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Q&A with Holy Hermits Online lay leaders, Leonie Clancy and Susan Pietsch

Spotlight Q&A

Meet Leonie Clancy and Susan Pietsch from Holy Hermits Online and find out about their recently launched deep-dive dialogue project, their faith journeys and favourite scriptures, the kindest gestures they have received and where they do their best thinking

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Where do you currently live and where do you worship?

Leonie: My ramshackle dwelling among the gumtrees gives me peace and quiet from the bustle of urban living. Once acreage out in the sticks — now the middle of Gold Coast suburbia — it suits me just fine to worship with Holy Hermits Online (HHO) because I don’t have to leave my sanctuary to join in.

Susan: I currently live on the northside of Brisbane and worship with Holy Hermits Online.

How long have you been involved in the Anglican Church and in what roles?

Leonie: I become significantly involved in 2015, but my roots were established long before when I made a chance connection in 1995 with the first woman priest on the Gold Coast. Now a life-long friend, she has seen me become a Parish Council member, the leader of Taizé contemplative liturgies, a meditation devotee, a Cathedral Parish Council member, and a leader of various HHO roles.

Susan: I have been involved with the Anglican Church for over a decade, studying at St Francis College, worshipping initially at a Northern Region parish before joining Holy Hermits Online and taking up an administrative role at St Bartholomew’s, Mt Gravatt and leading labyrinth walks there.

Two women walking a labyrinth in a church hall

Sue Thomas and Susan Pietsch walking a labyrinth in the St Bartholomew’s, Mt Gravatt church hall in July 2023

What do your roles involve?

Leonie: Most of the day to day of these roles is “behind the scenes”, so to speak. I prepare service liturgies, curate music, attend leadership meetings, support the clergy and my colleagues, and rummage around for resources and ideas.

Susan: Within the HHO community I help lead retreats, focusing on creative ways of exploring one’s relationship with God. I also contribute to HHO’s Christmastide subscriptions and contemplative activities.

What projects or activities are you currently working on in your roles?

Leonie: Our newest project is 3D Dialogue, an exciting deep dive into the Divine, drawing upon multiple resources.

Susan: We recently launched 3D Dialogue, which is all about taking a deep dive into a range of material concerning our relationship and connection to the Divine. It’s an opportunity for people to explore as much or as little around a chosen theme for the year.

Woman nurse in front of computer with nursing instruments on desk

Dr Leonie Clancy is a nurse practitioner (image taken in 2023)

What has been one of the highlights of your time in your role so far? 

Leonie: Hit the paws button, companion animals are ever present with HHO — shout out to Wiggles, Jasmine, Puss and Meggy, Charlie and Sid and all our HHO friends. I relish the Blessing of the Pets each year, as new and old pets are welcomed and those who have passed over the Rainbow Bridge are remembered.

Susan: Having encountered resistance to engaging with other forms of expression to the printed book, the exciting part of shaping 3D Dialogue has been expanding the idea of the traditional book club. People are using many different forms of digital communication to join the conversation about what the Divine means to them and how the Divine shows up in their lives, so exploring vlogs, blogs, podcasts, websites and conference talks allows us to engage with a wide variety of mediums and views.

What are your plans and goals for the next 12 months?

Leonie: Work together with Susan and HHO priest Jamee to establish a flourishing 3D Dialogue.

Susan: In the next 12 months we hope to have opened up a whole new world of ideas and thinking around the Divine for people to investigate and join in the conversation.

Can you tell us a little about your Christian faith journey?

Leonie: Convoluted and meandering, with much calling from the Beloved and me not listening until finally I was on my knees with nowhere else to turn, but into the loving arms of the Divine.

Susan: I’ve always been more comfortable inhabiting the edges of Christian belief, combining study and working for three different Christian denominations I continue a very ecumenical faith journey.

Waman leading an online creative retreat, colouring in

Susan Pietsch leading a creative online retreat for Holy Hermits Online in September 2023

How does your Christian faith inspire you and shape your outlook, life choices and character?

Leonie: Practising love as a verb, using prayerful discernment in life decisions, and taking just the next step.

