A pioneer for Kerrier
Kerrier Deanery’s new pioneer minister, the Reverend Susie Templeton conducted her first Cornish service on Sunday 24th September in the beachside Church of St Winwaloe – known locally as the church of the storms – out on the windswept, rugged and remote Lizard peninsula coast.
The medieval church stands on a site where Christian worship is said to have taken place for at least fifteen hundred years.
“It’s a gorgeous place,” she says. “There’s something quite special there. There’s a real spirituality about the place.”
Born into a naval family in Portsmouth, she’s lived, worked and studied as far afield as Indonesia, Australia, South Africa and Brazil.
She was six when her father’s latest posting took the family to Brunei for a couple of years – at the end of which, they spent a further six weeks taking in many more countries as they travelled back to Britain, in order to see a bit more of the world.
“It was quite formative for me – to have experienced such an adventure at such a young age,” she says.
A decade later, when she’d finished school, she went to Borneo to work on a coral reef conservation project, where she learned to scuba dive.
“Those beautiful reefs,” she recalls. “I absolutely fell in love with them.”
Dreaming of a career as a marine biologist, she went on to study Biology with Science Communication at Royal Holloway in London. But when she completed her degree, she realised that such tropical dream jobs were few and far between, and she didn’t much fancy working in a laboratory for the rest of her life.
So, she chose to pursue the media side of her skills, and for a while took temporary work and travelled whenever she could.
Journeys of faith
At the end of her studies, she’d worked for the church as a student worker, and had taken a group of students on a trip to Brazil. She later completed an internship with a wildlife filmmaking company in Cape Town.
She’d always been a person of faith, having been brought up attending the naval church in Portsmouth and then joining a local church youth group when she was twelve.
“That was when I really started to understand my faith for myself,” she recalls.
She’d been involved in the church while at university, and remembers having a conversation with her curate about whether she felt called to ministry.
“But it wasn’t the right time – I wanted to explore the world some more,” she says. “My twenties were a bit hectic – a bit chaotic but full of really enriching experiences – experiencing things outside my comfort zone, seeing things through other people’s eyes.
“I became really passionate about mission and about cross-cultural connections and what we could learn from each other – about coming with open hands rather than coming with all the solutions. I think that set me up well for pioneering ministry.”
In 2008, she travelled to Australia to take a discipleship course, which was followed by joining a related outreach project to work with a youth group in Indonesia.
Returning to the UK, she took work for a charity based in Southampton making videos helping churches engage with the media, while also completing a part-time Master’s programme in documentary filmmaking back at Royal Holloway.
“But I realised I wasn’t really cut out to do that kind of work,” she says. “It sucked the joy out of it for me.”
In 2011, back in Portsmouth, she got a job with the Methodist Church as part of the chaplaincy team at HMS Sultan in Gosport, supporting the work of a coffee lounge attached to the chaplaincy.
“It was fairly standard pastoral work. But I got paid to hang out with sailors!” she laughs. “It was good fun. And we also did some quite inventive ministry.”
One day, one of the chaplains sat her down and told her to stop messing around and get ordained. She found herself somewhat daunted by the prospect.
“It took me a while processing all my concerns about ordination, until I had a moment when God quietly challenged me, saying ‘this is the best I have for you’. Well, you can’t really go back from that! That’s when I started taking it seriously,” she says.
From parish priest to pioneer
She started training at Cuddesdon theological college in 2015 and was ordained three years later in Oxford. The following year, she was ‘priested’ in Reading, and served her curacy just outside that town.
She then spent two years as an interim minister, looking after a neighbouring parish that was in vacancy.
“I was there to provide some stability,” she explains. “It was good. It wasn’t what I’d expected to be doing, but it taught me a lot. Having that grounding in parish work has enhanced my ability to minister as a pioneer.
“It wasn’t always easy, but we really invested in families and young people. We found ways of involving the kids in our services. And we started Wild Church once a month on Sunday afternoons. Lots of families came to that. There were opportunities to engage that gave their kids space to be kids.”
And her next stop was Cornwall.
“I’m really excited to be here,” she says. “It’s a big move and it’s a big job. It’s a big area and a lot of churches. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly overwhelmed at times.
“It’s a really courageous brief. That means it’s scary but also hopeful. Those things hold together – and I hope we can work together in that vein to find out what the spirit is doing for the churches here, to find out what God is doing here and what the next generation is going to look like. We have to be more creative about how we engage and what we want church to look like.
“There are so many gifts in this appointment for me. It’s tied up so many threads in my life that at the time might have felt like random experiences.”
It is, she believes, the coming together of these rich and diverse threads of experience which has brought her here, and equipped her for her calling here, now and in Cornwall.