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March 05, 2004 - Image 42

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2004-03-05

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

FINDING HER TRUTH from page 41

God had all people here on Earth for a
reason."
Her reason for being on Earth, she
decided, was to become a Methodist
minister, following in her father's foot-
steps. "I wanted to be a minister because
I wanted to lead a spiritual life," she says.
It was unusual then, even in the radi-
cal 1960s, for girls to consider the min-
istry; but, after all, she had the belief that
"nothing is impossible."

First Doubts

Before attending seminary, however, she
went to college on a piano scholarship.
While at Morehead State University in
Kentucky, she married a Methodist min-
ister. By this time, Futch had many ques-
tions about her faith.
"I was really wrestling with
Christianity," she says. "The theology
didn't make sense. But I felt guilty. I felt
like I was betraying people, like I didn't
fit into the puzzle, like they were right
and I was wrong."
Still, after having three children, Futch
decided to attend seminary, where her
questions about religion only increased.
"I could see that the church was incor-
porating parts of the feminist movement,
then I worked in Nicaragua where there
was a theology of the poor, another for
the rich, one of women, another of black
culture; it was like making Christianity
into what you want it to be, rather than
saying, 'This is what it is' and conform-
ing our lives to that standard.
"I wondered: If we have to struggle so
hard, trying different approaches to have
Christianity make sense, maybe it just
doesn't make sense."
While at seminary, Futch worked as a
student minister with congregations in
rural Pennsylvania and in New York
state. She continued to grapple with the
theological core of her faith.
She felt comfortable, even blessed,
when working with congregants, espe-
cially during lifecycle events. At births,
deaths, difficult times, Futch knew she
could make a difference, and this caring
became her religion.
'At a home where people were griev-
ing, I didn't have to preach," she says. "I
could just give them comfort. It wasn't
about Christianity. They were seeking
God as they understood God and need-
ing God in their lives at that moment."
When it did come time for preaching,
Futch was at a loss.
"Christmas and Easter, those were
murder for me," she says. Jesus and the
resurrection would, of course, be appro-
priate topics. "But the idea — is Jesus
God or is he human — I thought was
absurd," she says.

3/5
2004

42

"That, of course, was heresy. So
instead, I would talk about rebirth and
renewal."
Futch graduated from seminary in
1994, leaving student work behind and
serving as a minister to a church in New
Hampshire. "I loved them," she says of
her congregation. This made her deci-
sion to leave all the more difficult.
"That separation was painful," she
says, "but I just couldn't keep getting on
the pulpit. I was so tired of trying to
make things fit."
Futch left the church, and she and her
husband parted ways as well. Their chil-
dren already were grown. Religion cer-
tainly played a role in the divorce, she
says, "but it wasn't the only issue."
The break meant "for the first time in
my life I was completely on my own,"
Futch says. "There was real fear, but I
also had the sense that if I wanted to I
could throw everything out, then pick
up the pieces and find out who the
authentic Cecelia was."
Religion, she knew, would•be at the
heart of her search. And because she so
wanted to go to the core, to be as
authentic as possible, she knew she
would have to go to her very origins —
what existed before the church: Judaism.
So this, she reasoned, was where she
would start.

15,91 2 q3

,

The Rabbi Calls

Futch had a longtime friend, Kris, a
Methodist minister, with whom she
knew she could stay. She moved to
Allentown, in eastern Pennsylvania, to
stay with Kris and to begin looking —
through the phone book.
Futch hadn't been in Allentown long
when she picked up the yellow pages,
checked under "Synagogues" and called
every place listed. She left a message:
"I'm considering conversion and I would
like to study Judaism."
One rabbi called back.
Daniel Korobkin was the rabbi of Sons
of Israel, Allentown's only Orthodox
congregation. He agreed to meet with
Futch, and what impressed him most,
and immediately, was her "humility."
"She was willing to humble herself
after being a leader in the Methodist
church and really coming as a fresh
beginner," he says.
When any gentile expresses an interest
in converting to Judaism, Rabbi
Korobkin invariably gives them the book
routine. He hands them a few texts, out-
lining the basics of Jewish thought and
practice. "Read them," he says, "then call
me in a few months and we'll see where
you are." The vast majority never make
the call.

Cecelia Futch-Rogow sets the Shabbat table.

Futch not only called, she clearly had
thought a great deal about what she read,
Rabbi Korobkin says.
After more than a year of studying
Judaism, Futch was on the phone with a
friend, a minister. With Judaism, she
told him, "I felt like I had come home. I
knew this is where I was meant to be."
"It had been a long journey," she says,
"but then I knew: This was it."
She decided to convert.
Rabbi Korobkin discouraged her. She
was shocked.
"In the church, if someone wants to
convert [to Christianity] there's a celebra-
tion," she says.
But according to Halachah, Jewish law,
potential converts must be turned away
three times before conversion can even
be considered.
"If you're not serious, don't even come
back," her rabbi told her.
"Well, I am serious," Futch insisted.
find
"And if you won't help me,
someone who will."
The rabbi was convinced.
"This was one of the most comfortable
conversions and at one of the highest ley-

els that I've ever done," Rabbi Korobkin
says. He never worried that Futch would
lose interest or decide Judaism wasn't for
her.
That she once was a minister "only
added to the veracity of her claims," he
says, because "she was so well studied
and-experienced that she came to me
from a point of strength rather than a
point of weakness."
He did extract one promise: "Invite
me to your wedding." (Years later, when
Futch married, Rabbi Korobkin was
invited — and he attended.)
It was challenging letting friends know
of her decision, Futch says, though she
knew what to anticipate. "This was
huge; it was risky," she says. It meant
surrendering my credentials" as a
Methodist minister, submitting her resig-
nation from the church and turning in
her certificate of ordination. It was a
painful time.
"A lot of people quickly severed ties
with me, and I knew that would hap-
pen," she says. "People said they were
disappointed with me, and some got
very angry. But no one, outside of a few

"

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