A new Rector has been appointed to the Inver Group of Parishes in south west Donegal. She is Rev Susan Elliott, a South African national, who lives with her husband, Don – a lay preacher – in Haenertsburg, in South Africa’s northernmost province, Limpopo.
Rev Elliott was born in Durban and trained as a teacher, before taking up employment first in the fashion industry as a buyer, then as an interior designer. She ran a retail and design business for 26 years. Her career took her to Johannesburg where she met Don, and the couple married in 1998.
While attending her local Anglican Church, Susan was asked by its Rector to take communion to the sick and the elderly. “This was the start of the journey to ordination and full-time ministry,” she says, “although I didn’t realise that at the time.”
Susan underwent a “gruelling” vocational training programme, before being accepted for ordination training. She was ordained in 2018 and is currently serving at St. David’s Church, in the small village of Modjadjiskloof. “The church numbers had dropped to four, as people left the area or became disillusioned with the lack of regular ministry. Don and I were both lay ministers before I was ordained and, as a team, we began to work to bring everyone back. God heard our prayers and slowly the Church came to life again.
“COVID worked in our favour,” Susan says, “as we were able to reach out personally to everyone through daily WhatsApps. We also were able to bring music back into the church through an overhead projector and YouTube. The beautiful graphics and modern songs appealed to both the youth and young at heart (all of the congregation!). This sparked a Youth Alpha, where we joined with the local Methodist church and a nearby rural church, and we had a vibrant group of 26 young people and eight confirmations.
“God blessed this little congregation – which has now grown to 50 – with an average attendance of 27 and up to 68 on special days. These numbers may be small by Irish standards, but the love and fellowship and sense of belonging is without measure. I am sad to say goodbye to beloved family members of St David’s, but am looking forward to new Irish family members as we grow together in love and fellowship.”
Susan said it was difficult to comment on the differences and similarities between Limpopo and Ireland, since she had only been to Ireland briefly – on the last occasion for just 10 days. “What I can say is that I have felt the warmth, friendliness and hospitality of all the Irish people I have met. There is a similar warmth and goodness in the rural people of Limpopo. Living away from large cities, we know and have friendships with neighbours, and greet people on the roads and at the shops. The village of Haenertsburg is so small that people can literally stop in the main street for a chat – and a passing motorist may stop and join in.
“One of the spiritualities that I briefly studied during my degree was Celtic Spirituality, and I was immediately drawn to the similarities in African spirituality, with the real presence of God interwoven in all of life: God is the great creator of the wild, untamed, beautiful countryside, and is present, interwoven in our daily lives. The rural situation of African spirituality which includes ‘ubuntu’ resonates with the inclusivity of rural Ireland, and the warmth and welcome we have encountered.”
A date has still to be set for the new rector’s Service of Institution, but she says she and her husband can’t wait to be living and settled in Ireland. Rev Elliott describes the impending move to Inver as an answer to prayer. “It is a dream come true,” she says, “as we have wanted to move to Ireland or the UK for many years. I believe that God knows our hearts, our deepest desires and dreams – sometimes before they are even in our conscious thoughts. I also believe and often refer to a few words of scripture – ‘At just the right time’ [God acts] – that have sustained me. God’s timing is always perfect and, when we look back, we can see His hand and blessings on our life-path.”
“We currently live in a rural part of Limpopo, in a mountain and forest area, which is the coldest part of the province. It has a high rainfall – over 2 meters in December – but it never snows. I was sent pictures of snow in Donegal and Letterkenny yesterday, and can’t wait to experience snow again. Ireland is colder and wetter, but in the current January heat [here in Limpopo], Don has confessed he prefers to be colder than too hot!” That is one prayer that looks certain to be answered in Inver.