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Lifelong callings finally realized

Episcopalian: Women ordained at St. Stephen’s Church after struggling with calling to faith

Posted: February 26, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: February 26, 2011 1:55 a.m.

One of the two parishioners dressed as a traditional Chinese lion dances in the procession during the recent ordination ceremony for the Rev. Susan Bek and the Rev. Dr. Cynthia Jew at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Valencia. The celebration included flags, banners, the lions, incense, four choirs, lots of clergy, one bishop, four chalice bear...

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Susan Bek and Cynthia Jew have journeyed a lifetime to reach the day when they would finally be ordained to priesthood in the Episcopal Church of Los Angeles.

Both women struggled with their callings and were finally able to make the dream of ordination a reality, during a ceremony led by Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, bishop of Los Angeles at St. Stephen’s Church earlier this month.

Bek now serves as the curate, or assistant priest, for St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. Jew also serves as the church’s part-time assisting priest.

Realizing a feeling
Bek served as director of youth and children’s ministries at St. Stephen’s for more than 15 years. Although she was serving the church as a lay person, Bek always hoped to serve God in a different way.

Bek felt her calling to priesthood early in life. She recalls, as a child, feeling drawn to say the words aloud with the priest to consecrate the eucharist.

“As an adult, I wanted to speak the words, and my hands wanted to bless the bread and wine,” Bek said. “But I finally learned to bite my tongue.”

Learning to hold back and serve the church in other ways, she fought the feeling until December 2004, when she casually mentioned to the Rev. Lynn Jay that she “might have a calling.”

Like Jay, everyone had noticed before she had. Jay immediately put her into her year of discernment in early 2005 before she moved on to seminary at Claremont School of Theology, where she graduated in 2010.

Roadblocks
Bek felt the calling but also worried that there were many “roadblocks” in her life that would prevent her from achieving this goal.

Bek and her husband, John, have two children with special needs that require a lot of attention, on top of a busy work and home life. In addition, she knew she would never be able to afford the seminary tuition, much less go away to attend school.

John Bek advised her to “just try it,” and not miss “God’s invitation to be something more.”

Although Bek felt these roadblocks would eventually stop her, she decided to move forward.

“I decided I will just walk in faith,” Bek said. “And it has really been just short of a miracle that I can stand in this place now.”

Bek overcame all the roadblocks.

Bek received 80-percent tuition assistance, she enrolled in a weekend seminary program that allowed her to stay close to her family and her children became more self-reliant, an outcome of her taking a step back.

Bek was even able to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, which she says helped her to bring new energy and meaning to scripture.

“Our calling as Christians is to find a way to bring scripture to life and make it relevant in our own time,” Bek said. “This trip helped me to make the stories a part of myself so they continue to live in me.”

30-year journey
Dr. Cynthia Jew felt a similar lifelong calling that she also had to ignore. As a freshman in college, Jew felt called to become a priest.

At the time, she was a member of the Dutch Reform Church, which did not ordain women as priests.

Because that faith did not allow her to join the priesthood, she decided to pursue her graduate degree in psychology, and later became a professor at California Lutheran University.

Over the next 30 years, she explored her spirituality through other religions. Seven years ago, she decided to come back to the Christian perspective. 

She and Mary, her life partner of 29 years, began looking for a church that was open-minded toward the gay and lesbian community when they found St. Stephen’s. After becoming members of the church three years ago, Jew felt the calling again.

“God was at work for those 30 years of forming who I was with experiences I had,” Jew said. “God’s voice was telling me it was time to complete that piece of the journey.”

In 2007 Jew felt she was exactly where she needed to be in order to begin this part of her journey. She began seminary.

Uniting people
The two women hope to use their unique gifts and training to contribute to the ministry at St. Stephen’s.

Bek specializes in American Sign Language, and hopes to use her ability to reach the deaf community of the Santa Clarita Valley.

“I want to welcome people with special needs and help them find a home and know their children are loved,” Bek said. “Deaf ministry allows people to celebrate and worship together even though they have a different language.”

Jew jokingly calls herself a “bartender” minister. As a psychologist, she used her gift of listening to help others. She hopes to bring that to her ministry at St. Stephen’s to truly become an advocate for people.

“I have a ministry of listening,” Jew said. “People come to me, I listen, hear the needs and serve the world.”

She hopes to use this gift in her ministry to unite people of all faiths to begin a process of healing.

“You don’t need to be ordained or espouse a specific faith community, we are all connected by who we are and the energy that surrounds us,” she said. “I do believe God is calling us together into a world that is broken, and all we need to do is listen.”

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