the Plymouth Colony. The parish of Kingston, where I went to church, was the 5th parish established after the Plymouth parish was founded in 1620. It was and is the "Pilgrim church." Also claiming the title are the local UCC churches. How can this be?
Most of the congregations in Massachusetts adopted Unitarianism in the 1820s because of a highly dubious Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling called the "Dedham Decision." This case, ruled notably by a Unitarian judge, granted congregational voting rights to all members of a town (because Massachusetts was still technically a theocracy) versus only the regular-attending members of the church in towns where there was only one church. By the early 19th century, most towns were more theologically liberal than those who regularly attended church services. So after the Dedham Decision came down, most local churches became Unitarian by rule of general elections. This led many church-goers who were still trinitarians, our UCC ancestors, to break away and form their own churches. (There also may or may not have been some silver communion ware stolen on principle.)
Because of this contentious history, wherein two different denominations today - the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ - both claim to be the "church of the Pilgrims," I feel unusually familiar with the history and congregational roots of the United Church of Christ, despite not growing up UCC. Also perhaps because of the close history between the UUA and the UCC, my family has made the journey between the two denominations before. Both my parents grew up in the United Church of Christ: my mother at Riverside Church in New York and my father at First Congregational Church in Amherst, MA. They chose to raise me and my sister UU because it more explicitly matched their liberal, progressive worldview. My grandparents even joined us in the UU church when they relocated in old age from New York to Massachusetts. But because of my own journey of faith - and that of my sister and others - my family finds itself more or less back in the fold of the United Church of Christ. The joke that the UCC stands for "Unitarians Considering Christ," is less a joke than the uncomfortable admission of an identity crisis in my family.
So perhaps the best lesson to take away from this double-claim on the Pilgrim heritage is that it allows all of us to see ourselves in the story of those early religious pioneers. Perhaps we are all of us seeking to make our way in the world - crossing oceans of faith and doubt - to find our way home in God. All of us Pilgrims in the faith.