My name is Susan Bowman and I am an ordained Episcopal priest. In 2007 after 19 years, I retired from full-time parish ministry.
I am also a Grandmother, with 2 college-aged grandchildren – Jared, 20 and Emily, age 18 – my most favorite pastime is spending time with them; unfortunately, they are away at college so I have to be creative which usually means providing them with extra cash so I had to make that extra money at AAA I also tried my hand at freelance writing and administrative assistance online. Not much but every little bit helped.
A born and bred Virginian, I grew up in Petersburg – in Southside Virginia. My mother and father were self-employed – my Dad a trained professional public accountant and my Mom a very competent assistant who worked with Dad so she could have some flexibility while we were growing up. My older sister, my younger brother, and I were fortunate to be raised by parents who loved us, encouraged us, provided us with top-notch education opportunities, and basically taught us to be honest, hard-working, and just dysfunctional enough to provide us with enough personal issues to keep us busy in therapy.
My sister and I both attended the College of William & Mary (she from 1961-1965 and I followed from 1965-1969). I majored in Philosophy (or “Just-get-a-diploma-I’m-getting-married”) because it only required 27 hours of course work, which left me with lots of time to take a wide variety of other courses thus providing me with a more liberal arts education. I took courses like Computer Programming, Anthropology and, my personal favorite, The History of Fashion. Laugh if you want, these courses rounded out my education nicely while salvaging my bargain basement level GPA.
I got married in the summer before my Senior year and we moved to Atlanta upon graduation, where I got a job working for a company called Balanced Financial Plans, Inc. It wasn’t what I had anticipated I would be doing as a graduate of the most difficult college for women to graduate from, but eventually it served me well as I received training on the newest IBM contribution to the burgeoning Word Processor industry.
The MTST (Magnetic Tape Selectric Typewriter – above) and MTSC (Magnetic Tape Selectric Composer for typesetting) were considered “high tech” in the business world so I now realize that I was actually on the “ground floor” of a technological advance that would soon take over the world of written communication. As a BFP Clerk, I produced perfectly formatted, error-free Balanced Financial Plans written and dictated by our financial experts and eventually graduated to producing camera-ready copy for the marketing department.
After we left Atlanta for Pascagoula, Mississippi (don’t laugh, my husband was transferred there – it wasn’t our choice!), I had even more difficulty finding suitable employment since I was considered “over qualified” for most positions available in a small town in such a depressed area. I finally took work as a waitress until I landed a job preparing a manuscript for publication of a book on building aircraft carriers.
I later did a short stint as an Eligibility Worker for the local Welfare Department (yes, it was still called that), taking applications for Food Stamps, determining and tracking the applicants’ eligibility status. I quickly discovered that I was way too compassionate (I was known as a “Softie” in the industry) for social work about the same time I discovered that I was pregnant, so my tenure with the State of Mississippi was short-lived.
After my son was born, we moved to Jackson, Mississippi where I was the secretary at St. Andrew’s Cathedral. Then we moved back to Atlanta where I worked for an Engineering firm using my expertise on the MTSC and a department store (part-time) until we decided to part ways permanently. We were divorced and my 2-year old son Scott and I “went home” to Petersburg.
I landed a unique position, thanks to a good friend who knew the City Engineer was looking for an “Assistant.” I quickly got the job and was thrust into my first experience with workplace discrimination. When I met the 2 men who occupied the same pay grade as I did – Engineering Assistant – their disapproval was instantly obvious. They were very unhappy that I, a woman, now carried the same title as they did and I admittedly knew next to nothing about surveying, drafting, and utility construction. They didn’t give a whit that the Boss had just used the slot to get himself a coveted assistant like the other division heads in City Hall.
Of course, this man had failed to mention all this to me, leaving me to fend off the angry stares and lewd comments of my fellow “EA’s” and to forge my own spot in the office, which also housed the Director of Traffic Engineering (stop lights, etc.), the Director of Public Works (my boss’ boss) and 2 aging secretaries. All of them were totally oblivious to the drama unfolding around the 3 drafting tables grouped behind the filing cabinets, which housed the construction plans I was quickly learning how to read.
I survived the abuse and slowly began to actually gain the respect of the guys by not rising to their bait as they attempted to “put me in my proper place” in the division pecking order and by learning everything they threw at me. They figured that if they gave me things that I would fail to do so miserably, I would either get frustrated and leave or that I would get fired for being the incompetent female they knew I was.
These things included a surveying job in the middle of a huge vacant piece of land designated as the site of a new fire station. It sounded like an easy task for us until we arrived at the site, which was about a quarter of a mile off the road, had recently been “leveled,” which is a misnomer because the removal of the trees had left it almost impossible to walk through, especially with surveying equipment.
It was cold and wet and I was dressed for going to work in an office in nice shoes (thankfully low-heeled) and a long winter coat hardly suitable for trekking through the mud. I managed to get through the day and even laughed when they pulled the old surveyor’s trick on the “new guy” where you get to pull the tape and pull and pull to the corner until the tape is tight and then they let go which deposits you on your butt on the ground so forcefully that you have to be pulled up from the muddy hole made when you landed amid their uproarious laughter.
This was my first experience with such treatment and, I’m proud to say, I passed with flying colors, becoming the first female Engineering Assistant – Level II. Since I was also the last of my breed, I was the only one to be congratulated with a cake and flowers upon promotion and my assignment by the Director of Public Works as the official liaison and Public Relations Officer/Real Estate Officer for the department’s numerous public utility construction projects in the annexed areas of the city where the angriest people I’ve ever met resided. They were angry because they had been annexed, angrier still that their new municipal leaders were forcing them to accept public sewer and water service when they had perfectly good wells and septic tanks (many of these were the same people who had previously called the State Health Department numerous times complaining of their polluted wells and bad water).
