Searching the World for God

The story of how a Jewish girl became an Anglican priest

Editor's note: This article continues our 2023 Testimony series. While most of the articles in this series will be about how some of our Jewish friends came to know Jesus as their Messiah and Savior, we may also tell stories of how the Jewishness of Jesus and his Gospel have enriched the faith of Gentile followers of Jesus.

woman priest smiling at wedding
Rev. Fran Metcalf

By the Rev. Frances J. Metcalf

My parents were Jewish. My grandparents were Jewish … on both sides. My great-grandmother, Bessie, was Jewish, too. So were all my other great-grandparents, who were gone well before I was born. My DNA test says I’m 100% Eastern European Jewish.

So how did I end up being ordained as a priest in the Anglican Church?

The simple answer is that I was looking for God and wasn’t able to find him in contemporary American Jewish culture. But that isn’t the whole story.

Yes, my parents were Jewish, but – in reality – they were what I call cultural Jews. My mother didn’t ever light Sabbath candles; ours was not a kosher home. By the time I was 12, we didn’t even belong to a synagogue … although both my brothers made their bar mitzvahs.1

Our Passover seders were wonderful family get-togethers, but they were more about matzoh balls and gefilte fish than the story of God’s mighty acts of redemption. Yom Kippur – Day of Atonement – at my grandparents’ synagogue in Jersey City, New Jersey was really a time for my cousin Donna and I to sneak out of shul2 and giggle together.

I do admit that I tried Hebrew School. I went to one class and dismissed it as “too hard”. That’s actually one of the great regrets of my life. If I had stuck with Hebrew beginning at age 9, I imagine that by now I would be able to read the Old Testament in the original language … with fluency!

In my teen years, I attended youth group at the local synagogue a couple of times, but that didn’t engage me. I was really adrift. I was searching for God … to the point that I confronted my father with this question: “Daddy, is there a God?”

I think this was a crucial question for him. He had grown up in a strictly Orthodox family and abandoned that practice in his early 20s – probably when he went to college, although I’m not sure. I do know that he and my mother were great social justice warriors in their time … and were married to each other twice. The first time was a secret marriage at a liberal Unitarian church in New York City; the second time was in a traditional Orthodox ceremony in Jersey City, when my paternal grandparents discovered they were already married and – according to my grandfather – they were living in sin. Daddy was clearly struggling between the faith of his fathers and the culture of the time.

But my father was a gracious, loving man, so when I asked him, “Is there a God?” He gave me the answer that was perfect for me.

“Franny, what do you think?”

He gave me permission to find out for myself; he sent me out on a journey to search for God.

Now, I must admit that there wasn’t a straight line from “Is there a God?” to ordination. Nope. I really did explore.

I started in Judaism. I found lots of social justice there and a lot of rituals … but I could not see God. Now, please understand that I know God is clearly present in Judaism, but for me, he was not accessible. I just couldn’t find him there.

The simple answer is that I was looking for God and wasn’t able to find him in contemporary American Jewish culture. But that isn’t the whole story.

I started in Judaism. I found lots of social justice there and a lot of rituals … but I could not see God. Now, please understand that I know God is clearly present in Judaism, but for me, he was not accessible. I just couldn’t find him there.

So, I moved on to other things. Many other things. Astrology; Transcendental Meditation; EST (Erhard Seminar Training, a 1970s self-help movement) – to name a few. But nothing satisfied this longing; I hadn’t yet found God.

colorful background with many different spiritual, religious, and other icons

But God found me. The persistent call to know and be known was there … and the understanding came in an unlikely form.

In the late 1970s, I was living in Los Angeles and dating a guy originally from Toronto. On our first Christmas together, he decided he wanted to go to church. He grew up in the Anglican Church in Canada and hadn’t been to a service of any kind in years.

Now – if you’ve ever been to LA – you know it’s a driving city. No one walks anywhere. But my apartment in West Hollywood was two blocks from an Episcopal Church, which is where David and I ended up on Christmas morning, 1979. Coincidence?

Perhaps. Because that’s where I met God.

"Daddy, is there a God?" -- "Franny, what do you think?"

I walked into that church, took one look at the beautifully appointed altar, and knew that God was waiting for me in the Eucharist. Somehow, I understood that I wouldn’t be able to participate in that Holy Communion until I had been baptized and sealed as Christ’s own forever.

wine colored background with the Eucharist and Baptismal fount

I want to share that I am a coward; I don’t think I would have been able to make that pivotal decision if my parents were still alive. Even though they were only cultural Jews, I was convinced that my decision to become a Christian would have broken their hearts.

