BAR HARBOR — Reverend Sue Cole came to her spiritual calling by way of a life lived quite fully. She married young, had three children, while working in a family business. She grappled with all of the daily details of the house, school concerts, sports, work at her husband’s photography studio in upstate New York, any number of the multiple tasks the modern parent juggles as they move through the world.
Cole was 40 years old when she “decided to finally answer the call,” she said. There was a decision to “say okay to God, and go to seminary,” she said. This was something sensed since she was a child, Cole related.
As a nine-year-old girl, she said, she felt called to lead a congregation. It seemed like an improbable feat, to say the least.
“At the time, women were not ordained in the ministry at all. Nowhere. So, I kept this to myself for years. I really felt that God had made a mistake,” Cole said. “As an adult, I felt that in many ways in my life, I kept pushing it back, but it never completely went away.”
Cole is quick-witted and even quicker with a laugh. She is more interested in a way than a rule, it seems. Her manner provides an ease and an airiness and a lighthearted feeling.
This midlife acknowledgment of a calling has brought Cole to a peaceful, happy place in her life, she said. “What has it been like for me? In one word, ‘Joy.’ Joy and peace. I seem to be a lot calmer. Not as anxious about anything in my life,” she said. She laughed, allowing that her family would really know the best.
With no options for study close to home, Cole struggled to find a way to answer her calling. Then a plan was developed by local Episcopal bishops whereby she could attend a Roman Catholic seminary within a reasonable distance and earn a master’s degree.
Cole would have been the first woman to do so. At the time, she said, women were allowed to attend class at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry but were not typically eligible to receive credits or degrees.
After commuting two nights a week for 2.5 years, she stood with master’s degree in hand, a new Episcopalian priest at the young age of 43.
“God makes the way possible when it is his plan,” Cole said.
Cole came to Church of Our Father this September after 12 years ministering to Christ Church in Walton, N.Y. She loves the natural beauty of the area and the focus on compassion in the church here, she said.
Cole believes in a healing ministry, one that can offer sanctuary and renewal to its members through the power of prayer. It is through prayer, she said, that we can relate to God and to love. Befitting her open take on things, Cole likes to say that prayer isn’t a technical thing.
“People don’t know how to connect to God. They wonder whether they are praying the right way,” Cole said. But, God hears you. God hears all of our prayers.
Cole looks to guide her flock to deeper levels of connection with God by inviting all to this prayerful conversation. And it doesn’t always have to be deep, she said.
“You’re looking to God to guide you. Big stuff, little stuff. It’s okay to pray for a parking space. Especially in Bar Harbor in the summer,” Cole laughed. “Because that’s how you develop that relationship with God.”
Cole has much good to say about the Church of Our Father and the congregation she inherited from Father Chuck Bradshaw, who left for mission work in Africa last year.
“What’s great about here is that they’re so happy and joyful, and the music is so uplifting,” Cole said. Music, she elaborated, can be a wonderful form of prayer. “They sing, ‘Hallelujah, hallelujah,’ they mean it with heart, soul, mind and strength. It’s just wonderful.”
Cole is spending her time now visiting with people, getting to know the members of her congregation. She is listening to their stories, gathering ideas of the direction in which she might help the Church of Our Father move.
Cole said her role here is to bring connection with God and develop a healing, care-full environment.
“I hope to bring a sense that God loves all of us no matter where we are on our spiritual journey, and no matter what happens in life he is there for you,” Cole said. “And what I’m here for is to be that reminder.”