From the Rector
An Icon of Courage
The story of Samuel Isaac Jacob Schereschewsky, whose feast day we celebrated yesterday, is remarkable by any standard. Born to Jewish parents in Lithuania in 1831 and orphaned at an early age, he was raised in his older half-brother’s home until the age of 15. He then traveled to Germany to study for the rabbinate and there came across a translation of the New Testament in Hebrew. His study of the text led to his becoming Christian and a subsequent emigration to the United States.
After initialing attending a Presbyterian seminary in Pennsylvania, he was intrigued with catholicity and found his way into the Episcopal Church, entering the General Theological Seminary in New York City. There he responded to a call to be a missionary in China, and after ordination in 1859, he traveled to Shanghai, arriving there on December 21st, 1859. All this, and Samuel Schereschewsky was still just 28.
In Shanghai and later in the city of (what was then known to the Western world as) Peking, Schereschewsky was a missionary, though according to some accounts, most notably The Jewish Bishop and the Chinese Bible: S.I.J. Schereschewsky, by Irene Eber, this work was not a particularly good fit. His skills of administration and management were not strong and at times he struggled mightily. Alongside this work, however, Schereschewsky tirelessly pursued the translation of the Book of Common Prayer into Mandarin and began the work of translating the Scriptures into Wenli.
As it turns out, Schereschewsky had an extraordinary gift for language. In addition to several Chinese dialects, he was fluent in Yiddish, Polish, German, Russian and English, along with his depth of knowledge in biblical Hebrew and Greek. Stay with that for a moment. But this alone is not why we understand him to be a saint of the Church.
As the Anglican Church in China grew, he was asked to be bishop, which he at first refused. But when asked again, he was consecrated as bishop of Shanghai in 1877. Again, though, this is not why he is iconic for us as a way to see the way of Christ clearly.
For he only served in the episcopate for six years, resigning as a crippling paralysis began to take hold of his body. Some refer to the degenerative illness as sunstroke, others as Parkinson’s disease. What is clear, though, is that slowly over time, Schereschewsky lost control over many of the functions of his body. No longer able to serve as the bishop of Shanghai, he faced a terrible situation: while his muscles were failing him, his mind was as sharp as ever.
The decision that he made was remarkable. It is unclear what preceded it, how many sleepless nights or despairing days. But he decided to finish the translation of the Old and New Testaments into Wenli, a process that took over two decades. A process that in its later years had him using the one finger that he still had use of. Every day, with great effort and barely discernable results.
This was one of his reflections looking back on his life, “I have sat in this chair for over twenty years. It seemed very hard at first. But God knew best. He kept me for the work for which I am best fitted.” An important theological discussion can be had about divine and human agency. But Samuel Isaac Jacob Schereschewsky’s faithful determination to do what he could with what he had is for us iconic. We all face decision points like this, some more demanding and challenging than others. Our participation can feel laughably small when compared against the grand actions and statements around us. But we are not always called to the big stage or the bright lights. Sometimes we are called to the small, heart-filled actions of what is simply directly before us, in spite of the pain and finitude of life.
Thanks be to God, that the witness of Samuel Schereschewsky is before us as beacon, reminding us that no matter what is placed before us, with God’s grace, a courageous response remains.
Mental Math is tricky, Proportional Giving makes it easier
After two years of stipended living in the Episcopal Service Corps, I finally have a real job with an actual paycheck and it’s thrown my personal finances into total chaos. Imagine actually having a little bit of money to spend! I don’t even know what to do with myself.
I no longer have to hesitate quite so long when I want to order takeout. Paying my phone bill doesn’t quite give me palpitations anymore. An oil change doesn’t have to fit into my ‘entertainment’ budget for the month. The unexpected side-effect of this new multiplied payroll, however, has been a hesitancy in thinking about my pledge to All Souls. Yikes.
I dutifully took the percentage I used last year to calculate my pledge and used it again this year and, wow was the final number different. I mentally slammed the brakes and went through the Great Litany of Excuses why I could reason a lower pledge, but I just couldn’t get away from how true the percentage felt to me. Every dollar amount that felt safe to me, the proportion felt too low.
So I crunched the other numbers for my finances and drew up the convicting pie chart. Do I really feel better tithing to Verizon than to All Souls? Do I really offer more money at the altars of Chipotle and Philz than to my own faith community? Why does gasoline feel like an intractable expense when church doesn’t?
When I think about the blessings in my life—the people and places of importance to me—All Souls always comes in near top of the list. So this year, I am leaning heavy on that Truth and committing my pledge as the percentage I think my faith community ought to occupy in my checkbook.
