The Niagara Anglican caught up with Susan Bell shortly after her election. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Niagara Anglican (NA): First, please accept our heartfelt congratulations on your election. How are you feeling?
Susan Bell (SB): My life seems to have exploded since the election! Feelings are just washing over me in waves at the moment.
I’m feeling profound gratitude. The electoral synod proceeded as a synod should. It was prayerful with lots of silence for reflection. It really was a discernment process. That experience was such a blessing.
I’m also feeling a little nervous, as I should. I have big shoes to fill. Bishop Michael is a wonderful example, a kind and loving man. But I feel very confident that God is going to give me what I need to do the ministry that is ahead of us.
I’m also feeling sheer happiness and enjoying the moment!
NA: Tell us a bit about yourself and your family.
SB: I grew up in Stoney Creek, a Hamiltonian. I went to Sir Isaac Brock School, then Glenbrae Middle School, Glendale High School and McMaster for my undergraduate degree. After that, I went to England to study music for about 2½ years. It was there that I met and married my husband Tom.
At first, after returning to Canada, I just wanted to be a professional singer (I sang for the Elora Singers), but before long, I felt ordained ministry was a stronger call. I went to Wycliffe College to study for my M.Div. At that time we also started our family. Emily (23) has just been accepted to teacher’s college in Edinburgh, Scotland! Nicholas (20) is at Ryerson, studying computer science. Andrew (17) is in grade 12 and Olivia (14) is in grade nine. After my M.Div. I went on to earn my Ph.D. in church history.
Tom is Director of Music at St. Paul’s Bloor Street in Toronto. (Before that, he was organist at St. Jude’s Oakville.) He also teaches music at Toronto French School. He is a wonderful life partner and support.
NA: How do you think you’ll be preparing for the job in the transition period?
SB: Apart from a very serious prayer life, there will be lots of reading and — I hope — many conversations with the people of Niagara, both the clergy and the laity. Also I will be working closely with my colleagues in the House of Bishops. I have already had a wonderful meeting with Bishop Michael. He is going to be the most tremendous support, so generous with his help and guidance.
I am so looking forward to meeting all the synod office staff, too.
I understand this is a great responsibility, so I will be reflecting a great deal on what all of this means. I will be praying throughout, hoping the Lord will give me what I need.
This really will be a walk of prayer.
NA: What will be your first three priorities once you are in the position?
SB: First, One of the most enjoyable part of the election process, for me, was the “speed dating” event that we had with the youth of Niagara. I was so impressed with their level of commitment, intelligence and obvious leadership. I’m so looking forward to getting to know our youth and hear what they see is the future of the church and how they can be involved. I love their energy and even the chaos that comes along with working with youth. Youth and family ministry will be a priority.
Second, I am so looking forward to getting to know the clergy and archdeacons. I want to have a collegial relationship with each of them so I can do my best to support their ministry.
It isn’t an easy time for the church; I understand that. The work I’ve been involved with for the past six year has been trying to “see around corners” for clergy and their parishes. I want to help them in terms of their own professional development, as well as helping them to realize the potential of leadership in their parishes.
Third, getting to know the Synod staff will also be a priority for me, to appreciate their strengths and perhaps learn where there may be some challenges. I want us to work together to support the really strong community there.
NA: Being a bishop often comes with making hard decisions. What issue or issues might you be faced with and how would you approach your decision-making process?
SB: General Synod 2019 is approaching. While [same-sex marriage] may be more of a settled issue in Niagara than in many dioceses, it does not mean that we speak as one. It will be incumbent on us all to remember that we are one in the body of Christ. I hope that we can realize that, although we may differ on this issue, there is much, much more gospel ministry that we can do together. What unites us is far stronger than what divides us.
When it comes to difficult decision-making, I have a natural consultative process. I will consult peers, trusted colleagues and all of our constituent groups within the diocese before making a decision. It must be a decision that we can all live with. I may sound like a broken record, but I must repeat that everything is done in prayer. You have to listen to God’s voice.
NA: Tell us about your experiences as Canon Missioner for the Diocese of Toronto and how that will play out in your ministry.
SB: My role as missioner has been based on my experience at Havergal College. What I have been doing there is basically apologetics: interpreting the church to that community and interpreting that community to the church.
A large amount of mission is doing just that. It’s bridge-building; it’s starting to explain what the church is, what she believes and offering the gift of faith in Jesus Christ. It’s not about getting more people into church. It’s about the church remembering that we are a “sent” people. The Great Commission (Matthew 28) says, “Make disciples of all nations.” This is our mandate, our mission — God’s mission — in the world. I think that one of the things I have enjoyed the most is this new way of thinking. We might formulate lots of plans on our own and guess at what people want, but in the missional way of thinking, you begin with, “Where is the energy — where is God already at work in our world?” Where there are places that you see wonderful things being done by ordinary saints, you want to join that work. For example, if there are good things happening at a community centre, then perhaps the church can partner with that. This makes a bridge into our communities.
I believe with all my heart that we need to recapture a sense of the geographical parish as a cure of souls. We have spiritual responsibility for those who live within our parish boundaries. That can be really exciting.
I hope that all of this way of thinking will be a part of who I am as the new diocesan bishop.
NA: Thank you so much for your time. God’s blessing on you as you begin this new and important ministry.