Posted by: Sue Spencer | November 2, 2007

Introducing Myself

I’m Sue Spencer, and I’m a member of the Community of the Holy Spirit, an Episcopal women’s community based in Manhattan and Brewster, New York. I’ve also been ordained as a Unitarian Universalist minister since 1985, and I suppose this combination makes me something of a rare bird, if not an odd duck.

As far as I know, I’m the only Unitarian Universalist minister who’s ever entered a convent. There have been other UU women who’ve joined religious orders – most notably Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, daughter of Nathaniel Hawthorne, who became a Catholic and then a Dominican sister – but as far as I know, none of them were ever ordained as ministers in the Unitarian or Universalist church. (Of course, I’m happy to stand corrected if you know of others!)     

I’m also a confirmed Episcopalian; CHS wouldn’t have admitted me otherwise. For many, many years, I’ve been drawn to the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, and finally took the step of being confirmed three and a half years ago, in the Diocese of Massachusetts. Fortunately, the UUA allows ministers to have dual affiliations. So far, CHS has been similarly tolerant in allowing me to straddle this boundary.

I’m here at CHS as a Candidate – one who has come to community to “test her vocation.” For many years I’ve been drawn to monastic life, worshipping in monasteries and feeling very much at home, and finally it occurred to me that this might have something to do with my own calling. I arrived at the Manhattan convent on Labor Day, 2006, and moved to the Brewster convent, known as “Melrose,” the week after Easter. Our work at Melrose is an “earth ministry,” whose centerpiece is a small organic farm.     

After a year in community, I find I have only a bit more clarity than when I entered, about where God might be calling me for the long haul. In some ways, I probably have less! This doesn’t alarm me particularly, despite my jokes about being 61 and still not knowing what I want to do when I grow up. The other day I realized how blessed I am to be looking at two deep and rich paths, two ways to be of service. I can move more deeply into the life here at CHS, or I can return to ministry in the parish – and who knows? Maybe it doesn’t have to be either/or.

I have faith that slowly, things will become clear to me – with no doubt some surprises along the way, since in my experience God is full of them! Since the community doesn’t allow me to even think about taking final vows until I’ve been here at least four years, I do have some time. I don’t expect this blog to be entirely about my process of discernment, but I know that it will come up. I hope that sharing parts of my journey will in some way help others find their own paths.     

All Saints/All Souls seems an auspicious time for me to be starting a blog. For one thing, in Celtic Britain, November 1 marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of a new year. (We are right in synch with this here at Melrose; our first hard frost came just a few days ago and so we’re moving into a new season with the garden.) All Saints also has special significance for me because it was on November 1, 1981, that I became a Christian as an adult. This is a VERY long story, but the actual turning, or awakening, happened in a split second, at the communion rail of King’s Chapel, Boston. Maybe I’ll share parts of the story someday.

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