It’s an act of faith, but I choose to believe that those who sow abundantly, in turn, reap abundantly and with the investment going to a community that has sponsored me so graciously these past few years in my discernment, I trust all shall be well.
A Christian Response to Gun Violence
The grief around senseless killings involving firearms has put a pall over our nation, and many concerned Christians wonder what we can do. Join thousands of people around the world for a free online class called “A Christian response to gun violence.” The course is taught by Episcopal bishops Eugene Sutton (Maryland) and Ian Douglas (Connecticut), who are co-founders of Bishops United Against Gun Violence. On October 25th at 12:00 pm, St. Paul’s, Oakland, and the Diocesan Peace Justice and Hunger Commission will offer the course in the Chapter Room of St. Paul’s, 114 Montecito, Oakland. Please contact Paula Hawthorn by email or at 510-601-8388 for information.
In this 45 minute class, you will learn from four video presentations:
– The Unholy Trinity with Eugene Sutton
– Violence and the Bible with Eugene Sutton
– A Theology of Violence with Ian Douglas
– Christian Responsibility with Ian Douglas
This class is ideal for those who are looking for ways to think more deeply about this pressing social issue.
From the Associate for Liturgy and Music
Souls, Saints – what’s up with November 1?
From time immemorial, human societies have had ways to remember the departed. A select few, of course, have monuments in stone – the Pyramids of Egypt were built by and for specific pharaohs; the Taj Mahal was built to memorialize Mumtaz Mahal, wife of the emperor Shah Jahan; and the Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson Memorials in Washington, DC were civic projects which leave no doubt as to their intent to glorify their namesakes.
Such monuments, while they may have been inspired by the religious beliefs about the afterlife held by their communities, over time come to stand independently of that belief. Many more private memorials stand looking to some kind of permanence, which may or may not be related to the beliefs of either the departed or their descendants. My grandparents are both entombed in a mausoleum – a reflection of their beliefs, both religious and cultural. There’s a certain comfort in knowing that I can “find” them in a particular place, but the photographs and memories I have are where they truly live.
As a parish named “All Souls,” we are collectively in an interesting spot. Did you know that there is actually no All Souls day on the calendar of the church year? November 2 is, to be sure, the “Commemoration of All Faithful Departed,” but that makes for a rather unwieldy name for a church. As a parish name, the 19 parishes named All Souls are tied for 64th place with St. Simon, while All Saints is the 10th most common name, with 219 parishes sharing that name.
In order to put this whole celebration into perspective, we need to consider the entire trilogy of days coming soon. Hallowe’en gets its name from its role as “All Hallows’ Eve,” pointing to the next day, All Saints Day, November 1. This year, as happens every 7 years or so, we actually get to celebrate All Saints Sunday on its date, coincidentally the first Sunday of November in 2015.
In recent years, we have drawn on the very name of our parish in placing our domestic remembrances front and center through the ofrenda, the ritual altar associated with the Day of the Dead celebrations in Latin America. We are inviting the same kind of participation this year, but the frame will be different: we will be drawing on the Celtic tradition with a Tree of Life. Photos and small mementos will join names written on the leaves of the tree to create this year’s memorial space for All Souls. These tokens of those who have been special in our lives will remain throughout the final Sundays of the year, through November 22.
Join us in holding up the beloved of one another’s lives and sharing in this practice that is so much a part of our parish! As the hymn “I sing a song of the saints of God” concludes, “…they were, all of them, saints of God, and I mean, God helping, to be one too.” Amen!
– Christopher Putnam
Shattuck closed on Sunday
Make note that this Sunday, October 18, Shattuck will be closed from Rose to Haste for Sunday Streets Berkeley. Plan your route accordingly!
Stewardship Celebration Dinner
Our annual Stewardship Celebration Dinner is nearly here! Look forward to a festive potluck with the whole parish, good fun, fabulous music from the Hearts on Fire Gospel Choir, hilarity and gratitude. This night is not to be missed! Sign up online today or with Caroline McCall or Jeannie Koops-Elson on Sunday.
Guide my feet, Lord, while I run this race!
All Soles are hitting the streets at the Berkeley Half Marathon on November 22. This is a fun community run that includes 5K, 10K, and 13.1 mile races. Talk to Liz Tichenor to join the hearty parish crew running together. (And you can still make it to the 11:15 service in your All Soles race T-shirt!). If you don’t want to race, we’ll certainly welcome a cheering (and singing?) section! The half marathon route will go right up Shattuck, across Cedar – a short walk from All Souls.