But as he always has, and as he always will, God protected me … in his own mysterious way. In 1979, my mother died, and I moved back to New York to be closer to my family. My father had died 10 years earlier when I was just 20. While the early loss of both my parents still grieves me, God made my decision an easy one. I didn’t have to worry about how other people felt about my baptism. I didn’t have to think about whether my family would shun me. My only decision was whether I wanted to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and savior, which I did, in June of 1980, at Trinity Church, Wall Street, in New York City, where my father and I had spent some leisurely hours in my childhood, sitting in the peaceful graveyard, on various excursions to New York. Surely, God has this wonderful sense of resolution.

And that’s just the beginning of the story. God has taken me on a 40-year journey – yes, the reference is intentional – through ups and downs, hills and valleys, to the fruition of his deep call on my life … ordination in the Anglican Church of North America. And I am grateful that my father knew the right answer to my teen-aged question: “Is there a God?”

What do you think?

Frances Metcalf recently retired as Chaplain at UPMC Heritage Place, a skilled nursing facility in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh. An accomplished printmaker and encaustic (hot wax) painter, she is currently exploring the development of a ministry to visual artists who do not know the Gospel. Ordained a priest in the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, Rev. Metcalf holds a master of divinity degree from Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA. She and her husband live in McDonald, PA, just outside of Pittsburgh.


[1] Bar Mitzvah (bar MITS-vah) n. A son (bar) of the commandment; a man of duty. For more information see

[2] Shul (school) n. A synagogue; (from “school”).


Like Fran, I'm a 100% Ashkenazi Jew. My family regularly attended a Conservative Jewish synagogue in Richmond VA. I went to Hebrew School twice weekly (after public school!), most Friday night and Saturday morning services (when Junior Congregation let out, I and the other kids joined our parents in the temple), was Bat Mitzvah'ed, went to Hebrew High School (yep, after public school let out) and was confirmed at 16. While I was proud of my heritage, enjoyed Pesach, kept the High Holy Days (ok, I broke the Yom Kippur fast early as a teen), I didn't have the "internal" feeling Fran lacked either.

My middle school science/math teacher, Nancy Thomasson, gave me the sermon "The Greatest Thing in the World" as a Bat Mitzvah present. I read it, and asked my dad, "why did she give me this text about First Corinthians?" He replied that it was in her faith tradition, she was Christian, and meant well.

Thought nothing of it until I was 16. Then starte, on my own, to read the New Testament (my summer job was as a library assistant for the Henrico County School System; btw, I read the translation of the Qu'ran too). Paul's statement that wives should be submissive to their husbands appalled this little 1969 feminist. I shut the NT in disgust.

Was an AFS student in Taranto, Italy, the summer of 1970. My family, who (of course!) were Roman Catholic, took me to mass once. I was excited to see the (then Latin service) text of "Holy, Holy, Holy" in the service. "Of course" cane the reply, "we took a lot from Judaism." Family friends came to meet me one supperget together. One was German. After a while, one said, "we could never understand what the Nazis had against the Jews- you're no different from us". Yes, the German lady (a youngster during WWII and now married to an Italian, agreed.

Tried Hillel for a very brief time my freshman year at Wellesley. Was appalled when a Jewish family (probably Reform) invited me to their Seder - and all they did was argue and the two children whine. (I think the parents hoped I'd be an example, somehow infuse some Jewishness into a home that clearly had a Seinfeld-like relationship with religion at best). I never attended any synagogue services at college, though did so during the couple of summers at home.

Sometime in my twenties, during grad school, I picked up the Christianity lite stuff - you know, The Search for the Historical Jesus, the Jesus Project, Funk, Ehrman, etc. My boyfriend converted to Judaism for our wedding (to please my parents; he wasn't religious, his folks were nominally Christian- Southern Baptist? They never went to church as far as I saw.)

Strangely enough, it was when my fiance did his final conversion rituals and we went to High Holy Days service at grad school that it hit me- not rationally or logically (I'm an intense INTJ; can you tell?) but in my heart. Jesus had to be the Son of God. He had to die for our sins. Therevwas no way mankind could save itself. Eating latkes, building sukkot, donating to Israel - none of this and the 613 commandments was going to work).

