During the month of November, a variety of voices from around our Conference will be sharing the weekly Let’s Talk column around a thematic focus of gratitude. This week’s columnist is the Rev. Kathryn M. Schreiber, pastor & teacher of Berkeley Chinese Community Church.
“We Covenant with the Lord and one with another; and doe bynd our selves in the presence of God, to walke together in all his waies, according as he is pleased to reveale himselfe unto us in his Blessed word of truth.” Salem Covenant 1629
In the 1990’s First Congregational Church of Memphis recited this pledge every Sunday morning. Hope in community covenanting together with God changed my life, and others’ too. About a quarter of that tiny congregation was ordained or on their way to seminary! (Today, the church is much larger.) God called me out of Memphis to Pacific School Religion eager to study with Asian-American faculty, including Visiting Scholar, The Rev. Dr. Ronald Y. Nakasone, Buddhist Ethicist and Japanese calligrapher.
While serving United Japanese Christian Church, UMC/UCC in Fresno, I asked Ron to teach us about Asian spirituality and aging. He came for the weekend. That Sunday morning, he in his Buddhist robes, we in our Christian robes, led worship together. Witnessing these two faiths side-by-side in church was both healing and empowering for some, and challenging and disorienting for others.
With whom do we “bynd our selves”?
I asked Sensei Ron to comment upon gratitude for this article:
“Gratitude is fundamental to the Buddha Dharma (Teaching). With the Enlightenment Siddhārtha Gautama realized and experienced the truth and reality that all things and all beings are interdependent. This epiphany is crystallized with the expression, pratītyasamutpāda. A vision of an interdependent world entails great responsibility and great gratitude. Great responsibility means we must act in a way that will benefit all beings and all things. If a child goes to bed hungry, we are all demeaned. When we do not properly dispose of plastic waste, we pollute our planetary home. Correspondingly, great gratitude entails humility and trust for all beings and things. I depend on the farmer for food; the engineer to purify the water I drink and bathe in. I trust my neighbors will help should I trip and fall. We rise and we fall together as one livingbody.”
In the 2000’s a small group of UCC clergy meet monthly in southern Alameda County, including Rev. Dennis Duhaylungsod and Rev. Bladimer Paeste. We became “mga Kapatid” – Tagalog for “siblings,” applied to blood kin and persons of mutual goodwill and affection.
With whom do we “walke together in all his waies”?
I asked aking mga Kapatid (our siblings) to reflect upon gratitude, too:
Bladimer: “For almost three decades now in the ministry, I have been blessed with colleagues, friends, and communities that offer support, inspiration, and encouragement expressed in various ways. Without which I wouldn’t have gone this far in my pastoral journey. Deep in my heart I cherish all those whom God has brought into my life. I am forever thankful and my gratitude overflows without end.”
Dennis: “The UCC has chosen to be a FRIEND of the Filipino people. The UCC seeks its friendship to end the chains of domination brought about by its colonial past. Ever grateful! If I look back at the past 18 years that I am a UCC, the Church exhibited real friendship by aligning itself with the aspirations of the Filipino people. We are indeed grateful, the journey to liberation is not necessarily a weary one with friends.”
Last year the Conference Council created teams to draft Resolutions of Witness addressing racism. Our team focused upon injustices experienced by local indigenous peoples. We asked native leaders what they would like us to do. Their response was unanimous: #LandBack.
This justice frame, well-established among natives, was new to many. Quickly, we shared resources, discussed, and adapted the resolution. It passed. This year when Camp Cazadero was sold Conference Council earmarked ten percent of income from that sale to return to indigenous communities. Distribution of monies has begun.
East Bay native, Spokesperson for the Confederated Villages of Lisjan, Corrina Gould, recently commented as we exchanged emails: “We live in a world of reciprocity and relationality and we have been sharing with each other since we first met.”
Years ago, Corrina Gould and Johnella LaRose, founded Indigenous People Organizing for Change, leading prayer-filled journeys to ancestral shellmounds. They needed places to congregate, rest, eat, and pray. A UCC colleague directed them to the United Church of Hayward. The church’s Council was happy to offer our very small sanctuary/fellowship hall to our native neighbors and their allies. Those relationships and commitments grew and have inspired other congregations, too.
How does God “reveale himself unto us”?
This year marks the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ thanksgiving celebration, a settler- only event held on Wampanoag territory without native permission. It is past time to revise our beloved myths which prevent right relationships.
How differently might life on these lands be today if our spiritual ancestors had believed in a wider and deeper covenant? Who would we be today if they arrived expecting to meet mga Kapatid (siblings)? Would our history include the violence of racial genocide, slavery, The Exclusion Act, residential schools, internment camps, prison pipelines, caged borderland children, and authorized, racialized use of weapons? Might the descendants of natives, enslaved persons, and various settlers interact differently today?
This Thanksgiving, I am most grateful for God’s insistence upon human justice and healing, Christ’s provocative teaching to love one another, and the Holy Spirit’s never- ending support to change for the well-being of all beings. May we affirm our native siblings belief in “Good Things coming” by practicing a Bigger Covenant.
- The Washington Post: “This tribe helped the Pilgrims survive for their first Thanksgiving. They still regret it 400 years later.” 11/04/2021.
- Shuumi Land Tax
- Challenging Colonialism, “The Matter of Shellmounds.” Apple podcast. 11/13/2021.
- “The First Thanksgiving”
Born on Wichita territory, lived along the Trail of Tears beside Chickasaw people, currently living and practicing ministry in unceded Lisjan-Ohlone territory, Rev. Kathryn M. Schreiber is Lead Pastor of Berkeley Chinese Community Church.