Readings for Sunday, July 14, feast day of Samson Occum
Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 14:20–27
When I was a child, one of the odd recurring dreams I used to have that I still remember vividly was one where I came home, walked into my house, and discovered strangers living in it, who had no idea where my family was and had never heard of them. For Samson Occum, the first ordained Native American minister, it wasn’t a bad dream–it was pretty close to real life.
Occum had been overseas in England raising money for Eleazar Wheelock’s charity school for Native Americans. When he returned home in 1767, he discovered that the school had moved to Hanover, New Hampshire, had changed its name to Dartmouth College, and was educating white Englishmen in America. He also learned that Wheelock, his mentor and patron, had cared poorly for his family in his absence and they were destitute.
Occum’s story is an interesting contrast to our readings today, which speak of a God who shows no partiality, who encourages our lights to shine for God’s glory and not hide them under a bushel basket. I don’t think I would have blamed Samson Occum one little bit if he’d called it quits on Christianity and returned to the religion of his native Mohegans.
But he didn’t. He did return to life among the Mohegans, but by then (partially because of Occum’s own influence) many of them were Christianized, as were several in the neighboring Mohican, Oneida and Lenape tribes. Although Sampson Occum’s missionary work with the Iroquois was mostly unsuccessful, he very likely did learn a lot about the governance of the Six Nations of the Iroquois, and perhaps that wisdom and knowledge helped bring something to the table when Christians from these three tribes formed a new tribe, the Brothertown Indians. As dismayed and heartbroken as Occum must have when he discovered his good works trampled upon and someone he trusted as no longer trustworthy, he somehow managed to shift gears and adapt to a new mission.
Sampson Occum was never compensated like a white preacher. Articles talking about his memoirs reveal that he struggled with resentment over how the natives were treated by the whites. Yet he remained true to following God. His story serves as a reminder that following God’s call often can be laced with hardship and times where doubt and resignation are palpable and understandable.
When is a time in your life that you’ve seen the light of God, shining brightly and fiercely through the crevices of a bushel basket of heartbreak and dismay?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid