Mum of three, Suse Ison-Stierer is to be ordained in Wells Cathedral on Sunday 1 July alongside eight of her peers and will serve her curacy in Bridgwater. We caught up with her the week before the service and she shared her story of faith, meeting God in the ‘messiness’ of life and what has guided her to this point.
Nerves, excitement, trepidation are all feelings that can run high for candidates in the run up to ordination but mum-of-three, Suse Ison-Stierer is philosophical.
“I’ve had lots of people come up to me and say, ‘you’re nearly there, you’ve nearly reached the goal of ordination.’ Of course I am looking forward to a wonderful, special day where it will be a joy and privilege to have my friends, family, and the Church affirm and celebrate my calling. But the real excitement for me is what comes afterwards: getting stuck into the local community, joining in with what God’s doing, journeying with and alongside people.’
St Mary’s Bridgwater, where Suse is to serve her curacy, will be pleased to hear it!
“St Mary’s is doing a really great job, the church building is right in the centre of the town and at an exciting point having just completed building works and a reordering to open up a versatile, welcoming space in the heart of and for the community” says Suse. “I’m so looking forward to being part of St Mary’s as we hear the voice of the local community, look and listen to what God is doing and join in with that,” she adds.
“I’m also looking forward to exploring new ways of church being relevant and connecting with the people we find ourselves amongst. The church is not just a Sunday service but a missional community at its core which means we carry this message of hope, freedom, reconciliation, joy, healing and so on, in the DNA of who we are. My faith and understanding of God push me to dream big and see that the seemingly impossible is possible with God,” says Suse.
A few people have been surprised when they hear that Suse is to become a Reverend. “Typically I get ‘but you don’t look like a vicar,’ which always make me smile! My kids have particularly enjoyed telling their new friends that we have moved to Bridgwater, ‘because our mum is a curate’ apparently because when the friends meet me I am nothing like how they imagine. My older son, though, was really surprised when his new friend said, ‘if your mum’s a vicar does that mean she judges people?’ It saddens me to know this is not an isolated view but representative of many who might consider the church a place where people might first and foremost face being judged. For me that is the absolute opposite of what we witness through the life of Christ who went out of his way to be alongside the marginalised, the misunderstood, the abused, the outcast, those who had been judged by the religious authorities and communities of their time.’ The good news is that God loves the world and enters into our lives right where we are at,” says Suse.
Suse’s faith was important to her from a very early age. “I had an amazing experience when I was about nine years old where I had a vivid dream and woke up knowing that I wanted God to be the foundation in my life. It was an experience and moment that changed my world and the best decision I ever made,” recalls Suse.
“At 12 I visited Ely Cathedral with my grandmother who has an incredible depth of faith and I experienced a real sense of being called to ministry. This was before women were even being ordained in the Anglican church!” she adds.
It was the start of Suse’s vocational journey but it would be another 25years and at a low point in her life before she really started to explore it.
Singing has always been a big part of Suse’s life and worship. She was signed to a record label at the age of 18 and was a worship leader as well as session vocalist for mainstream DJs. At the same time she worked for national faith based charity NGM, a community of creatives, musicians and dancers who use the arts as a tool to engage with mission. Suse moved from NGM to leading a public communications programme, teaching skills and confidence building to help people speak in public.
In midst of all this, Suse had three children, “The vocation of motherhood is up there with the vocation of priesthood that I feel called too. They are held alongside each other and neither diminishes the other but both speak into one another. It blows my mind,” says Suse.
By 2012 she was still thinking about ordination but it didn’t feel like the right point. Then her life turned upside down when her marriage broke down and for a season she felt lost. “I was angry at God, couldn’t pray, couldn’t enter a church, I questioned everything I believed.’ That’s when I discovered the truth I knew already that God meets us right in the mess and brokenness of life. God is in the business of loving and restoring us,” says Suse.
“Friends and family asked if I had tried going to my local church, St Thomas’ in Wells. I eventually did and it was an experience I will never forget; there was such warmth and love and a real community. I discovered that liturgy gave me the way to pray all these things that I had found so hard to voice, it was like life blood to me,” recalls Suse.
Suse became more involved with the church in Wells and took a post as youth and children’s worker at St Cuthberts. From Wells she was encouraged to explore her vocation by friends and the local clergy she was working with: Tobie at St Thomas’, Alistair at St Cuthbert’s and Paul in Coxley.
“It was really encouraging to have such support, particularly when it feels so daunting to first tell people that you are thinking about exploring ordination. There’s always the fear that they might just think you are being ridiculous!” says Suse.
From there the path to ordination has been a bit of a whirlwind. Suse studied at Ripon College, Cuddesdon in Oxford, which welcomed her young family. “Our whole family was embraced and welcomed as part of a diverse community, which includes an order of nuns. It’s in the middle of nowhere and the kids loved the freedom of being out in the countryside, yet were able to establish some great friendships with their school peers,” says Suse.
“The breadth of churchmanship made Cuddesdon such a brilliant place to train. I learned so much from my peers by sharing in their stories and spirituality. I have made some lifelong friends.”
Now settled in Bridgwater with her children and menagerie of pets including a dog, cats, house rabbits and hamsters, Suse is looking forward to running local trails. “I absolutely love trail running,” says Suse. “It’s one of the ways I really connect with and find God in nature.”