Joseph Schereschewsky vs. Harriet Bedell

What's in a name? Fortunately for Harriet Bedell, this contest won't be decided by the number of letters in one's name. In this category Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereshewsky would not only win 30 to 13 but he'd run the entire Lent Madness table. Two fascinating stories, two amazingly saintly lives, yet only one will move on to the Round of the Saintly Sixteen.

In yesterday's Lent Madness action, despite a late charge by old man Simeon, Phillips Brooks defeated him 52% to 48% and will face Catherine of Siena in the next round.

Enjoy today's penultimate first round match-up and don't forget to watch the latest edition of Monday Madness. We guarantee it will make your Tuesday even more like a Monday (it's a Lent thing).

schereshewskySamuel Isaac Joseph Schereshewsky

Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky was born to Jewish parents in Lithuania in 1831, and his early life and studies were designed with the intention that he be ordained to the rabbinate. After studies at the Rabbinical College in Zhitomeer, Russia, he moved to Breslau, Germany for two further years of graduate study. It was there that, under the influence of missionaries, and after his own reading of a Hebrew translation of the New Testament, Schereschewsky became a Christian. In 1854, he emigrated to the United States, settling in Pittsburgh. There he entered the Western Theological Seminary, with plans to seek ordination in the Presbyterian Church. After two years in Pittsburgh, he became an Episcopalian. He enrolled at The General Theological Seminary in New York City as a candidate for Holy Orders from the Diocese of Maryland. He completed his studies there in 1859 and was ordained deacon that year, and priest the next.

In response to a great need for missionaries in China, Schereschewsky continued to wander the globe, this time boarding the ship Golden Rule and moving to China in 1859. Already very talented at learning foreign languages, he taught himself Mandarin during his voyage in order to further his missionary work. The time after he landed was extraordinarily productive–by 1865, Schereschewsky had translated the Psalms and the bulk of The Book of Common Prayer into Mandarin Chinese; from 1865 to 1873, he translated the entirety of the Old Testament.

In 1875, Channing Moore Williams, who had been the Bishop for Japan and China, was assigned to Japan alone. Schereschewsky was elected as the new Bishop of Shanghai, but he declined, not trusting himself to be fit for the office. In 1877, he was elected again, and this time he accepted and was consecrated. While bishop, he founded Saint John’s University and began yet another Bible translation, this time into Wenli, the local dialect.

After developing Parkinson’s disease, he resigned his See in 1883. He remained dedicated to his translation work, even after becoming almost fully paralyzed, and typed the last 2,000 pages with the one finger he could still move. He moved to Tokyo in 1897, where he died in 1906.

Collect for Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky
O God, in your providence you called Joseph Schereschewsky from his home in Eastern Europe to the ministry of this Church, and sent him as a missionary to China, upholding him in his infirmity, that he might translate the Holy Scriptures into languages of that land. 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; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-- David Sibley

harrietbedell500Harriet Bedell

Born in Buffalo, New York in 1875, Harriet Bedell first trained to be a schoolteacher, but her life’s work was not to be contained in a classroom. When she was thirty years old, she attended a lecture given by a missionary to China. Soon after she attended the Episcopal Training School for Deaconesses in New York City, a one-year program where she learned about religion, teaching, mission, hygiene, and nursing. Her mother balked at an overseas posting, so in 1907 Bedell accepted an assignment to serve as a missionary-teacher among the Southern Tsitsistas/Suhtai (Cheyenne) people at the Whirlwind Mission in Oklahoma. She served in Oklahoma for nine years until the mission closed. She was then called to work with the Gwich’in people in Stevens Village, Alaska. She was finally made a deaconess there in 1922.

However, Alaska was not to be her life’s work. In the depths of the Great Depression, funds were scarce to run the boarding school she had helped to found. She returned to New York in 1931 to plead for funds, but the school was closed and she never returned to Alaska. One door was shut, but another would soon open.

On a speaking tour in Florida, Bedell visited a Seminole Indian reservation. Appalled by the living conditions, she wasted no time, moving right in to the Blade Cross Mission, where she lived for the next thirty years. She encouraged tribal members to revive many traditional crafts to sell in the mission store. Her friendship with the Seminole people won their respect, and her faithful witness contributed to the improvement in their quality of life. She continued to serve until Hurricane Donna destroyed the mission in 1960. She died in 1969.

Bedell’s ministry placed value on health, education, and spiritual comfort over religious conversion. Once, when asked to speak at a Seminole funeral, she translated Psalm 23: “The Great Spirit watches over all of us. He feeds us and leads us to the waters of comfort. When we walk in the shadow of death, we need fear no bad things. The love and mercy of the Great Spirit will be with us all our lives and we will always be welcome in the Great Chickee.”

