We are excited to welcome the Rev. Dr. R. Leigh Spruill as our sixth rector in January of 2021. As part of the search process, Search Committee Chair Eric Wade interviewed Leigh and his wife Susalee. Get to know more about our new rector by reading below.
Eric: Leigh and Susalee, please introduce yourselves and tell us about your family.
Leigh: We're really an honored and humbled … and excited to see how the Lord's leading us. Susalee, I might let you introduce yourself first.
Susalee: I grew up in South Carolina which is where Leigh and I are at the moment ... We’re here to visit our youngest child, a son, who is at the Citadel in Charleston. This is his first semester there. We also have another son who lives in Nashville. He's a banker there. And then our oldest is a daughter who has been in New York City for the past few years, but back home with us until she gets married in May at which time she'll move back to New York.
Leigh: Susalee and I have been married 31 years this month. And as she said she grew up in Charleston … I am from Virginia. I grew up in a small town on the eastern side of the state called Tappahannock. My father was an attorney and a circuit court judge. My mother was a schoolteacher, music teacher, and I grew up in a really wonderful Christian household. My introduction to the Episcopal Church happened mainly by going off to a prep school, Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia. I got exposed to the rhythms of daily morning prayer and the Eucharist on the weekends. And I went to college at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. I did not pay a lot of attention to God during those years, in fact, almost zero, and I had an adult re-conversion experience in my early 20s and very soon thereafter discerned a call to professional ordained ministry. I've served in the Episcopal Church as a priest, first as an assistant on the staff at St. James' in Richmond, Virginia. I was ordained in the Diocese of Virginia then moved from there to Birmingham, Alabama where I was on the staff at St. Luke's Episcopal Church. My first call to be a rector was at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Jacksonville, Florida. And from there we moved to Nashville and St. George’s. So I've been a rector now of large, complex … Episcopal churches for 20 years, and I absolutely love my work and my ministry and feel, again, incredibly blessed.
Eric: What gives you the most enjoyment in ministry?
Leigh: What a privilege to be able to bear the Gospel in a world like ours and I really mean that. I just think it's such a privilege to preach and teach in a congregation that's filled with so many gifted and resourceful people as well as people who may have nominal commitment to the faith right now or none at all … I love turning the key in the morning to the back door in my office and just rubbing shoulders with other committed Christians who are enjoying the work that we've been given … I love engaging questions around innovative ministry, and I love being a part of a community where our relationships with one another as Christians are the most important relationships we have … I just feel like I've got the best job I could possibly have.
Eric: Now Susalee, you have your own ministry working with seniors at St. George's. Tell us a little bit about your ministry.
Susalee: My title is pastoral care coordinator. I work closely with the clergy helping them keep track of pastoral care needs: who is in the hospital, who is just out of hospital, making sure the visits take place … And then probably the other big thing I do is work with the senior ministry. We have good leaders of our senior ministry committee and I help them do whatever it is they want to do. We try to let them be the drivers of the senior ministry and just be there to help them do whatever it is they want to do … I really love it.
Eric: Leigh, describe Susalee's role as a partner in ministry with you.
Leigh: Well, Susalee and I have grown up together in so many ways. We met when I was 19 and she was 17, and we were not practicing Christianity at that point in our lives … I tend to be the kind of person who has to process … out loud to know exactly what it is I'm thinking. She has an incredible gift to lend an ear to me with total trust and transparency. She's somebody that at the drop of a hat I can ask to pray with me. And she's just a fantastic ambassador for me. Oh, my goodness. I can't tell you how many undeserved brownie points I get just by being married to her. She's just a phenomenal asset in ministry and I don't want to overdo it because I think some couples could, but we just feel that we are absolutely a partnership.
Eric: A question for both of you. What draws you to St. John's and excites you about the opportunity to bring your ministry and your home to Houston?
Susalee: I think for me, I see it as a call for Leigh to use his gifts at this time in a way that is exciting to him. He is passionate about the church in the 21st century: what it's going to look like and what it's going to take for the church to flourish. And it seems to me like from talking to leaders at St. John the Divine what y'all's vision for your church and what his vision for … his ministry that it’s a really good match. Since I am called with him, it excites me to think about being in a place where he's going to thrive. And I know I will thrive with him, so. And we really love everybody we met down there. It just seemed like a gracious, lovely community.
Leigh: We obviously want to engage in ministry where we connect with the people… We came down and entered into this conversation … really with three things that were important to us when it comes to purpose. We want to belong to a local congregation that is really committed to deepening fellowship around biblical Christianity, growing in our relationship to Christ and all the ways that that happens in a strong, emotional, and spiritual system. And you all have got a wonderful history already of being that kind of community. You're a well-formed church, certainly as Episcopal churches go. And, yet I sense that you all sense there is even more deepening there.
I think secondly, … something I am passionate about is thinking of the local congregation, especially a large one with … a lot of really committed Christians and resources in a strategic location … as a kind of a congregational hot spot for the larger church, a center of learning about congregational health, a think tank on Christian leadership. I really want to press forward on that wherever the Lord calls me, and I was hearing some of that kind of vocabulary from your leaders.
And then thirdly, we are pretty passionate about wanting to belong to a local congregation that's interested in new innovative expressions of being church outside the walls of the church … I want to learn more about those ministries and encourage them, but also be thinking imaginatively and strategically about new ways that we could move missionally more deeply into the community of Houston. So those are things that I was hearing from you all and … kind of looked at each other, and I think Susalee even said the words that, "They kind of speak your love language, Leigh."
Eric: Tell us what two you like to do for fun. How do you like to unwind?
Leigh: I think this would be a good fit in Houston. We love to go out to eat way, way too much. And now that we're empty nesters, it's just it's gotten out of hand. We love to go on dates. And I'm a pretty avid cyclist.
Susalee: I love to cook. We love to have friends over and do a fair amount of hosting things for the church and we really enjoy that. We love opening up our home.
Leigh: You know what we love doing, and this sounds like the church nerds that we are, we like getting up first thing and having coffee and doing our daily devotions together. We sit in our respective chairs and read our respective Bibles and materials and pray together. That's pretty important to us as well.
Susalee: We do our fair share of watching Netflix and drinking red wine and eating chocolate. I won't lie.
Leigh: We love our kids. We have a lot of fun as a family and it's fun to get to the stage of life where your children are adults. You're still their mom and dad, of course, but you also just enjoy their company and their fellowship.