The Episcopal New Yorker Episcopal NY Spring 2016 : Page 6
Jesus A Glorious Reality By the Rev. Deacon Novella Lawrence s far back as I can remember, I have loved the Episcopal Church. I loved the liturgy, the colors of the seasons, the beautiful vestments, the hymns, and the community that we shared at St. Timothy’s Church in Brooklyn. I left the church at age 19. Except for my children’s baptisms, I would not return until they reached school age. Then, I once again became deeply involved in every aspect of the church and enjoyed it. I knew the “BCP ,” but not much about the Bible—as the lessons were read each week, my mind was usually focusing on something else. In September 1979, everything changed. If I had known then how wonderful that change would be, I would have remembered the day, the hour, and the minute. About a year earlier, I had met a woman from another faith tradition. As we became friends, she began to ask me about a relationship with Jesus. I thought she was a bit strange to ask me such a thing. I assured her that I went to church, and took Holy Communion. She commended me, but said that there was much more. She read her Bible on her break at work. It looked worn out. At times I was annoyed with her. She invited me to her church. It was totally different from mine. Around that same time, I was facing discrimination at my New York City civil service job. It was a shock, because I was born and raised in Brooklyn. I had only faced real discrimination for the first time when I joined my husband in North Carolina, where he was stationed in the military. I survived the shock of experienc-ing Jim Crow there, and was certainly glad that I would one day return to New York City. So now, a few years later, this episode at work threw me for a loop. I was deter-mined to fight it and win. I asked my friend if she would pray for me, since she had this “personal relationship with Jesus.” She told me that she already was. One morning, during the middle of that ordeal at work, I was really learning the truth about the saying “You can’t fight city hall.” I wanted to resign. I decided to pray for God to intervene. My friend had already told me how. I said the most dif-ficult prayer I have ever had to say. “Dear God,” I wanted to say, “I believe you exist, I believe you sent your son Jesus Christ to die on a cross for my sins, and I believe you raised him from the dead. I ask forgiveness for my sins and ask you to come into my life as my personal savior.” But I fully realized that I could not truth-fully say those words— that after all of my years in the church, I did not, in fact, believe any of it! T o me, it was a nice story for Christmas and Easter. And so, instead, I said “I want to believe…” I had a hard time asking forgiveness for my sins. What sins? I went to church. Instead I said “I’m sorry if I have ever done any-thing against You or anyone else.” I ended with “Jesus Christ, if you are real, come into my life.” Amen. 6 THE EPISCOPAL NEW YORKER A Nothing spectacular happened that day. But things soon began to resolve them-selves in two areas in my life that needed it—first in my family and then on the job. It was miraculous! As I began to experience the presence of Jesus in my life, I wanted to learn more about him and so I turned to the Bible. Now it began to make sense, and I wanted to read more and more. I thanked my friend, and even considered leaving my church and joining hers—I was actually willing to give up the bells and smells. But God, in His mercy, led me to an Episcopal church that was in the “Renewal Movement,” where there was a heavy emphasis on Jesus, the work of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures. And so I had it all, including the “bells and smells.” I also went to Cursillo. The liturgy, the Book of Common Prayer and the Scriptures became even more meaningful, as did my awareness of the Living God. From that time on, I became fascinated by the early church in the book of Acts. I was espe-cially influenced by the way the early Christians loved and took care of one anoth-er. I began visiting all of the sick and shut-ins of the parish with the rector’s per-mission. This led to me being “called” to ordination as a permanent deacon. Shortly afterwards I became a Board Certified Chaplain and served a hospice for 18 years. Since that September years ago, Jesus has been very present in my life. He informs my daily actions. I have always told my fellow Episcopalians about my con-version experience over the years. Jesus has been faithful to me through difficult times and good times. He is never absent. I tell others about my relationship with him because I want to share the joy and hope that only he can give. When people come to me with some need, I give them practical advice according to their situa-tion but I also often tell them of the need for Jesus in our lives. Some accept and some don’t. As a deacon in my new and vibrant parish of Christ Church on Staten Island, I try, with the help of the Holy Spirit, by my actions, my preaching, by leading a prayer group, and by conducting Bible study, to encourage others to know Jesus and to develop a relationship with him. The late Fr. Chuck Howell said he brought me on staff, specifically, to assist in adding more spiritual offerings to an already vibrant and active parish and to develop the pastoral care ministry. I believe that every aspect of my life has been ordered by the Lord since that fateful day in September 1979. For me in the Spring of 1980, Easter would never again be just a nice story, but instead a glorious reality for which there is absolutely no doubt. The author is deacon on staff at Christ Church, New Brighton, Staten Island. www.episcopalnewyorker.com Spring 2016
A Glorious Reality
The Rev. Deacon Novella Lawrence
As far back as I can remember, I have loved the Episcopal Church. I loved the liturgy, the colors of the seasons, the beautiful vestments, the hymns, and the community that we shared at St. Timothy’s Church in Brooklyn. I left the church at age 19. Except for my children’s baptisms, I would not return until they reached school age. Then, I once again became deeply involved in every aspect of the church and enjoyed it. I knew the “BCP,” but not much about the Bible—as the lessons were read each week, my mind was usually focusing on something else.
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