For this Master of Theological Studies graduate, theology is a family affair.
The Revd Suzannah Daniels with her daughter Elizabeth and husband Paul.
Marking the culmination of an extensive personal, spiritual and geographic journey, the Revd Suzannah Daniels was ordained on 11 November 2017 as one of Bendigo’s newest Anglican priests. Held at St Paul’s Cathedral in the Diocese of Bendigo, her ordination service was also the climax of a momentous year for this young wife and mother.
'It [was] a huge and exciting year for me,' she says. 'I gave birth to our first child, Elizabeth; I completed the last two subjects of my MA (Theology) at Trinity College Theological School; and in June, I was ordained a Deacon and appointed Assistant Curate at the parish of Bendigo North.'
Unusually for a newly ordained priest, she was effectively in charge of that parish, as the incumbent had moved to another diocese. 'Because I already knew the church community – which had been extremely supportive – the transition [was] very smooth. I also had a mentor, the priest-in-charge at Castlemaine, and we met regularly,' Suzannah says.
Fortunately, she brought youthful energy and enthusiasm to her new role. In addition to leading the congregation at St Luke’s in a traditional Anglican liturgy in the mornings, she also conducted a less formal, low-church service in the afternoons for the growing congregation at Huntly, on the outskirts of Bendigo.
'The service has its grounding in the Prayer Book but I try to be more creative and explore different styles of worship for it. I treasure the joyful exuberance of contemporary worship, but I also hold sacred the ritual of traditional churches and catholic liturgy. My passion is in exploring fresh ways of making our rich Christian heritage relevant to people today,' she adds.
Suzannah’s full journey into the priesthood goes right back to her early years. She and her twin sister, Mayra, and their younger sister, Patricia, grew up in a loving, Roman Catholic family in Northcote, Melbourne, but Suzannah disengaged from the church while in her twenties.
She obtained a BA from the University of Melbourne, majoring in English Literature and Indonesian, and then a Diploma of Education from the Australian Catholic University, and went on to teach Indonesian at a Uniting Church School in Melbourne’s south-east, where she became good friends with the school’s chaplain, who was an Anglican priest.
'My faith was re-awakened in 2011 when I spoke to him in a time of crisis and he prayed with me. It was a profound experience in which I felt the Holy Spirit, and which awoke in me a passion for God and for His Kingdom.
'Later that year, I quit my job and boarded a plane for Europe to begin a 14-month spiritual pilgrimage with the intention of getting to know God and discerning His plans for me. My first stop was Taizé monastery in France, where I met Rachel, a young female pastor of about my age. She helped me focus my sense of calling to ordained ministry into a realistic possibility.
'There were many other significant Holy Spirit encounters that year as I travelled through Israel, walked the Camino, preached for the first time in Nicaragua, visited countless churches across all denominations and styles, and read the bible from cover to cover,' Suzannah recalls.
'While on a mission trip in Nicaragua, with limited internet access and close to the enrolment cut-off date, I decided to try studying theology, so I Googled ‘Australian Anglican online theology courses’ and up came Trinity College Theological School, Melbourne. So I enrolled and, while living in Frankfurt, studied my first two subjects online, just to try it. It was very challenging, but I loved it!
'I returned to Australia and, because of its commitment to broad church and to female leadership, I joined the Anglican Church in April 2013.
'Continuing my discernment and study on campus at Trinity, I was delighted to find that the students came from a wide range of ages and backgrounds. Not only do I now have really good friends from a variety of Christian denominations, but this diversity contributed wide-ranging viewpoints that added to the richness of class discussions.
'I also enjoyed the range of subject choices and having access to the whole University of Divinity. Although my specific focus was on Anglican theologies, I valued being able to choose subjects from the associated Colleges of other denominations and appreciated Trinity’s openness to allowing students to explore and connect with different approaches and styles of worship.
'Importantly, too, the quality of the lecturers was impressive. As a young female from a Roman Catholic background, I especially found the Dean [at that time], the Revd Canon Professor Dorothy Lee, to be an outstanding teacher and role model for female priests,' she says.
'I was invited to join in a church planting team to set up a new congregation in Bendigo and, after a strong nudge from the Holy Spirit, I moved there at the end of 2013. Partly for financial reasons, and also to get to know more about the Bendigo community, I studied part-time and online for a year, while teaching Indonesian in Bendigo.
'The following year, I took a break from theology and taught full-time. I also married my husband, Paul, in January 2015, and we bought our first house – a cute yellow miner’s cottage in Ironbark. Theological study then became a family affair, as Paul was studying full time for a Master of Theology degree, also at Trinity.
Paul completed his Master's in 2016, while Suzannah juggled teaching, studies and pregnancy, finishing her theology course after the birth of their daughter Elizabeth – who she baptised.
'Performing Elizabeth’s baptism myself was a really amazing moment for me,' she says, the emotion evident in her voice.
Suzannah also feels blessed to be doing parish work. 'I am paid to pray – how good is that?'
By Rosemary Sheludko