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Paula Sutcliffe

Cathedral of All Saints


Paula Sutcliffe, Cathedral of All Saints I wish I could begin my faith story with a road to Damascus event - a dramatic before and after meeting with Jesus. I can't though, because I can remember always believing the Jesus story was somehow true, even when I was little. This might not seem unusual until I tell you that I grew up in a very secular Jewish family in New York City. My parents had lived through anti-Semitism and the Second World War. Jewish, definitely yes. Temple goers, no. Deep inside, though, I knew there was more, and the Jesus story just felt right. Still, I never turned to Him, except when things would get rough in my life and I would sneak into a church to light a candle and pray. Did I pray to Jesus then? I don't remember, but the rough time would be resolved and I would go back to living, often rebelliously, as before.

At 19, I went to Ireland hoping to explore the world. I ended up in London, studying Nursing. I argued with the Nurses' Christian Union, secretly hoping that they would be proved right. I was taken to hear John Stott and Billy Graham. I went up at the altar call. Nothing dramatic happened. I was still the same old Paula (or so I thought). My "hook" if you will, wasn't Scripture. It was a book called The Towers of Trebazond by the English (and Anglican) author Rose Macaulay. The heroine in the novel never lost her faith, rather she kept running from it all the while knowing the consequences of turning her back on Jesus. It sounded all too close to home for me. Yet still I held back. I worked on a Kibbutz for 3 months in Israel - but there was no talk of God. I went back to New York City and resumed the on-again off-again pattern of my youth.

And then my parents moved out of state. Finally, I could stop running away and I could become a Christian. It was time to stop all this flirting with the Lord and make a commitment.

So I took classes, went to Church every Sunday, and never told my parents. The Lord has a sense of humor though, for I also met the man I was to marry at General Theological Seminary. I had to tell my parents about my Christianity then. Of course they blamed David for what seemed to them my betrayal of them. Still all was forgiven, by them if not extended family, when they met David after our first child, Joshua, was born.

Our life was busy. Jesus was there but it was so hard for me to find time with Him.

When our second son, Ben, was born, the doctor said he would either die or be a vegetable. We prayed. David said we needed to give our son to Jesus. I didn't want to do that, but somehow or another I managed to say the words. Ben lived and, in spite of being physically dependent, he had a keen wit and sharp intelligence. Our daughter Rachel was born. Life kept moving.

Then I wound up going to Cursillo. Time to be with Jesus at last! Time also to have a long talk with His Mother. She would know about having a son with a questionable future...

Ben died this year at age 35. I had no choice but to submit, to watch Ben go back to the One who created him. Again I didn't want to, again I did. Somehow the reality of Jesus came through even more than usual for me at that time, due in large part I know from the love and support and prayers we received from all over the Diocese.

When David and I went to Israel with some of the clergy of the diocese in 2010, God gave me clarity about myself. I was anxious about how I would feel being back in Israel as a Christian, since I had spent time as a "searcher" on a kibbutz those many years before. But being in Israel made me feel not only more Jewish, but more Christian; not a "convert," but someone whom Jesus knew right from the beginning. Scripture says that "In the beginning was the Word" and that means right back to The Beginning, right back to Creation. Jesus was there before Bethlehem, before anything, and He knew me and loved me even then.

David and I have been through a lot in our lives. We adopted two children from Nicaragua who continue to have emotional difficulties. We've been to many churches, often troubled ones, and I am grateful that, while I might have had concerns about the Church, I never lost my faith in Jesus. (It might have been easier for me if there had been a book called How to Be a Proper Clergy Wife). Still, it has been an adventure.

So where am I now? I pray and share Morning Prayer with David and go to Eucharist almost every day. I do this not out of obligation but out of gratitude. Sometimes a verse from Scripture will lift me up or enlighten me that day. Sometimes I feel something powerful when I see the Cross and receive His Body and Blood. Sometimes it is just the quiet I feel. It doesn't matter in the end, though. Jesus is there no matter what I might be feeling. I spend time with the Sisters in Greenwich where I have to be silent at times (no mean feat for me) and just sit and be. I take special joy in the Psalms because they reflect what I may be thinking but am too hesitant to say in my own words. They have taught me it is ok to be angry and to ask questions of God.

Music is my favorite way to pray. For example I sang (quietly to myself) "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" through the quiet time in Benediction once. When I sing certain hymns I just know that the Jesus story is indeed true. I am not always happy. None of us are. But I know Joy. Music, prayers, Scripture, Sacraments - and oh, that blessed fellowship! Through it all, one piece of Scripture is my special one: "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39). And so I have stopped running. Shalom, Amen, and thank You, Lord!

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