by Barbara Sherf
The Rev. E. Cliff Cutler, the 11th rector of the 150-year-old Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church, is the first to admit that change is certain to bring about anxiety among his 400 parishioners.
Last month, in a two-page letter to the community, Cutler wrote that after much prayer and discernment, he will retire at the end of April 2019. By then he will be 70 years old.
Cutler noted that one young mother opened the letter and just cried.
“Her emotions were very touching,” he said. “So yes, there is sadness, but I want the church members to know how resilient we are, and they can be confident in their ability to go forward and find a new leader. There are exciting opportunities ahead and it’s time to let someone else take the next step. I’ll miss the people here; they are gifted in so many ways. There is a lot of warmth, talent and love here and everything will work out.”
There were several factors that convinced Cutler that it was time for a change.
Last winter, he suffered double pneumonia and other respiratory issues that sent him in and out of the hospital.
The other was the birth of a grandchild. His son, Evan, and Evan’s wife, Amanda, had a baby on Dec. 6, Emerson Skye Cutler. Cutler said he and his wife Amy plan to move to Salem, Massachusetts to be nearer to them and their grandson.
“I can’t wait to see our grandson in Boston, and to be living close by will be a factor in that boy’s life,” Cutler said of the upcoming move. “I think grandparents have a special relationship with grandchildren in terms of being a loving presence in that child’s life.”
Born in Germantown and raised in Flourtown, Cutler enjoyed being one with nature in the Wissahickon Valley of Fairmount Park, where he still walks silently to find strength and recharge. That park, he said, will be chief among those things he will miss.
“I will miss the Wissahickon and the park,” he said. “I often go at seven in the morning and walk for four miles listening to the sound of the creek and get on the trails. It keeps my lungs healthy and helps me recharge.”
A graduate of Germantown Academy and Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, Cutler was ordained to the priesthood in 1977. He was advised to work for a few years before settling into priesthood, and that’s how he met his wife, Amy, a Massachusetts native. The couple will celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary on Dec. 22.
Cutler came to St. Paul’s in February of 2006 at a time that members of the church describe as turbulent. By all accounts, he and Amy not only helped restore calm, but have also become an integral part of the church’s community.
Charles Lower, a church member for 25 years, noted that the Cutlers came to St. Paul’s after the previous rector was asked to leave.
“Cliff and Amy came to St. Paul’s at a time of great uncertainty and divisiveness in the parish,” he said. “To say that their presence brought an atmosphere of calm and cohesiveness is a vast understatement. Cliff has continued to offer the highest level of spiritual and administrative leadership, with unfailing good humor and a true example of a dedicated Christian life.”
“Cliff and Amy are fixtures of the Saint Paul’s community as well as the larger Chestnut Hill community, so news of their departure is predictably bittersweet,” said Father Joseph Wolyniak (a.k.a. Father Joe), who shares duties in the parish.
“On the one hand, we are grateful just for who they are and all they contributed to our life together here. And we are happy for them that they now get to spend more time with family, doing things they love. On the other hand, we are already beginning to grieve and grapple with having to say farewell.”
St. Paul’s Rector’s Warden, Madeline Schroth, joined the church just four years ago, but in that time has come to see just how important Cutler has been to St. Paul’s.
“He helped start the Center for Mysticism that provides a more spiritual aspect of what we do here,” she said. “He has been the voice for social justice and peace that he speaks and lives. He got the indoor labyrinth project going, and he has successfully launched and nearly completed a Capital Campaign that was very successful. The choir has flourished. He even spearheaded a pilgrimage for the choir to travel to St. Paul’s in London. The list goes on.”
Indeed, by the end of this year the Capital Campaign will have reached its goal of raising $1.5 million. Cutler said the best thing parishioners could do for him when he leaves is to donate to the campaign.
“We are trying to get rid of stuff, so if you want to honor us, make a donation to the campaign by the end of the year to put us over our goal,” Cutler laughed, noting that he and Amy are already boxing ‘stuff’ for St. Paul’s famous annual rummage sale.
Amy said the reaction has been truly heartwarming. She said she understands that the change is not going to be easy for some of the parishioners who had come to rely on Cutler.
“The majority of parishioners have been congratulatory on this next chapter and on the birth of the baby,” she said. “They say he has completed a job well done and they wish us well. Yet there are some older people who will jokingly comment ‘I had hoped he would be the one to do my funeral mass’ as they want someone who knew them to conduct the service.”
On the question of retirement, Cliff said he’s not sure how the change will be for him.
“Quite frankly, I don’t know how it’s going to be in retirement,” he said. “You get a lot of esteem in leading a community, so I will have to find other sources. It will be a change but also my health hasn’t been as strong as it has been in prior years. Even though I’m healthy now I think it’s time for someone a little younger to come in.”
Cutler, who has authored “By Night Sermons and Meditations in a Third Millennium” said he may have another book, perhaps a memoir, in him. This book, like his ministry, has tackled such topics as racism, drugs, gun control, sexual infidelity, forgiveness, violence locally and in the world, stewardship, trips to Israel, Standing Rock, poverty, suffering, and the list goes on. To order a copy call 1-888-795-4274 or e-mail Orders@Xlibris.com
Flourtown resident Barbara Sherf captures the stories of businesses and individuals. She can be reached at email@example.com or through communicationspro.com