The Rev. Sharon Li Mei Shem MacArthur, 81

The Rev. Sharon Li Mei Shem MacArthur

The Rev. Sharon Li Mei Shem MacArthur — moderator of the Pacific Islander and Asian American Ministries (PAAM) of the United Church of Christ — died June 5, 2023, in Hercules, Calif. She was 81.

After a career in a variety of fields, including journalism, early childhood education and technology, MacArthur received her master of divinity degree in 2001 from Pacific School of Religion in Berkley, Calif. She later served as chair of PSR’s board and was the first Asian-American woman to serve on the board of a U.S. seminary, according to the school.

MacArthur went on to pastor churches in California and Hawaii for more than two decades. Earlier this year, she was named pastor emerita at Sycamore Congregational Church, a bilingual Japanese-English congregation in El Cerrito, Calif., where she began her local church ministry.

Local and national ministry

In addition to her involvement with PAAM, MacArthur served the national denomination as part of the Manual on Church working group convened last year. She also was a featured preacher at General Synod 32 in Milwaukee in 2019 — becoming the first Asian-American clergywoman to preach at Synod — and helped kick off what became a twice-weekly webinar series from the UCC in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What we frequently remember fondly are the times that were the hardest,” MacArthur told General Synod in 2019, whose theme was “Shine.” “So, what if we look for how these hardships eventually worked into good? Articulate them; share them with someone. To me, that’s the hope for all who feel overwhelmed by darkness: that God’s love and light shines, perhaps, even brighter when it comes from a place of darkness.”

MacArthur was part of the UCC’s executive council from 2001 to 2007, chairing the council from 2005 to 2007. She also served in various posts for the Northern California Nevada Conference and was a member of the Conference’s PAAM chapter for 20 years.

“Her ministry was a guiding light, radiating racial and cultural insights and invitations to widen the diversity the United Church of Christ, often through PAAM,” read a memorial announcement prepared by Berkeley (Calif.) Chinese Community Church, a congregation that MacArthur “joined with her young family, which cheered her on through seminary and ministry, received her as pastor during years of transition and was with her as her blessed life on earth concluded.”

In recalling her wide range of ministry, from national to local, the congregation also called MacArthur “a beloved mentor.”

Memorial events

MacArthur is survived by her husband of 58 years, Nowell MacArthur; her children, Gavin, Ryan, Melissa and Vicki; and five grandchildren.

The family requested that those who wish to express sympathy to consider making a donation to a favorite charity. A full obituary is here.

According to the pastor of Berkley Chinese Community Church, the Rev. Kathryn Schreiber, several memorial events to remember MacArthur and her ministry are being arranged:

  • Saturday, July 22 at 11 a.m. (PT): A private, in-person worship service and gathering for family and close friends will be livestreamed for the public here.
  • Sunday, July 23 at 3 p.m. (PT): A public, in-person worship service and reception will be held at Sycamore Congregational Church.
  • Saturday, Aug. 26 at 1 p.m. (PT): An online public ministry tribute is being planned that will feature national, regional and local UCC church leaders and musical tributes. Details to come.

For updates on these and other events, visit the Berkeley Chinese Community Church’s Facebook page.


“In Memoriam” features brief obituaries about prominent United Church of Christ leaders. For a listing of all recent clergy deaths, as reported to The Pension Boards, please visit this link.

Categories: United Church of Christ News

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