By Derek Maul
Many pastors share “call to ministry” stories that are poetic and deeply spiritual. Not the reverend Susan Hill of Bloomingdale Presbyterian Church.
“I didn’t feel called, I got kicked in the butt,” she said. “I answered kicking and screaming. You could see the heal marks in the grass.”
She’d just completed a 22-year Air Force career and was attending a women’s retreat at Lake Tahoe. She was looking to retire but evidently God had other plans.
Born (1951) and raised around Portland, Maine, ministry was the last thing on Hill’s mind.
“I studied Early Education at the University of Maine (Machias),” she said. “Then I met Jim. He said ‘I’ve got orders to Germany; you want to go?’”
It was 1970. The couple married, lived on the German economy for five years, tried civilian life for six months and then re-enlisted – this time together.
“We were the first Air Force husband and wife team in Maine,” she said. “He was a systems analyst and I was a dental hygienist. They moved us to California, Germany and then California again.”
Hill was still in California when she retired. That’s when the “drop kick” sent her to San Francisco Theological Seminary.
“I picked up several degrees in Northern California,” Hill said. “My BA in psychology, a Masters in Education and Training, a Clinical Psychology Masters in marriage and family therapy, and then the Masters in Divinity in 2004.”
Since then she has picked up her board certification as a hospital chaplain.
In 2004 Hill joined the University of California Davis Medical Center as chaplain.
“My first day, visiting with my first patient,” she said. “I realized God had always been preparing me for this.”
Hill and her husband, Jim, moved to the Brandon area in 2009.
“I was hired chaplain at St. Joseph’s Hospital in August 2010,” she said. “I came on board at Bloomingdale Presbyterian Church the beginning of 2011.”
Her responsibilities involve congregational care, women’s ministry, developing a youth program and assisting in worship. The strong relational ties give her strength and context from which to do ministry at the hospital.
“I’m in the service of Christ when I enter a treatment room,” she said. “It’s a sacred space. Everyone has a story. My opportunity is to validate who they are and to find moments of great grace and compassion. I thank God for the privilege.”
Hill loves the Brandon community. “I even love your humidity,” she said. “If you’re bored here I don’t know what else could be offered to you.”
Hill says she appreciates Brandon’s openness and hospitality.
“In Sacramento everyone had to be politically correct,” she said. “You couldn’t mention faith outside church. But here, even getting our driver’s license, people said ‘Welcome,’ and ‘We’ll hold you in our prayers…’ People here are genuinely kind. We’ve not experienced hospitality like Brandon before.”