Susan Baller-Shepard

Writing & Education
When Susan Baller-Shepard was eleven, she won a local writing contest. The contests’ prize was a broasted chicken dinner for her family. Susan realized then that words could feed people. She’s sought to find a way to feed people with words ever since.

Susan writes wherever she is, which is usually along a wilderness track, amidst cornfields and big skies in Illinois. She’s always loved finding connections and intersectionality, she double majored in religion and English at the University of Iowa. Accepted into the Undergraduate Writers’ Workshop in Fiction Writing, she also won numerous awards for her scholarship in religion and was a religion tutor for the athletic department. In college, she interned at the Washington D.C. office of the Presbyterian Church (USA) for a summer overseeing women and children’s issues. After college graduation, she worked as a youth director at Second Presbyterian Church in Bloomington, Illinois, before working at the Glebe Centre in Walsall, England, as a Time for God volunteer, with the Volunteer in Mission program of the Presbyterian Church (USA). She appreciated studying and watching religion at work from the classroom setting to how belief is lived out in legislation, in the local church, and in the international settings as well.  

         In Walsall, the Glebe Centre’s decision to stop putting their monies toward fixing a leaking roof, and to tear down the old church and build a community centre in its place, was impressive, as they only used one room for the church, the rest of the building was community-focused. The Glebe Centre Church stayed in the struggling area of Caldmore (pronounced Karma), to provide gateways to housing, childcare, substance abuse resources, and mental health care. The Glebe Centre’s choice to open their building every day of the week to the community inspired her then, and inspires Susan to this day. The Glebe’s church members and community members are writ large on her heart, and she was married in St. Michael’s and All Angels Church in Caldmore.

It was at the Glebe Susan decided to study in an intersectional way again, in graduate school, with a dual competency program. She earned two masters’ degrees, in Social Work (MSW) and Divinity (MDiv) from the University of Illinois and McCormick Theological Seminary respectively.

Back in Illinois, Susan worked with Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) programs while in seminary, and she took children to see their mothers in prison. Her master’s thesis in the Social Work MSW program was, “The Role of Family Connectedness in the Recidivism Rates of Female Inmates in the State of Illinois.” Her internship was a DCFS program at Lutheran Social Services of Illinois for child sexual abuse prevention and she volunteered with the Storybook Project for years.

As a college instructor, Susan taught Major World Religions and Literature of the Bible at Heartland Community College, along with a variety of Community Education programs for adults and children. She served as a mentor for visiting Chinese scholars as part of the International Institute for Teaching and Learning at Heartland as well.

Susan was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament October 20, 1991. Minister of Word and Sacrament is a title she loves as it includes the intersectionality of Word(s) and Sacrament. She was ordained to serve  First Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Illinois, which she contends is one of the prettiest sanctuaries anywhere, with its Louis Comfort Tiffany windows from the 1893 Columbia Exposition. First Presbyterian Springfield is where Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln attended church from 1850 until 1861 until his presidency, and the church still has “the Lincoln pew.” Writing an historical novel set in Illinois during the Civil War made Susan appreciate Abraham Lincoln’s legacy all the more.

The Columbia Exposition, mentioned above, is where the 1893 Parliament of the World’s Religions took place in Chicago, Illinois, a catalyst for further interreligious and interfaith dialogue which continues to this day. The Council for the Parliament of the World’s Religions continues its work and Susan attended the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Barcelona, Spain, which led to working on a pilot project between the Parliament and Millennium Promise. Susan will always be thankful to the Sikh community for langar served during that Parliament, and to the Rev. Dirk Ficca for his persistence in doing interreligious work in the world.

Susan served on committees and permanent judicial commissions in the Presbytery of Great Rivers (PGR) and the Synod of Lincoln Trails. She attended General Assembly as a delegate and she worked as an interim pastor at both Arcadia Avenue Presbyterian Church, and Rochester, Illinois new church development. She served as parish associate pastor at both St Luke Union Church and First Presbyterian Church Normal.

