RIP: Suzanne Peterson, 1948-2020, South Africa missionary and GEMN Board member

The memorial service for the Rev. Canon Sally Suzanne Peterson, 72, missionary of the Episcopal Church and former member of the Board of Directors of the Global Episcopal Mission Network, was held on Friday, 8 January 2021.

With Iowa Bishop Alan Scarfe presiding, the liturgy was held at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Des Moines, Iowa, and was attended electronically via Zoom by friends around the world, including South Africa, where Suzanne served as a missionary; Brechin in Scotland, where the Diocese of Iowa has a companion diocese; and Argentina, where Suzanne’s longtime missionary friends Heidi Schmidt and Monica Vega are serving.

An eloquent and moving homily was offered by Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa.  Former Iowa Bishop Christopher Epting assisted in the eucharistic liturgy, in which participants not on site had the opportunity for ‘spiritual communion.’

The service was followed by conversational sharing among the participants, who spoke of Suzanne’s missionary service, her work for peace and justice and for ecumenical relations, and her commitment to personal relationships.

The service can be viewed at

Suzanne served a three-year term on the GEMN Board, 2015-18, and also served as secretary.  She was elected to a second term in 2018 and attended that fall’s extended Board meeting at Hephzibah House in New York City.  When ill health began taking a toll, she stepped aside from being secretary, a ministry that Christine Mercer of Alabama then filled.  When she did not feel able to complete her second term she resigned prior to the 2019 Annual Meeting.  Jenny Grant of the Office of Global Partnerships was elected to fill her unexpired term.

Suzanne had a deep commitment to the global mission of the Episcopal Church, to the church in Africa – South Africa in particular – and to GEMN.  She was concerned always with individuals, their challenges and opportunities.  She had innovative ideas and frequently stepped in to help with particular initiatives.  She was a faithful friend – and a devoted dog owner.  The global mission community will miss her.

Following is an account of her life circulated by the Diocese of Iowa:

The Rev. Canon Sally Suzanne Peterson, 72, died 30 December 2020 due to complications following a heart attack in Des Moines. She leaves behind a community of friends and family that literally spans the world.

Suzanne was born in 1948 and raised in Bradenton, Florida, the daughter of Harry Peterson, Jr., and Mildred (Romine) Peterson. Following graduation from Manatee High School, she attended Florida State University and then enrolled in Virginia Theological Seminary. After graduation, she accepted a position as Assistant to the Rector for Christian Education at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Des Moines, Iowa. At that time women were not ordained in the Episcopal Church. But she had found a home in the church and its mission of peace and justice, so she quietly pursued that ministry.

On 18 December 1976 Suzanne was the first woman in the Diocese of Iowa to be ordained to the transitional diaconate, by Bishop Walter C. Righter. In 1977 she became one of the first women in Iowa to be ordained as an Episcopal priest. Suzanne served for many years as Assistant Priest at St. Paul’s Church, Des Moines. She served as the statewide Program Coordinator for the Iowa Interfaith Agency for Peace and Justice from 1983 to 1991.

Suzanne served as a Deputy to General Convention and was a member of the House of Deputies Commission on the State of the Church, the Standing Commission on Peace, and the Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations.

Suzanne Peterson with Abp. Thabo Makgoba at the GEMN booth at the 2018 General Convention

In 1996 Suzanne became an Episcopal Church missionary in South Africa, where she served for 17 years in various positions, including Assisting Parish Priest and Sub-Dean of St. Michael and St. George Cathedral in the Diocese of Grahamstown. She was the first woman priest to be licensed to minister as a priest in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, at the invitation of David Russell, Bishop of Grahamstown at that time.

Suzanne then served in the office of Archbishop Thabo Makgoba in Cape Town as Public Policy and Advocacy Officer for the Anglican Church of Southern Africa and as Correspondence Manager for the Office of the Archbishop. She traveled extensively throughout South Africa and Latin America in her ministry of peace and justice.

Suzanne returned to the United States in 2013 and became Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Waterloo. She served the Diocese of Iowa as a member of the Commission on Ministry, the One World One Church Commission, in ecumenical ministry, peace and justice ministry, and most recently as the Diocesan Global Missioner.

After retiring, Suzanne moved back to Des Moines. She is preceded in death by her parents. Survivors include her brother Harry Peterson, III (Cindy) of Bradenton, Florida, along with nieces Faith (Ozzie) Mejia, Anna (Nathan) Smith, nephew Jacob Peterson, two great-nephews and one great-niece. She also leaves behind her beloved four-legged companion Thandi, a black Labrador.

Memorial contributions can be made to the Canon Suzanne Peterson Memorial Fund for Justice and Peace at the Diocese of Iowa website.

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