Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Adventure of Stewardship

Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
The Messenger
November 2009

The Adventure of Stewardship

We all owe thanks to this year’s Stewardship Committee. Under Karen Koster’s able leadership, the committee has developed an informative, creative and exciting stewardship campaign. The testimonials given in church over the course of several Sundays were inspirational and challenging. The very attractively-designed printed materials clearly explain how pledging at Grace Church works and how the church pays its bills. If we haven’t already, I hope that all of us prayerfully consider our pledge for 2010 and return our pledge cards by Sunday, November 15th.

The stewardship campaign is important, but of course stewardship is much more than the once-a-year filling out of a pledge card and the periodic writing of a check to Grace Church. Just how important is stewardship? Well, stewardship is so important that a resolution approved at the 1988 General Convention of the Episcopal Church declared it to be “the main work of the Church.” The resolution also included these stirring words, “Stewardship is an adventure, an expedition into the kingdom where we find our lives through losing them for the sake of the Gospel. It is an invitation to offer our gifts for the purpose for which we were created – the only purpose that will fulfill us.”

It may seem strange to describe stewardship as an adventure. But, stop and think about it. What could be a greater adventure than committing ourselves to what really matters – to serving God by serving God’s people? If you’re not convinced, or if you think it’s not really possible to find our lives through losing them for the Gospel, the history of the Church is replete with the stories of men and women who have gone on the adventure of stewardship – who have given of themselves in truly remarkable ways. Each year on October 14 the Church honors one of the great adventurers in stewardship, Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky (1831-1906).

Schereschewsky was born to Jewish parents in Lithuania. Although he was orphaned at a young age, he was considered to be a promising young man so he received an education geared toward becoming a rabbi. While studying in Germany he came into contact with Anglican missionaries and also read a Hebrew translation of the New Testament. These experiences transformed his life, leading him to convert to Christianity, come to the United States, and prepare for ordained ministry. He began by studying at a Presbyterian seminary but after two years he joined the Episcopal Church and completed his studies at the General Theological Seminary in New York.

Schereschewsky’s adventure in stewardship was just beginning. Upon his graduation and ordination to the diaconate in 1859, he volunteered to serve the fledgling Anglican church in China. During the long voyage he taught himself how to write in Chinese. After his arrival, he was ordained a priest and began his monumental work of translating parts of the Bible and the Prayer Book into various Chinese languages. In 1877 he was elected Bishop of Shanghai where he later founded St. John’s University. He served as bishop until 1883 when he was forced to resign because of an attack of paralysis.

Although he had already lived a remarkable life, Schereschewsky’s adventure in stewardship was still not over. Despite many obstacles, he found a way to return to Asia and continue his translations. Here’s how his last years are described in the biographical sketch in Lesser Feasts and Fasts: “With heroic perseverance Schereschewsky completed his translation of the Bible, typing some 2,000 pages with the middle finger of his partially crippled hand. Four years before his death, he said, ‘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.’”

Our adventure in stewardship may never take us out of Morris County. Nevertheless, what was true for Schereschewsky is also true for us. Each one of us has been given many gifts by God and we are called to give them all away in the service of God and our neighbors. Our current focus on stewardship provides us with an opportunity to reflect on our gifts and abilities and to look carefully for ways to serve. We may hesitate, afraid to try something new or thinking that we’re not up to the job. I’m sure there must have been many times during his long and adventurous life when Schereschewsky thought he wasn’t up to the task God had given him. Yet, each time, in the unlikeliest and most challenging situations, God’s grace gave him the strength he needed to do God’s work.

When we hesitate to use our gifts or don’t feel up to the adventure of stewardship, this sentence from the Collect for the Feast of Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky can be our prayer to God:

“Lead us, we pray, to commit our lives and talents to you, in the confidence that when you give your servants any work to do, you also supply the strength to do it.” Amen.