Bishop Susan “Sue” Moxley, known to many Anglicans in Canada and overseas for her passion for social justice and church renewal, has announced she will retire in March 2014.
By then, Moxley will have served in an episcopal role for 10 years-three years as suffragan (assistant) bishop and seven as diocesan bishop for the diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. She also will have served as an active priest in the Anglican Church of Canada for 29 years. In 2007 Moxley, then 61, made history by becoming the first female bishop elected in her diocese, and the second female bishop to lead a diocese across the Canadian Anglican church.
With the recent completion of the new multimillion-dollar diocesan centre and retirement living facility in Halifax, and the full approval of the diocese’s new governance structure, Moxley said she felt it was a good time to pass on the baton.
“I looked at things I process and things that we are finishing up, and I thought that’s a good point in time right about then,” said Moxley in an interview.
“I’ve loved being a bishop. I’ve loved even the grungy bits of dealing with not-so-nice stuff,” she said. “There’s no way to describe what it’s like. But it’s an honour-it’s a service role and it’s humbling because you get to be with people in the most extraordinary circumstances.” Being “a visible servant of God in the community,” she added, has also been a “huge thing.”
She describes being with people in their personal journeys of faith as a highlight of her ministry as bishop and priest. She has been with people “in good times and in bad, and…as they gain new insights about where God is in their lives.”
The opportunity to travel around the diocese and overseas when she represents the national church has also been gratifying. “I keep saying, I’ve been to places that people don’t even know exists in our two provinces,” said Moxley. Her daughter has teased her about the amount of travel. “She used to see those ads that said, ‘Join the Armed Forces and see the world,’ and she’d say, ‘Mom, for you, it’s been ‘Join the church and see the world.’ “
Moxley pointed to the vibrant youth ministry as something that she and members of her diocese are most proud of. “The diocese a long time ago made an investment in young people” and continues to do so, she said. For instance, each parish can send a young person to the diocesan synod-“not a youth synod or some side event”-and they are full, voting members. The diocese has provided regular, consistent funding for a youth ministry co-ordinator and for sending youth to national Anglican and other youth gatherings, among others. The commitment has paid off in terms of leadership development, she said, pointing to the diocese’s four clergy under age 30, who came through the whole process of being involved with their church.
Some dreams remain that Moxley would like to see move forward, among them the project to build “healthier” parishes. A group is looking at the Re-imagining Church program, developed by Toronto’s Wycliffe College, which “introduces people to the basic principles of being a missional church,” according to its website.
There have been a few surprises in her role as bishop, said Moxley. “The whole [matter of] how to use lands and buildings well-that’s not something I was ever introduced to at theological school.”
Fortunately for Moxley, her travels overseas as the national church’s bishop representative to the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) brought her into contact with new ideas.
“Something that really helped me was going to the ACC meeting in Hong Kong  and seeing how they had built highrises on their little patch of land,” she said. The highrises incorporated worship space, offices and places for clergy to live, and these were supplemented by income derived from the other 80 or so floors of apartments, she said. “That really got me thinking about how we could do that here.”
One result has been the redevelopment of the diocese’s properties north of All Saints Cathedral, in south-end Halifax. The church partnered with Shannex, a seniors’ care-provider, to construct an eight-storey, 150-unit facility, which includes 15,000 square feet of space for the cathedral and the diocese’s administrative, educational and other needs.
While the diocese hasn’t overcome its financial challenges, Moxley said this partnership project has provided people with a glimpse of how to find different ways of funding “God’s work in the world.”
Another thing that theological school didn’t entirely prepare her for was “finding different ways to finance the work of God in our church,” said Moxley. Like most dioceses, 90 per cent of the diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island’s income comes from commitments made by parishes. “So, the whole notion of financial campaigns and fundraising or other ways of planned giving-all of that stuff was a surprise to me,” she said. “It takes a goodly amount of a bishop’s time, especially in a diocese where we don’t have a lot of staff.”
There have been personal revelations as well. Being bishop has made Moxley realize that, “I can look at the big picture. I can step back from the details that might drive you crazy and say, ‘OK, where does this fit? How does this fit? Where are we going with that?’ ” Parish life, she said, didn’t provide her with the opportunity for this kind of thinking.
She also discovered she had more patience than she’d thought, said Moxley, laughing. Some actions-whether by clergy or lay-could flummox her at times, but she found she could listen and help sort out things.
Moxley has also learned how to let go of things that are beyond her control as bishop. “When I was parish priest, I always wanted worship to be really well done, to be the best that it actually could be, so I’ve spent a lot of time working with people to say, ‘Now, this is what needs to happen here so things flow properly,’ ” she recalled. “What I discovered as bishop is you have absolutely no control over that,” she said, laughing. “If it doesn’t flow the way I want it to, too bad.”
She admits, though, to having no patience for people “who put absolutely no effort into planning worship or no effort into caring for people and doing the work they’re called to do.” But she will find time, she said, to call them to task because she believes that priests and lay leaders have to “love God’s people,” and not just put up with them.
Asked about her experience of being the diocese’s first woman bishop, Moxley said it was no different from being among the early women priests in Canada-it was a non-issue for most. While there are people who disagree with the ordination of women, including “one or two” in her diocese, she said that for her, being a woman has never been an issue. “People have not been rude. My experience has been nothing like the experience in England, where it has been very difficult.”
On some level, she said it has broken stereotypes, including “crazy things like people saying, ‘I know I couldn’t meet with you at supper time because you’d need to be home to get your husband supper,’ and I’d go, ‘Right.’ ” She said she won’t disabuse them of that notion, but she hopes that it has made people realize that all bishops need to have supper with their family.
“I don’t know if being a bishop who’s a woman has made a difference in the diocese or not,” said Moxley. But she acknowledged that it has meant a difference for women, who often comment on it and who realize that they, too, could be called into that role. She recalled a meeting of Anglican Church Women (ACW), followed by a service, and as she went down the aisle, she saw a woman crying in the pew. Thinking she had offended her in some way or that the woman was opposed to having women bishops, she went up to talk to her. “I said, ‘Are you OK?’ And she said, “No, I’m not OK. I saw you up there with your mitre and that crozier and I thought, ‘If God could call her, God could call me,’ and I’m terrified.”
That concept hadn’t existed for the woman until she saw Moxley, and that was “quite astonishing,” said Moxley. She remembers telling the woman, “Well, you never know. Years ago, I never thought I would be here, either.” But Moxley said she is happy to have been called.
She has a few ideas about how to spend her retirement, including hiking, travelling and gardening with her husband, Bruce, who retired in 2011. She has also drawn inspiration from a retired Episcopal priest she met on a hiking trip in Scotland, who fills in for priests and bishops so they can go on much-needed sabbaticals.
“The other thing I’ve been excited about is the area of stewardship creation and how we get people to understand that God has given us so much and our attitude needs to be one of thankfulness, not how much can I get for myself,” she said.
Moxley is also delighted at the prospect of spending more time with her grandson, who will turn four in October. Right now, “Grammy” only has him every Monday, on her days off.
“What I’ve said to priests who retire here is, ‘I’ll give you six months to go and play and you can let me know when you’re ready to come back and do something,’ ” she said. “That’s probably what I’ll do. I’ll go play and do something.”