Such was her verve and passion for life and work, the Rev. Howard V. Harper wrote in his essay, “Always Welcome in the Great Chickee” that Bedell “played all of life in the Key of C Major.”

Collect for Harriet Bedell
Holy God, you chose your faithful servant Harriet Bedell to exercise the ministry of deaconess and to be a missionary among indigenous peoples: Fill us with compassion and respect for all people, and empower us for the work of ministry throughout the world; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-- Heidi Shott


Joseph Schereschewsky vs. Harriet Bedell

  • Harriet Bedell (63%, 3,089 Votes)
  • Joseph Schereschewsky (37%, 1,841 Votes)

Total Voters: 4,929

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143 comments on “Joseph Schereschewsky vs. Harriet Bedell”

  1. Really tough choice. Translating for a billion Chinese is very compelling but because our church has a dedicated mission to a Navajo community in Sawmill, AZ I went with Harriet.

  2. Two great lives, but I am voting for Schereschewsky because of his dedication to bible translation and his humility in turning down a bishopric on the first time of asking. And also for a Chinese friend who became a Christian through the C of E and is now back in China.

  3. Will it ever be easy to choose between two saints? Fortunately, God does not perform triage on them. We're just having fun discerning types of saintliness and maybe learning something about where our own hearts are fixed. I voted for Schereschewsky because a friend of mine who became an Episcopal priest learned Chinese in much the way he did, and because I took my Ph. D. orals in the former home of Henry Clarke Warren, a Pali scholar who suffered from similar infirmities while translating major Buddhist texts. But whims aside, Harriet Bedell's story is equally compelling.

  4. The only thing that could have made this more difficult is if Harriet ended up in China. Wonderful to read the biographies of these fascinating people.

  5. Me thinks I shall vote Schereschewsky //
    Thou Harriet's witness to Christ was quite juicy. //
    They both served far and wide //
    With the Lord by their side //
    But with Sam I'd most like share a brewski.

    1. Heh-heh, good one! Haven't made up my mind yet, the choice seemed impossible so I decided to read the comments first. Guess I'll have to think it over. *sigh*

    2. Psalm 23 moved me, too. This was a very difficult choice, as several have been this year.

    3. Nice! Solving a quandry with a touch of humor, besides I love Sam's last name, although it's a challenge to fit it into the bracket! Hope I have to try.

  6. I loved Bedell's rendering of psalm 23 too, but Scherewesky has been a favorite of mine ever since i first heard of him. I also love learning languages. And conversion is vital, whether it involves changing religions or not!

  7. I voted for SIJS because he is one of only two saints with visible disabilities (unless I am missing someone) in HWHM.

  8. Both are completely awesome, but my vote goes to Joseph for the Herculean task of finishing the translation with only one finger.

  9. I have great love and admiration for both these people and their amazing strength and vision. Having had personal experience in Alaska with the bravery of deaconesses in remote areas where they were separated from the eucharist for years at a time simply because they were women I have to vote for the Deaconess. They led the way for the church to take seriously the ministry of women.

  10. A long time affinity for the great story and connection with the story of the Hebrew people (yeah, Godly Play) - so appreciated Lauren Winner's "girl meets GOD" on an individual level and the call as community to embrace the people of God . To read and believe......Joseph.

  11. I really have to go with Joseph. My father taught at St. John's University Boys School in Shanghai. My older brother and sister were born in the early 20s on the campus. The buildings are still there and look much the same as in the old pictures. It is now a hospital. My sister visited there maybe 15 years ago and was warmly welcomed. She and her husband were able to see the rooms where the family lived. Now I know about Joseph and his work there. It as quite amazing.
    Harriet is also well worth voting for because of her work with Native Americans.

  12. Harriet was my godmother's name. This Harriet bloomed where she was planted...right here in the US, even when she was not allowed to go overseas. Great argument for either saintly nominee, but the madness in me goes to Harriet.

  13. Tremendous admiration for Harriet and her work with indigenous people, especially the translation of Psalm 23, her demonstration of the Gospel (preaching without words), and her biographer's comment that she "played all of life in the key of C Major."
    But Samuel did amazing work in a foreign land and a difficult language, delaying a bishopric and working through disability.
    So I voted for Samuel because he was the underdog in the voting. As someone has commented, they both have Golden Halos already.

  14. WOW! Another tough decision! Both of these folks went through life changing events worth of recognition. However, I can't get the image of Samuel typing away with one finger, never giving up his mission for the Lord. Therefore he got my vote.

