When Susy Thomas received a tap on the shoulder to nominate as Moderator Elect of the Uniting Church WA, she was thrown. As a retired, successful CEO of a community service organisation, she was ready to enjoy some rest and much-loved time with her grandchildren.
At the time, Susy had recently returned from Sri Lanka as the Chair of the Uniting Church WA International Partnership and Development Commission, where she was visiting a preschool program of the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka. The program is supported by the Uniting Church WA through the commission. Susy was planning a joint fundraising initiative for the program through her congregation, South Perth Uniting Church, and the nearby Uniting Church WA School, Wesley College, when she was encouraged to think about being nominated for the position as Moderator from several people.
After a lot of prayer and discernment with her family and friends, she decided she needed to listen to God.
“It was a process,” she said. “But I felt very clearly God telling me that I need to be obedient.”
At the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Synod of WA, Susy was elected to serve as Moderator of the Uniting Church WA from September 2020 to 2023. She said the discernment process – where members of the Synod pray and reflect on the call from God – is an important part of the decision.
“What it has convinced me, is that the God who called me gave that many people God’s hope to them as well. It was a confirmation,” she said. “I love the word ‘discernment’ in the Uniting Church. The people there who were discerning, and I, felt that it is God’s church. God only asked me to be obedient.”
Susy has often felt the call of God on her life. She was born into a Christian family in Kerala, India, raised to act justly, with mercy and to walk humbly with God, never being ashamed of the gospel. She completed a Bachelor of Economics in India and met her husband Philip, before she relocated to London to be with him and begin a family. In 1982, Susy, Phillip and their two daughters migrated to Perth, Western Australia.
“It was a struggle for me to move from London to a place absolutely unknown,” she said. “We didn’t have any relatives here, nothing. We were just coming here.
“So I fought with God. But in an amazing way God showed me this is God’s plan, for us to be here,” she said. “A month or so before we left, we randomly came across a Western Australian person in London. So I asked him to tell me about the education system here. He mentioned the Uniting Church schools.
“That was the first time I’d heard of the Uniting Church.”
After working as a teacher in Perth for a while, Susy took on the role of CEO of Drug Arm WA, now called Hope Community. In this challenging role, Susy supported disadvantaged people in the suburbs of Perth.
“We talked about how we could do hands-on things for young people, so we started a street outreach program. We had street vans staffed by volunteers who went out to different spots like Fremantle, the city and regional centres.
“I was also a Justice of the Peace by then, so I was often called in to the Rangeview Remand Centre to sign release papers to bailout kids.”
Susy proposed to the board to use a property as accommodation for young people they had bailed from lockup. They would live there while also learning various hands-on skills like woodwork or computer skills, and also receive counselling.
When they had finished the course, a letter was written to the Magistrate advising them of the course they had completed, in the hopes they would take it into account during sentencing – and that the young person might have a brighter future.
“The programs were funded by the State and Federal Governments and we had similar programs in regional centres such as Kalgoorlie and Geraldton.”
During the time Susy worked at Drug Arm, the organisation experienced huge growth and Susy was also involved with setting up a 13-week drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre in Geraldton.
“It was a brilliant program,” she said. “I started working at Drug Arm with just myself and a full-time secretary. And by the time I left we had enormous growth with more than 50 staff.
“It was an exciting time.
“God very clearly told me that I had to do that job – it became my life. I enjoyed it and we had a brilliant team of people who worked together happily.
“What would Jesus do? If you have two blankets, give one to someone who needs it. That was what I wanted to do.”
Since being elected as Moderator Elect in September last year, Susy has been busy preparing for the role. The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that she was unable to visit as many people in person as she would have liked, but it hasn’t stopped her from getting her head stuck into everything required of her as Moderator.
“After I was elected as Moderator Elect, I wanted to learn more about the Uniting Church. Though I was a member of the Uniting Church for 38 years, I have very little understanding of the enormity of the work and the services we provide.
“I’m excited about it. We are a pilgrim people, on the journey for our promised land. Along the way we are worshipping and serving our God. God promises to feed us with Word and sacraments.
“In my mind, our service is whatever we do to please God – that is the worship. You don’t necessarily have to be singing, praising and praying; whenever you’re honouring and pleasing God, it’s worship.”
Susy has spent the year learning from the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC), the Multicultural networks, Uniting Church WA schools, and our agencies such as Uniting WA, Good Sammy Enterprises and Juniper.
“All is in the name of Christ through the Uniting Church WA,” she said. “Our faithful congregations, with their prayers and support, enable us to continue the Lord’s work.
“I want to pray with them, I want to walk with them, I want to be supported by them and I want to support them,” she said. “I am a team player; I don’t think I could do anything without a team. I get energy from others and I want to be a support to others, and also supported by others.
“I also firmly believe in giving ownership. We all have different skills, so give people ownership, so they can blossom in that skill.”
One of the things Susy has done this year, is set her theme for her three-year term. She has chosen Romans 15: 13.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Susy felt this verse came to her from God, and was a great verse to support people through all the challenges of 2020 so far.
“I thought, ‘what a wonderful God to give this hope to God’s chosen people,” she said. “It is a weird time and the world is trying to sort out everything. This is God showing that without God we cannot do anything in our life.”
Like many, one of the reasons Susy loves the Uniting Church is its passion for justice.
“This is one of the reasons I love the Uniting Church, we stand for justice,” she said. “If you love God and if you are saved by Jesus Christ; he stands for justice. And that is what we need no matter how many languages we can sing in or praise God with. If we can’t be God’s hands and feet then there is no point. That is where justice and mercy comes.
“I look forward to see what God calls me to do in this job.”
Susy Thomas will be installed as Moderator of the Uniting Church WA on Friday 11 September, 7.00pm at Wesley College Chapel, during the Opening Worship of the Annual Meeting of the Synod of WA.