I quickly became the “Go-To-Gal” for all issues surrounding these utility projects and after their completion, the utility departments in the City relied on me for line and easement locations since I had personally walked the project sites so many times, I knew them all by heart. I thoroughly enjoyed my new-found position of importance and happily became one of those people who hover over a hole in the road while the traffic sits and the drivers fume and wonder why it takes so many municipal workers to fix a water line.
My call to ministry in the Church came during my tenure with the City of Petersburg and I left municipal employment for seminary at the University of the South’s School of Theology in August of 1981. After a successful 3 years, during which I was Student Body President and Class Representative on the Liturgy Committee, I graduated in 1984, in the top 5 of my class with a GPA of 3.75 and a Master of Divinity Degree. The following is a chronological list of events following graduation and the places I have served during my ordained ministry:
- Ordained an Episcopal Deacon – February 23, 1985
- Ordained an Episcopal Priest – January 25, 1986
- Chaplain at Jackson-Feild Home for Girls, Jarratt VA – 1984-1987
- Pastor of 3 Episcopal parish churches – 1987-2007
- “Retired” in 2007
- Served small United Methodist congregation in upstate NY
- Retired again in 2019
Over the first 20 years of my ministry as a priest, writing became a passion and a way of life as I prepared:
- Presentations, retreats, workshops
- Weekly sermons
- Newsletter articles
- Theological treatises & articles
In 2005, I decided that I needed to have a back-up plan for earning money after retirement since I was going to be receiving a modest pension payment. I enrolled in the Penn Foster School of Medical Transcription, struggled through a long at-home study course and received a Diploma in 2007.
Also in 2007, I officially retired from full-time ministry in the Episcopal Church and had to seriously search for full-time employment to supplement that pension I mentioned. I was ready to do something new and different and, after several “must-do” things to make ends meet, I landed a job as an Auto Travel Counselor for AAA in Albany.
It was the perfect “retirement job” for me as I got to route trips for members, maintain their accounts and, best of all, I got to talk to people all day long. Actually, I told people that I loved my job because “I get to take people’s money and tell them where to go.”
After retiring I also became a “Freelancer” – doing Virtual Assistant jobs through an online agency and writing articles and website copy for clients in places like Australia, Puerto Rico, and all over the US. After many months of procrastination, I finally buckled down and wrote my long-desired book, “Lady Father,” chronicling my experience in the ordination process of the Church and my subsequent ministry assignments. It is a saga of joy and sorrow, wonder and pain as I experienced the ultimate “highs” of acceptance, success, and finally ordination all mixed in with the “lows” of rejection, failure, depression, and teetering on the very doorstep of resignation not only from the ordained ministry but from Church in general. I was rescued from that precipice by the people of Jermain United Methodist Church who hired me as their “Sunday Pastor.” I did no administration although I generously offered any advice they asked for; I just did Sunday services and some pastoral work. It was hard since I lived an hour away but we sailed along happily for 12 years until an ankle injury put me down for the count for 4 or 5 months during which they decided to hire a local Presbyterian minister. I was sad at first but quickly realized that I was ready to be on the other side of the worship experience. So I retired again – this time fully and graciously. I now volunteer for Hospice and am working on selling my book again.
It’s been a long journey, one that isn’t over yet, and there are days when I can recall vividly the wonders and joys of ordained ministry with devoted and loving Christian people. Unfortunately, I also have memories of the difficult ones – the people who put their own likes, dislikes, and beliefs above their commitment as a Christian. These encounters caused me pain but I have put it all aside, forgiving these folks, not only because I’m sure I did things I hope they have forgiven me for, but because Jesus says to and that’s who I really work for.
I am happy to be “retired clergy” and I have even decided I won’t supply, due to the condition of my buckling left leg that makes steps without railings a nightmare. My left ankle which I broke in September 2018 still causes discomfort and I can’t stand for long periods of time. I thought I would be sad but I find myself whispering the words of institution with the priest and I am really enjoying being the “feedee” instead of the “feeder.” I did love my Methodists but I am happy to be back in my beloved Episcopal Church after such a long absence. I knew I missed the pomp and ceremony (you know, the Gospel procession, etc.) but I didn’t know how much until I experienced it anew in my new church home, St. Stephen’s in Delmar, NY. God is SO good that he brought me there for the first time on a Baptismal Sunday and when we began the Renewal of Baptismal Vows, I knew I had come home for sure. Alleluia.
July 1, 2019.
This group is for people who like to write, who make a living writing, write just for fun, have published a book or books, want desperately to publish a book, or have published one and need to figure out how to sell it.
That last one would be me. I wrote my memoir in 2011 and it has been languishing in the publisher’s waiting for people to buy it. Unfortunately, I am not the sharpest marketing knife in the drawer so I am starting this group looking for like authors who would like to help each other out with tips, etc. and with sharing lists or posting others’ books on their own page or website. For instance, I have a website where I would start a column for Budding Authors and list your book and where to buy it.
If you are interested, please reply. As far as group guidelines are concerned, all the normal non-abusive, verbally haranguing, rude comments, etc. etc. are banned and will result in removal from the group. We are all responsible adults and everyone is expected to act as such. If not, your posts will be removed. Sign up in the side bar.
Hope to hear from all you Budding Authors soon.
Rev. Susan Bowman
July 6, 2019
Susan Bowman, is an ordained Episcopal Priest, a Grandmother, and a Professional Writer. She was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1986 and has a story to tell that will speak to all women who are functioning in a traditionally male role. She has written a book about her experiences of discrimination within the church’s ordination process and in the parishes she served. Register for her newsletter and important emails. Fill out the form below to enter contact information securely.