Remembering Sue Taylor

Remembering Sue Taylor

Companion of the Centre Sue Taylor passed away last week at Bethell Hospice in Caledon, Ontario, just shy of her 84th birthday.

Dorothy Naylor (another Companion of the Centre) recalled the excellent community chaplaincy that Sue did in Ottawa. “She is a great example of what diaconal ministry is about,” said Dorothy.

According to her obituary “Sue received several awards and recognition for her work in the Ottawa community but was most proud of the Companion of the Centre for Christian Studies she was awarded in 2018 in recognition of a life that embodied their mission of justice, compassion and transformation.”

Sue was awarded the Companion of the Centre award in 2018. Here is the citation that was read at that time:

Sue’s ministry began as a nurse, as she graduated from the Wellesley Hospital School of Nursing in Toronto in 1958, and worked as a Registered Nurse until she graduated in 1985 with a Diploma in Diaconal Ministry from the Centre for Christian Studies. From 1985 – 1987, Sue worked at First St. Andrew’s United Church in London, Ontario, before moving to become the first chaplain at the newly established Carlington Community Chaplaincy in Ottawa. After ‘retiring’ from chaplaincy in 2002, Sue worked at First United Church in Ottawa, mostly in pastoral care, until 2011.

Sue’s ministry has not been limited to her paid accountable work, but is also evident in her active volunteer work with the Multifaith Housing Initiative in Ottawa, the Ottawa Mission for Men, as a Healing Pathway volunteer, with Hospice Care Ottawa, and with Bethel Hospice in Inglewood.

When Sue spoke with our students in the learning circle yesterday, she spoke of connectedness with the Holy Spirit, that indwelling that enables us to be at home in ourselves. And at last night’s banquet, when asked for a scripture passage, Sue mentioned Luke 4, and John’s gospel – both evoking the Holy Spirit, indwelling and connecting us to one another and with God. Connection is often associated with charismatic personality, but Sue has an even rarer gift and finely honed skill – the ability of connecting lasting community. In the letters supporting Sue’s nomination as Companion one phrase stood out because it was repeated so often: when describing a new initiative or program, they said that it “continues to this day.” Sue named the ministry of connection as being at home with oneself, connected with God and connected with community. Sue talked with the students about the importance of keeping healthy boundaries, and overcoming barriers in ministry.

According to one letter-writer, when Sue first arrived for her interview for the job at Carlington, the immediate feeling articulated by those present was that “God had sent her to us. Over the ensuing 15 years of Sue’s ministry in Carlington, we continued to believe this to be true… (She embodied ) commitment to justice, compassion and transformation and lived them out daily.”

Sue built a pastoral visitation program with women from Carlington and volunteers from outside the community, using her ability to connect ecumenically and across class and disability differences. She started book studies and monthly lunches, all of which “continue to this day”. She worked towards right relationships between Indigenous peoples and settlers, including participating in Truth and Reconciliation Commission gatherings.

Sue has been a leader who has faithfully and consistently embodied in action and taught through education “justice, compassion, and transformation”. In her living and in her ministry, she has engaged as an individual and led others… constantly pushing boundaries. Sue has an open heart and easily enters into dialogue across religious boundaries as well as cultural boundaries which includes engagement with the secular world… Sue takes a wholistic approach integrating faith with social, economic and ecological justice… throughout she has nurtured community by bringing people together.

With attention to building bridges comes an awareness of operating in liminal space – Sue describes her work as “ministry in the gaps”.  And Luke’s gospel guides her:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

Sue’s ministry has brought good news through her  presence. She has proclaimed release, not by rescuing people, but through building community and capacity. She has restored sight – through advocacy with people living with disabilities and through challenging the lack of awareness among middle class, settler Canadians. Her clear focus on justice proclaims liberty for the oppressed, and her very presence proclaims the year of God’s favour.

At First United in Ottawa Sue led a seniors group and a Living Into Right Relations circle. She is described by one writer as “a powerful wise voice of truth that builds trust.”

I will close with words from Sue herself describing her ministry as one of connection:

In my understanding, spirituality is about a sense of connectedness or a search for connectedness: connectedness within ourselves or a feeling of “being at home” within ourselves; connectedness with others in relationships; connectedness within the wider community or world; connectedness with the universe or creation and the mystery that we might call God. A connectedness that gives meaning to life.

Sue Taylor is the CCS 2018 Companion of the Centre