When she was in high school, Susanna Filippi thought her love for science and people would translate into a career as a biology high school teacher or a nurse, but that all changed when she took time off after high school to spend six months with Youth With A Mission in the south of France and West Africa. She says: “the people that I met there and the way that we were able to communicate the love of God there, I thought, I don’t want to do any of that other stuff. I want to spend my life telling people how much Jesus loves them. And honestly, I assumed that that meant I needed to be in vocational ministry. So I signed up for Bible College and went on the vocational ministry track. Soon after graduating, I got a job at a church, and I’ve been at a couple different positions in churches over the last 15 years.”
When asked when the light bulb went off that work should be an expression of her faith, Susanna comments: “there were so many moments in my life of trauma and loss that really motivated my passion of being with people and caring for people. It’s interesting because my vocation does allow me to sit in spaces that I would consider to be sacred. Such as those moments of family meetings before a funeral or in a hospital bedside and those places that many don’t get invited.”
She continues, “but what’s interesting is there are other spaces that actually being a pastor is a little bit of a hindrance. So like hanging out and watching a game. Things like that. I’m actually a licensed massage therapist, back to the study of anatomy and physiology. I used to practice in the evenings at a clinic, and I had this client who would tell me about her life and about her family. Kind of like you do with your hairstylist. You know, you just tell them all the things. And so she would come in month after month, and I would check in on her and her family. We had a great rapport. And then one time she asked me if she could come see me during the day. During that conversation I mentioned that I actually had a full time job. She asked ‘oh, where do you work?’ And I was really hesitant to tell her honestly. I told her that I was a pastor at a church and she immediately shut down. She got quiet. She started to apologize for cursing in front of me. She felt shame about some of the things that she had shared with me, and she did not come back to see me after that appointment. I was so disappointed. It felt like in some ways, being a pastor, being in vocational ministry opens doors for me in places that are so sweet. And in other ways, it was so much easier to minister to people as a massage therapist.”
Finding your own healing through ministering to others, whether through vocational ministry or in the marketplace, is a way that Susanna sees God meeting everyone involved in the interaction. She says “there was a woman in our church who asked me to come and sit with her and get to know her as she was in hospice care. She desired that the pastor who did her funeral would know her. I would go there regularly and spend time with her, get to know her, hear about her fears and her excitement. We talked about her hopes and dreams of seeing people that were long gone, what heaven would be like, how her family would do after her passing. And it was a touching thing for me because of some of the losses that I’ve experienced: some of the environments that I myself had been in, experiencing funerals and hospital beds. I remembered back to conversations that I had with my own mom before she passed. She was not as willing to accept her fate, if you will. It was hard for her to talk about it, and that was hard for me that we didn’t get to talk about it. God doesn’t waste any experience that we have. I think I was served in a similar way as the woman I was serving. My heart was healed because I was allowed to have that conversation that I so desperately had wanted to have with my mom. It’s really beautiful to see the healing that he brought simply from those bedside conversations.”
Susanna is the campus pastor at Northstar Church in West Chester, Ohio. She lives with her husband and two sons in a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio.