My first intimate experience with the love of Jesus took place when I was seven years old. One of my classmates invited me to attend Vacation Bible School at her Missionary Alliance Church. For a week we sang songs, did crafts, and heard Bible stories. The last day we went to the sanctuary and a woman spoke to us about Jesus and what he had done for us when he died on the cross. She said that he would forgive us for the bad things we had done and that we could invite him to come into our hearts. I was young but old enough to know that I needed forgiveness and following this nice woman’s instructions I quietly asked for Jesus to forgive me and come into my heart. He did!
I experienced the joy of my salvation and the presence of my loving savior in such a deep way that I broke into tears and didn’t stop crying until I had been safely deposited back home with my mother. When I asked her what I was supposed to do now that I had accepted Jesus as my Savior, she said that I should pray, read the Bible, and go to church. The words from the old hymn “I Go to the Garden Alone” became real to me. Jesus walked with me, talked with me, and told me that I was his own.
I followed my mother’s advice into my adolescence and my faith and my love for God grew. I remember watching the movie “A Man Called Peter” as a teenager and praying afterwards that God would reveal his call to me as he did to Peter Marshall. I wanted so much to share his love with others. I was touched deeply by the Scripture passage from John 15:13 “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” I prayed fervently that God would give me friends for whom I could lay down my life.” At the age of fourteen I didn’t have the vocabulary, but I know now that I was longing for a community of believers with whom I could live out my faith.
I read in the Bible about the miracles of Jesus and the depth of commitment of the early disciples. I did not see that power and joy manifest in my church. I began to ask questions and I was not satisfied with the answers I received in Sunday School. So, I began to “search for truth.” That search led me to into New Age and Zen Buddhism. I seriously considered joining a Zen Center or becoming a Zen Buddhist nun. What drew me was the community of people dedicated to spiritual seeking. I wanted to be with people who were really committed. The one thing that held me back was that I knew that God was personal. I had not stopped reading my Bible, and even though my relationship with God had suffered because of my straying away from Christianity, I never lost the knowledge of the deep, personal nature of God. I had been duped into thinking that Jesus was no more than a great man and teacher, but I knew that God was more than a cosmic force.
After several years of traveling through Europe, Canada, and the United States in search of the truth, I ended up back in my hometown, Ann Arbor. My mother told me that a friend of hers knew about a group of young people who were meeting in the basement of the Catholic Student Chapel and that there were young men playing guitars. I met my mother’s friend and I knew immediately that there was “something different” about her. After several failed attempts, I made it to my first prayer meeting. How can I thank God for his goodness to me? I have to admit that my search for the truth was not so intense that I failed to notice the handsome boys playing their guitars, but what most impacted me was the presence of God. In that hot, crowed basement I experienced the presence of God more powerfully than I had experienced in the solitude of a mountain top sunset or in any Zen meditation. I knew that God had brought me “home.”
Even though I did not feel an immediate affinity with the students who attended the prayer meetings, I signed up for the Life in the Spirit Seminars. I suspect that the leaders of the seminar were not sure about me as I prayed the prayer of commitment in my own manner: “Jesus if you are the son of God and not just a great teacher, and if there is such a thing as sin and you are the savior, please forgive me and show me. Also, you know that I want the gift of love, but if you want to give me the gift of tongues as well, that is okay.” I remember that as we prayed in that basement room of the Newman Center at St. Mary’s Student Chapel, the room was filled with a soft light. I experienced the sweet, gentle presence of the Holy Spirit and I was filled with joy.
I rode my bicycle back to my third-floor apartment and went out onto the balcony. There I offered my heart and my vocal cords to Jesus and sincerely asked the Holy Spirit to give me the gift of speaking in tongues. I began to sing in a beautiful language I did not recognize. I hadn’t known that you could “sing” in tongues. I had been afraid of being “taken over” and knocked down, but this was so gentle, so beautiful, so respectful of my personal volition. I didn’t want to stop, but eventually when I did stop singing, the thought pervaded my entire being, “I want to tell the whole world that Jesus Christ is the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.”
One of my fears of joining up with the prayer group was that I didn’t want to have to talk to other people about Jesus. After that moment on my balcony 50 years ago, I have not stopped witnessing to the love, the power, the truth and the beauty of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
50 Years of Covenant Love: The Agony and the Ecstasy
The summer of 1970 the little prayer group that met in the basement of St. Mary’s Student Chapel heard the call to make a covenant with God and one another. We began to live in community. I made my public commitment five months after taking the Life in the Spirit Seminar. “I want to live my life fully for God and to live as a member of The Word of God.”
Less than a year after recommitting my life to Jesus, I moved into a summer evangelization household. Along with five other women, I signed a covenant to live in poverty, chastity, and obedience for the summer. I wasn’t sure what those words meant, and I didn’t know the women, but I figured I could do anything for a summer. We worked for half of the summer and put our earnings in common. Our food budget was $3.00 per person a week; we gave our bed’s away and slept on the floor. We quit our jobs half-way through the summer to be free to evangelize. We would make popcorn and Kool Aid and invite the students passing by our front porch to stop and hear about what Jesus had done for us.
I still remember the joy and the sweet presence of the Holy Spirit that pervaded our household dinners as we ate our split pea soup and listened to readings from “The Little Flowers of St. Francis.” Heaven came down to earth. But it wasn’t all easy. One woman who joined us had previously got involved with a cult group. She fortunately was rescued and regained her Christian faith. Her involvement with the summer house led her to deepen her faith. And now fifty years later, she is the mother of several children, among them a Catholic priest. Our summer household reached out to a young woman who had a nervous breakdown. We helped her find good medical help that she needed before she moved in with us. We surrounded her with love, and she was able to recover well and live a healthy life. I said “yes” to an invitation to live Single for the Lord, and several other women cemented their vocations that summer.
Living in Christian households has been a life changing experience for me. Over the years I lived in households with single women, also lived in mixed households with a married couple and their children and single men and women. I have also lived in household with women who chose to live single for the Lord.
Throughout my years in community, I have learned a lot and grown as a human being and I have deepened and matured in my relationship with God as I experienced the blessings and sacrifices involved in community living. The formation and teaching that I received early on in Christian community shaped my life in more ways than I can describe. A big shout out to Steve Clark and others who dedicated so many hours to developing our Community Courses!
The opportunity to serve is another benefit that flowed out of my covenant commitment. Over the past 50 years, I was part of the service team that made post-prayer meeting dinners – so many cans of tuna to open! I was involved with community outreaches to Hispanics and African Americans. I helped to lead Life in the Spirit Seminars and served on our Works of Mercy Team. I served with University Christian Outreach and Youth Works Detroit.
One of the greatest blessing of my life is that I was privileged to serve on community building teams in the USA, Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East. I have visited and served at least 35 different communities in the Sword of the Spirit. I have celebrated and wept through times of joy and times of sorrow. The love and commitment of my brothers and sisters all over the world is amazing and humbling. In reality, it is I who have been served by over 35 communities – you all know who you are!
These past fifteen years I have spent most of my time working for the Catholic Church as a high school teacher, director of religious education, and diocesan coordinator of evangelization and catechesis. I continue to travel to parishes and dioceses throughout the USA giving workshops on spiritual gifts, evangelization, and prayer ministry. I see myself as being sent out into the world to share from the riches of our community life with many people who are hungry for the kind of teaching and fellowship that I have in such abundance.
At the age of 21 when I made my public commitment, I had no idea how challenging it would be to remain faithful to God’s call on my life, and I had no idea of how good it would be to follow that call. Perhaps the greatest challenge has been in recognizing and coming face-to-face with my own sin and inadequacy. On the other hand, I have been so very fortunate to be on this journey with other missionary disciples in community who have dedicated their lives to loving and serving Jesus and his people. I made the most important and the best decisions of my life between the age of 20 and 22 – I committed my life to Jesus, I became a Catholic, I made a public commitment to ecumenical covenant community, and I decided to live Single for the Lord. I have never regretted any of these decisions. As I look back over the past 50 years, I have only gratitude in my heart. Gratitude to God for saving me. Gratitude to those young people singing and praising God in the basement of St. Mary’s Newman Center for welcoming me and sharing their faith with me. Gratitude to the community of believers who continue to meet and praise God with me in The Word of Life Community and in the Sword of the Spirit. I long for the day when I will see Jesus face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12); but I pray for many more years to love and serve him here on earth with my brothers and sisters all over the world who are committed to me as covenant members of the Sword of the Spirit.
Top photo credit: photo collage of community activities past and present, (c) 2020 Living Bulwark/The Sword of the Spirit
Sue Cummins is semi- retired. She worked for the Archdiocese of Detroit in the Department of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship for eight years (2012-2020.) She taught theology as adjunct faculty at Sacred Heart Major Seminary for ten years (2008-2018). After four years of teaching Spanish, French and religion at a Catholic High School, Sue worked as director of a bi-lingual religious education program at St. Gabriel Parish in Detroit (2005-2012). For many years Sue served on Sword of the Spiritcommunity building teams by giving retreats, training, and spiritual direction to youth and to leaders of Sword of the Spirit communities in the USA, Central America, Mexico, Spain, Europe, United Kingdom, Ireland and Lebanon. She worked as senior staff for UCO and Youth Works Detroit for eight years. Sue is fluent in Spanish and for the past thirteen years she has lived and ministered in Southwest Detroit (Mexican Town.)
Sue’s academic qualifications include a master’s degree in Foreign Language from Eastern Michigan University; a master’s degree in Theology from Sacred Heart Major Seminary (1995); and a Licentiate in Sacred Theology (S.T.L.) in New Evangelization conferred by the Pontifical Institute of St. Thomas of Aquinas, Rome.
Sue presently works part time for Catherine of Siena Institute presenting Forming Intentional Disciples and Called and Gifted Workshops and helping with translation of materials into Spanish. She serves the North American Region of the Sword of the Spirit in various capacities and is involved in prayer ministry. Sue is a member of Bethany Association, an international, ecumenical association of women living single for the Lord in various communities of The Sword of the Spirit. She presently lives with her 93- year-old mother in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA and participates in Word of Life Community