  15. Difficult choice, but I went with Schereschewsky in honor of "St. Chad of Blessed Memory" - a curate who once came to our All Saints costume party dressed as Schereschewsky.

  16. Sitting here pulling out my hair! Which one? They are both so deserving. I can't base my decision on relating to one or the other. I have worked in China as do some of my family members; my husband's family worked with the Navajo and Hopi tribes. Sigh.. I think I'm going for Harriet.

  17. "Yeah !" for the deacon(ess) ! This ministry of deacons is truly growing by leaps and bounds and breaking boundaries as we speak....or rather, as I write. Harriet overcame hardships and boundaries designed to curtail, in some cases, her ministries and to wear her down in others. She prevailed and won the respect of all to whom she ministered in the Name of Jesus Christ: the needy, poor, hungry, and lost.

  18. Wow, two great people (again!) - these matchups just show how many great people I still have yet to learn about! But as a native Floridian (yes, there exists such a thing), I vote for Bedell.

  19. Correction: on Deaconess Bedell, Gwitchin people don't live in Stevens Village. Gwitchin folk live about 100 miles upriver (River being the Yukon River). Anthropologists call them "Upper Koyukon Athabascan"; and they call themselves "Denyee Hut'anne". Deaconess Bedell would have known this; and why it's important. She once canoed UPSTREAM from Stevens Village to Fort Yukon (+200 miles); and THAT'S impressive.

  20. I don't mean this in a derogatory way, but the SEC are a bunch of evil sadists for pairing these two together! I can only imagine how full of love Bishop Schereschewsky must have been to spend years working on his translation. On the other hand, Deaconess Bedell was so so beautiful in her advocacy. Evil sadists, I say!!!

  21. As others have said this was a hard choice as is right when deciding between the Saints of God. Harriet ultimately got my vote for two reasons. First I loved that she met Native Americans where they were and did not insist on discarding traditions. Secondly, I live in Tallahassee and you gotta love a Seminole. Have a blessed Feast of the Annunciation.

  22. Easy. Schereschewsky's spiritual journey from Lithuanian rabbinical study to translating the Bible for East Asia could conceivably be the most christocentric and transformational in this year's crop of saints. And for believers without cultural anxieties, that's what it's about. Schereschewsky.

    PS-- The bio for Bedell makes her sound a bit like the sort of humanitarian anti-saint that some prefer to the real thing. But I have elsewhere seen her described with more spiritual substance. A halo for Schereschewsky, but maybe funding for the right screenplay about Bedell.

  23. Schereschewsky is mis-spelled Schereshewsky in the title above.

    Surely only that can account for the misguided vote today.

    But saints do not demand recounts 😉

  24. A very difficult choice for me - both saints called to the ends of the earth, in a sense, each bringing such conviction and energy to their ministries. To have translated the Psalms and most of the BCP into Mandarin so that others would be able to read the Word made a huge impression on me, so I gave my vote to Joseph. I connect with Harriet, though, as I have also felt a call to our Native Americans.

  25. As is often the case -- choice is a quandary. But, I voted for Joseph. My great-aunt was a teacher in the Episcopal school for girls in the Wuhan area of China in the early 20th century. She taught with deaconesses there and it was the joy of her life to offer the girls a way out of being uneducated because of their gender. Some of the most dedicated, most educated people I know are of Chinese ancestry -- and for that I thank this bishop.

  26. Wow, this was probably one of the most difficult rounds for me yet--I rather think either one of these absolutely incredible people is deserving of the Golden Halo! Whosoever goes through to the next round, I will be happy (and also a little sad for the other...)

    In the end, after wavering back and forth painfully for some time, I went with Harriet, for putting the first emphasis on improving the lives of the people she was serving with better health and education, before being concerned with conversion; and for the fact that, when it did come to conversation, she also put emphasis on preserving their old traditions, and translating the psalm so heart-renderingly beautifully in their own cultural understanding. To me, that shows a great deal of dignity and respect (and thus, love) towards the indiginous peoples she found herself called to serve--which I tend to view as more important in the end than trying to convert people. What better way to spread the Word, than to live it so clearly?

    Of course, if you asked me in an hour, I would probably be cheering on Schereschewsky. Typing out Biblical translations, on a Mandarin typewriter, with the only finger he could move? I can only hope that someday, with God's help, I will be able to show even a small amount of the perseverance and determination that would take!

  27. I have to go with deaconess Bedell. Our parish was involved with her back at our beginnings (in a tent). Our first rector, Father Rantz, thought the world of her and we have a room named for her.