A couple of years ago, in the middle of a meeting, the Rev. Canon Suzann Holding had a vision that put her on a journey from the idyllic weather of San Diego back to a city that has been known this winter as Chi-beria, where she will become the Bexley Seabury Seminary Federation’s director of lifelong learning and the doctor of ministry program on April 1.
“I saw an old stone ruin with crumbling bricks,” says Holding, “and I knew my heart wasn’t in repairing that wall. I wanted to go beyond the old, broken walls that too often keep the church in and hold us back.”
It’s not surprising that Holding, who received her MDiv from Seabury in 1999, was intrigued when she learned about the opportunity to return to her alma mater, which now describes itself as a “seminary beyond walls.”
“I commend Bexley Seabury for being courageous and thinking creatively about its mission,” she says. “Leaders in the church can’t keep doing business as usual. We have to break down the traditional paradigms and delivery systems for theological education in ways that make the Gospel message meaningful to people’s lives. The opportunity to do that at a new venture guided by Roger Ferlo is very exciting.”
Ferlo, Bexley Seabury’s president, is enthusiastic about Holding’s arrival. “Suzi is an expert in training leaders and an experienced parish priest,” he said. Ferlo led the search that chose Holding from a strong pool of applicants. “Our DMin and lifelong learning programs will benefit greatly from her deep practical experience in ministry, her experience in the business world, and her understanding of today’s church. And, as a native of Cincinnati and a long-time resident of Chicagoland, she has a heart for the Midwest regions where Bexley Seabury makes its homes. We’re very fortunate to have found her.”
Holding, who lives in Glen Ellyn, Ill., recently finished a four-year stint as canon to the ordinary in the Diocese of San Diego, where she led congregational and leadership development programs in addition to handling the position’s typical administrative responsibilities. Before that, she was rector of the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour in Elmhurst and associate rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Wheaton, both in the Diocese of Chicago. Prior to seminary, she spent nearly two decades working in corporate sales, marketing and operations.
She is also practicing what she’s about to preach. This fall, Holding will complete her own DMin program at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, writing a thesis about creativity as a leadership tool.
“In our world today, there are a lot of messages about what it means to be Christian, and some of them are really not helpful,” she says. “We need the whole horizon of possibilities to support people in their spiritual journey and feed their spiritual curiosity. To be effective in reaching people who are hungry, we need to be creative.”
Holding hopes to use some of her own creative leadership to attract fellow Seabury alums to be a part of the new Bexley Seabury despite the pain of letting go of the Evanston campus.
“We all grieve the loss of places we have had to say goodbye to, like our childhood homes or church buildings where we baptized our children or married and buried our soulmates,” says Holding. “The memories that we form stay with us even when the physical places go away, and the substance of them will always be part of us. People of faith are a journeying people. If we claim that identity, then we recognize that Seabury was a place on the journey, but not a stagnant one. The faithful response is to acknowledge it as a painful loss and move on.”
For Holding, moving on has recently meant returning from four years in San Diego to the Glen Ellyn house that she shared with her husband, who died seven years ago, and their two children. Now she lives with with Lucy, a 45-pound shepherd and spaniel mix, and welcomes frequent visits from her daughter, Mallory, a former employee of the Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations now finishing a master’s degree in international development policy at Georgetown University, and her son, Michael, an aspiring actor in Chicago.
“My journey has brought me home again, but it’s a different place,” she says, both of her life in Glen Ellyn and her new role at Bexley Seabury. “Things have changed and so have I. God is leading us all beyond the old walls.”