Susan: My Christian faith reminds me that all people are loved by God, even the ones I don’t like!

What are the primary strengths of the Church and what is the best way to make the most of these for the benefit of our communities?

Leonie: As I experience the Anglican Church Southern Queensland, its strengths are inclusion and diversity, justice and peace, connection and relationships.

Susan: I believe the primary strength of the Church is in relationships. Embracing how to develop and grow deep relationships with people using the digital space is an important challenge for the Church to remain relevant to how people are living their lives.

What is your favourite scripture and why?

Leonie: When Mary sees Jesus in the garden at the tomb and he calls her by name, “Mary”. I can only imagine the love she felt from Jesus and this same love is ever available for me.

Susan: My favourite scripture is Matthew 22. 37-40 as the two greatest commandments remind me that everything hangs off love.

What person of faith inspires you the most and why?

Leonie: Sage elder women of faith who are living legends to what it is to trust in an incarnate God.

Susan: Singer-songwriter Nick Cave inspires me because he so beautifully and elegantly engages with the world that is at the edge of belief. He never talks down to those who ask him questions via The Red Hand Files (an online space where Nick answers questions from his fans) and engages wholeheartedly with their concerns.

Why is it important for Christians to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples towards Reconciliation?

Leonie: It was a combination of “Christian” beliefs and attitudes of the day that caused irrefutable harm, with Christians perpetrating the horrors. Contemporary Christians, therefore, have a core responsibility to address these wrongs.

Susan: Truly living out the idea of “loving one another” means acknowledging the injustices of our country’s past and present and working towards healing even when it’s uncomfortable.

What is the bravest or kindest gesture you have ever received or witnessed?

Leonie: It was 1978 in the Darwin hospital maternity ward where my first child was born. A kindly woman stopped to say hello and heard I was far from home and family. The following day she stopped by again, this time to gift me a lovely little smock top she had made overnight for my newborn.

Susan: The kindest gesture I have ever received was when a friend accompanied me to a yoga class. It turns out she wasn’t interested in yoga at all, but simply came so I didn’t have to go alone. It also became evident that yoga wasn’t for me either!

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received and who gave you this advice?

Leonie: “Pause and breathe” from Dr Tara Brach, a Buddhist psychologist.

Susan: “There is always more when it comes to seeking God — it never ends.” I received this advice from a Catholic nun who was about 90 years old. She reminded me to stay forever curious and never stop seeking.

What do you do in your free time to recharge and relax?

Leonie: Wander in the bush surrounded by creation.

Susan: I love walking and a labyrinth walk is a wonderful way to slow down and recharge.

Where do you do your best thinking?

Leonie: Ambling along the riverbank in the dusk with my two senior dogs.

Susan: When I’m walking — it seems to make space for thinking laterally and alternatively about an issue.

Woman holding a white terrier dog

Dr Leonie Clancy with fury friend Charlie in 2023

What is your earliest memory?

Leonie: My two-year-old self waiting patiently at the front gate for my father to arrive home on his bicycle from work, knowing he would give me a “dink” round the block before sunset.

What’s your best childhood memory?

Susan: I loved making things as I child, particularly doll clothes. Sitting and hand stitching with pretty fabrics was a wonderful quiet time.

If you are having a bad day, what do you do to cheer yourself up?

Leonie: Dance wildly to very loud music.

What is the funniest thing that happened to you recently?

Leonie: Suddenly coming upon a very large water dragon perched atop the chair in my bedroom. Retreat was the hasty response.

What makes you nostalgic and why?

Leonie: Second hand bookstores and opportunity shops when I come upon long forgotten items from my younger life.

If you could have a billboard with any text on it, what would it say and why?

Susan: “ ‘Love one another — I meant it. God’ ” This seems too easy for people to forget!

What item have you given away most as a gift and why?

Susan: The item I’ve most given away is actually a DVD of the ABC series The Abbey (2007). The love and care shown by the nuns to the women staying with them speaks more loudly than any text — love in action.

Editor’s note: Visit the Holy Hermits Online website to find out more about 3D Dialogue, including upcoming Zoom meeting dates.

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