I still stayed out of the church, though frankly I was delighted when my rival cousin announced she was marrying a Roman Catholic and of course her kids would be RC. I felt that "took the heat" off of me, but I didn't declare myself to my parents. When my Mom was a kid in Petersburg,VA, you see, some idiot had left a note that he "had poisoned her Jew dog." Dad got into a fight with an anti semitic brat when he was in second grade. The other kid started it. Dad was the one the principal punished, by calling in Dad's parents and suspending him. Frankly, Dad told me the world was composed of two types- Jews and anti semites. Not that he believed this truly-; his best friends and loving coworkers were devout Christians. He told me they'd tried gently to proselytize him, but he gently refused.

By 1988, my marriage had disintegrated ( he literally went off on his motorcycle- 37 going on 16!) I wanted a kid; he didn't . I hated men for awhile, then a friend told me to crawl out of my shell and meet people doing things I liked. I met my current husband at a dance. He'd gone to Presbyterian churches occasionally with his mom and siblings, attended a strict Baptist preacher's tiny church during part of his Air Force service- but had no idea if he'd ever been baptized. He sort of believed Christianity in the usual American "if you're good you'll get into Heaven" way. So no, his beliefs had no impact on me. Only my heart, thanks to the Holy Spirit, which convinced my head, that Jesus was Lord, did.

Mom died of her second heart attack in June 1992. She'd been in hospital for four months and unable to meet Gene. We postponed our wedding for five months- but now came the big news. I'd decided to take the plunge; ok, the head wetting. I'd researched various denominations (are you surprised?) and opted for the Anglican way.

I told my dad (after all, I did very much love him and want him at my wedding). He wasn't happy about it - when he came to to visit and I visited him, he left books about with titles such as "You Take Jesus; I'll take God. " We had a number of thoughtful, loving discussions in which neither convinced the other, but our hearts respected the other's opinions and choices.

I became a choir member and active in the church (Gene attended services, but his ADHD shyness, love of golf, and struggles with a dreadful memory of parental abuse held him back for more participation). We left that parish for two others in the '90's and oughts, when contemporary culture turned the first building into a leftist social hall and when the minister of the second revealed he had no vocation; he'd simply become a priest because his family thought the only acceptable jobs for a Virginian of FFV descent were medicine, the military, or ministry. We joined Truro (God bless Martyn Minns and Richard Crocker). Our daughter attended services, Sunday School, and was a believer.

My dear Dad died in March 2000. I invited a priest to be at his last moments. She (we were still at church #2) at prayed over him - but I said the Shema into his ear. I would like - would love to think that in his last moments he said to himself, "you know; there's no contradiction here. My daughter [my smart daughter!] is right!"

Anyway, in 2005 we moved to Savannah Ga (because no one in his right mind retires near the DC Beltway, and we thought we'd sink new roots ahead of time. We joined Christ Church (may Father Steve Evans rest in peace! When we met him and told him we were from Truro, he said"well, this is the only place you'll want to be!" (He was right. We tried a TEC church much closer to our home the next week and found a gorgeous building with no "there, there.")

So CCA left its lovely building in 2008 (?) after the unpleasantness you all know about and we and the rest of the congregation traveled through the desert (um, several beautiful Savannah squares) to IPC (God blessvTerry Johnson, whose welcoming sermon instructed his fiercely Calvinist congregation that despite our trappings and rituals, we were every bit believers. Forget about adiaphora!)

The rest of Christ Church Anglican's story you know. Let me add, briefly (yes; I can be brief!) that we've continued to worship, study, and be active members of our church community (well, our daughter now lives in Greenville with her loving husband and, being spoiled by the CCA music ministry, amazing preaching, and the desire to sleep late aren't the best church goers, but we've spoken to them and their faith is good. I think when they move to Columbia and start a family, they'll plug in).

Sorry for taking up so many of your electrons/bits?bytes? But I felt I needed to tell my story.

Oh, one more thing. Ten years ago I reconnected with a childhood/teen best friend. She'd moved to snowy Rochester NY decades earlier. Jesus found her too! She's active in her Messianic Jewish congregation.

Shalom, Helene. Thank you so much for sharing your story. We are so glad Fran's story blessed you. We praise God for his faithfulness to you.

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Article published on 03/13/2023