For over twenty years, Susan led both locally and online. Along with meeting as a book club, the local group made meals at a local homeless shelter and collected books for women in prison. Spiritual Book Club partnered with the Charter for Compassion, a joint venture between theologian Karen Armstrong and TED.

She was a founding board member in the grassroots local efforts starting the Community Health Care Clinic in Bloomington, a free health care clinic for those slipping through the cracks in terms of healthcare.

As Published In

International Involvement

Susan was honored to be a speaker twice at the World Spirit Forum in Arosa, Switzerland, where she got to meet and listen to the wisdom of Dr. Jane Goodall and to meet philanthropist and activist Peter Hesse.

For ten years Susan worked on a partnership between the Presbytery of Great Rivers and churches in northeastern Brazil, which included exchanges with pastors and seminary students coming to Illinois, and visiting churches and community programs in the interior of Brazil. She would continue this international involvement with a group called “Global Leaders for Orphans Initiative” in the People’s Republic of China involved with orphan support and care, including One Sky and a variety of other NGO’s.

She served as a Global Leader, part of the Goldin Institute’s Grassroots Leadership Development App “Gather.”

Concerned about conditions in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, in 2011, Susan went to Centre Montessori d’Haiti in Liancourt with the Peter Hesse Foundation and to Leogane with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. In Léogâne, Susan spent time at Hôpital Sainte Croix,  The Faculté des Sciences Infirmières de l’Université Épiscopale d’Haïti (FSIL) and with the University of Notre Dame’s Haiti Program. All of these organizations working to equip Haitian people with education and access to healthcare.

Speaking Engagements

As a speaker, Susan moderated a session and presented at North American Review’s Fiftieth Anniversary celebration on “Sussing Out the Spiritual Lives of Characters and Darshan.” She was a panelist at the 2018 Festival of Faith & Writing

Speaking on Clergywomen Writing Memoir. Susan and Dr. Holly Houska offered a program at the Carver School of Medicine at the University of Iowa’s Examined Life Conference bridging Medicine and Humanities. Susan spoke at “Not In Our Town” Event against Racism at Illinois Wesleyan University, at a Conqueror’s Convention at Lincoln Correctional Center, at the 2010 Global Interfaith Evening with Tej Gyan Foundation, and she spoke as part of an E-Advent Retreat with author/activist Sister Joan Chittister. She’s often asked to offer invocations at events and celebrations like the Lincoln Academy of Illinois, the Boys and Girls Club breakfasts, Kiwanis, Rotary Clubs, YWCA Women of Distinction Dinner, and Athena Awards. She’s given poetry readings across the state of Illinois for National Poetry Month. Susan was interviewed by the PBS television show “Thirty Good Minutes” about spirituality and adoption

A Love Of Pets & Nature

Susan is a pet wrangler, having hosted a variety of pets through the years including an African clawed frog who lived to be seventeen, a goldfish who lived to be seventeen, two Zebra finches, cats, and a toy poodle. Susan loves to read, swim, ride a bike in spin class or on a trail, to see friends and family, to explore new vistas, and to meet new people.


Susan’s journey has included being a wife, a mother to three amazing adults, “Aunt Susie Q” to a crew of fine nieces and nephews, and now a great aunt to three bebes. She was born into a family full of stories, on both sides, and she got to meet and know three great grandparents and all four grandparents, along with great aunts and uncles. From these relatives, Susan learned how history is both past and present. Her great grandmother Emma pieced patchwork quilts until she died at ninety-nine. Her grandmother Betty rooted all sorts of plants and her grandpa Bill farmed. Susan inherited their green thumbs and loves to root both plants and stories. She and her husband work on prairie restoration, and she appreciates the work of Parklands Foundation and The Nature Conservancy. Her grandmother Mabel wrote books for Susan on index cards, all about Susan’s life, and Susan’s great uncle Albert Baller wrote children’s books. Susan’s father was a surgeon and her mother was a nurse who cared for people in both large and small ways. Susan’s aware she’s part of this long river of people, and she’s still learning from their lives. The great cloud of witnesses, the saints in light, surely includes these she loved, and their presence in her life still makes her, on most days, rest assured that death does not deliver the final word.

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