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The Conversion of Paul

By Canon Deborah Parsons

On 25 January, the Church celebrates the Conversion of Paul. I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with Paul. When I was training for ordination, I remember describing him as being like marmite. Someone you either love or loathe. But the longer I am in ministry, the more I see him as an interesting and complex character: Passionate, verbose, honest, vulnerable, resilient, learned, straight talking, not conflict averse, a thinker, who doesn’t bypass the thorny issues.

His Damascus Road experience, described so eloquently in Acts (9:1-22), is moving. Nor do I blame Ananias for his initial distrust of a man whose reputation as a zealous persecutor of Christians has preceded him but who Christ chooses to become an instrument of God`s grace. The zealous Saul becomes the passionate preacher Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles.

If he were taking part in the popular reality television series, The Traitors, my guess is that he would be a prime suspect for early eviction.

Of course, although Paul’s Damascus Road experience is a memorable moment, his conversion is a life-long process. He makes daily, conscious decisions to grow to become more Christ-like, step by faltering step.

How appropriate then that we should celebrate his feast not only in the season of Epiphany, where Christ is made manifest in unexpected places and in unexpected people but also in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Perhaps too, this festival reminds us not to be too quick to judge others for their actions or to think that anyone is beyond redemption or conversion of heart.

Years ago, someone shared a simple prayer on the Radio. It struck a chord with me and has stayed with me ever since:

Dear Lord,

Convert the world but start with me.

May it become your prayer, too.