By Allen Palmeri
SAULT STE. MARIE, Ontario—Missouri Baptists have a friend in the shimmering Civic Centre along the St. Mary’s River. Her name is Susan Myers.
Myers is a Sault Ste. Marie city councillor and outspoken evangelical Christian who formerly was retreat director and camp administrator at Muskoka Bible Centre in Huntsville, Ontario, a 230-acre spread that was founded by the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptists. She fondly refers to it as “MBC,” which is the same acronym used by the Missouri Baptist Convention.
She was saved in 1983 and graduated in 1985 from Prairie Bible College in Three Hills, Alberta with a one-year diploma in Biblical studies where you had “missions for breakfast, missions for lunch, and missions for supper,” she said. “If you didn’t come out of Prairie and not be called to the mission field, then you’re not a missionary.”
She sat down with The Pathway in the mayor’s office Aug. 3 and explained how her 14-year career as manager of marketing and tourism with the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) flowed smoothly into her being elected as Ward 2 city councillor in 2007. Along the way she was able to help develop the city’s slogan of “naturally gifted” along with its colorful logo.
“People get it,” she said. “We’re surrounded by beauty—the beauty of the creation and the water and the forest that are natural gifts. There are natural gifts in our area that go into our resources of steelmaking. We look at our people as one of our resources. Our people are our strength. I think EDC at one point looked at the four L’s—land, labor, lifestyle, and leadership—as part of that whole mantra for naturally gifted.”
Myers, 57, is a respected civic leader who is known for applying her faith to controversial issues like the council welcoming the rock band KISS to town (she opposed it) and celebrating the benefits of its downtown casino (she has silenced that talk). Born and raised in her ward, which is a densely populated area along the river, she has been entrusted with the responsibility of chairing the committee overseeing the city’s 100th anniversary of incorporation in 2012. Her vision for the city would include encouraging more positive influences like the platform church the Canadian National Baptist Convention wants to plant—wherever it may land.
“For the most part in Ward 2 you’re dealing with a resident that is usually fairly well educated, and business people,” she said. “I find that that’s really great for trying to get things done. In some of the other areas of our community the ward concillors become almost like mini-mayors, because all the people care about is don’t make my taxes go up and keep my street clean. In Ward 2, you tend to have more of a global perspective of the community, as do I, so for me, it’s a comfortable match.”
She noted that Sault Ste. Marie is 37 percent Italian, with a large Catholic population. While she is a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church, she said she has many Catholic friends who have explained to her that they treasure “the suffering Christ.” The lesson for Missouri Baptists coming to the city on mission, she said, is to not get hung up on the distinction between the empty cross vs. the crucifix.
“With Catholics, they certainly do believe in the resurrection, and they certainly obviously believe in the virgin birth (of Christ),” Myers said. “So there’s a lot of common ground at the foot of the cross, from my perspective.
“I am very grateful for the predominance of the Italian population in our community because it’s a familial-based ethnic group, and their faith is very important to them.”
Another important religious lesson to learn about Sault Ste. Marie is that the United Church of Canada, which has a good ring to it, is actually a blend of the liberal wings of the Presbyterian, Methodist, and Congregational denominations that took place in 1925. Myers said she had to come out of this church to find Christ. She also cautioned Americans that they should be prepared to run into “a lot of non-committed pew warmers” even in Canada’s evangelical churches.
A Christ follower like Myers has to contend for the faith every day. This became evident to her this year when her ward mate (the city has six wards, with two councillors in each ward) on the fly at the end of a meeting passed a resolution calling for the council to invite the KISS tour to the city’s downtown arena. Protocol would have had him asking Myers for a second, but he refused to do so. When an electronic media outlet reported that the vote was unanimous, it prompted Myers to call and state for the record that it wasn’t. She explained that she would have preferred that the downtown arena staff handle it, not the council.
“I would like to think that we could seek joyful and uplifting entertainment to offer our community,” she said at the time.
The reaction was swift.
“Well, that was just throwing gasoline on a fire!” she said.
“I started to get very hateful email from the KISS fans—it was a very strong demonic attack. So I though, ‘Wait a minute. I’d better get myself in gear.’ So I did a mass email out to the Christian community, because I have a fairly extensive list of the churches and Christian people. I was calling upon people to pray.”
It was announced that the band was coming before they had to postpone. The concert finally took place Aug. 10 at the Essar Centre with considerably less fanfare.
She also has used her platform as an elected official to find creative ways to remind her money-driven colleagues that the God of the universe is watching their actions in the area of gambling.
Sault Ste. Marie has a huge downtown gambling facility that is owned and operated by the province. Proceeds go into a foundation that helps the city run sports programs and various cultural activities. Five percent of slot machine revenue is also directed toward improving the city’s medical care, which amounts to $1.5 million annually. This is what is known as a charity casino.
“If we had to have one, we’ve got the best of the bad,” Myers said.
With the city being paid quarterly by the casino operators, a councillor tried to portray it as a wonderful new development for the citizens of Sault Ste. Marie. Myers would then fire back with the truth about how gambling ruins lives.
“It’s 90 percent money from within our own community and not tourism,” she said. “It’s hurt our restaurants and the other entertaining options in our community. I have friends who are in health care and I know about the broken marriages and the people who have attempted to take their lives, some who have been successful.”
Soon this talk simply faded away.
“He doesn’t bring it up anymore,” Myers said. “Neither of us do.”
One of the practical ways that Missouri Baptists can help Myers is to pray for the mayor of the city, John Rowswell, who is in a three-year battle for his life with cancer. Rowswell, a Lutheran, is very receptive of people praying for him and is in desperate need of prayer for remission. He is a 10-year mayor who is not seeking re-election Oct. 25.
“He’s so committed to our community,” Myers said. “He has taken our community forward in huge strides.
“The way I have prayed for our council and our mayor is to have wisdom and to really seek to make decisions with transparency and integrity.”
Myers seemed at home in the fourth floor mayor’s office with its magnificent view of the river, the spray of the Millennium Fountain, and a 1,000-foot freighter moving slowly toward the locks. Her political demeanor was confident, her style of communicating both pleasant and sure. She came across to her American visitors as a true ambassador for her community—with the light of Christ shining brightly.
“We look at naturally gifted as our people and our resources,” she said.