ROCKPORT — The Rev. Susan Moran talks about her spiritual journey as easily as talking about the weather.
But her easy-going nature and sense of humor belie the tragedy and trials of faith she has encountered.
At 53, the intellectually-driven Moran appears a well-dressed, well-spoken mother of two teenage girls despite her use of a cane to assist her in walking.
What is not readily apparent is that she endured a near-fatal bike accident, the death of her husband, a hip replacement surgery because of a congenital condition and diagnosis of breast cancer followed by chemotherapy and radiation.
Yet she speaks of her life and her spirituality as if she were still a young woman about to step out into the world without having faced such life-testing experiences.
Her mission is to cultivate inspiration and faith among others. As the interim minister of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Rockport, she is working to help the congregation plot its future and grow its church, now comprised of about 75 members.
Susan Beattie, a member of the church's search committee and its board, said she already has sensed a change and seen new faces. The search committee had met for several months and reviewed countless applications, and eight applications on the first day it was announced in the denomination, she said.
"Rockport is a popular place and we had a remarkably well-skilled and experienced pool of candidates," Beattie said.
"Susan was not one of them," she noted. "Word had not gotten to her, so she wasn't on our radar. Then she heard about the opening around the time we had narrowed the field.
"We interviewed her, and that was it," Beattie said. "We were struck by her intellectual depth and integrity and her compassion. She has had a lot of tough experiences in her personal life, both loss and illness, and it seems to have given her a breadth of understanding of human needs and human pain."
In addition to those qualities, the search committee couldn't help but notice Moran's sense of humor and optimism.
"And that's contagious," said Beattie.
A New York native, Moran attended seminary at the age of 31 after a 12-year career in real estate development and finance. She was a political science and philosophy major at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., when she had an early interest in housing and urban development with no notion of attending seminary as a post-graduate.
But after a comfortable career she began to feel a need for change.
"It was a bit of a combination of boredom and a sort of divine intervention," said Moran, who applied on a whim to Harvard and Union theological seminaries, and was accepted at both. "I was encouraged to apply by a close friend in seminary because she knew my strong interest. I wanted to know what people meant when they said 'God.'"
Just after she began seminary in Manhattan, she met the man who would become her husband, she said, adding that he was the first man who was not scared away when she told him about her field of study.
"If you don't want a date, just say you are in seminary school," she joked.
The couple married in 1993. She was ordained as a Unitarian Universalist minister in 1995. Not long after, they moved to the Boston area when her husband had a change of jobs, and they settled in Swampscott. Moran became involved in several pastoral services, including work at Beverly Hospital.
Moran met the Rev. Mary Harrington, the senior minister at the Marblehead Unitarian Universalist Church, with whom she would work at both the Marblehead and later Winchester churches.
"I thought I would do that for the rest of my life," recalled Moran. However, her co-worker and close friend would be diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, in 2006. It was another of the many tumultuous life-changing events for Moran, who would resign that position in 2007.
Already she had endured the death of her husband of an unexpected heart attack when she was 45 years old in June 2003. Just a couple of weeks before, she nearly lost her life in bike accident, noting that it was her helmet that saved her.
Moran marched on. She started the Center for Spirituality, based in Salem, where she led several groups. She was then leading spirituality groups for cancer patients at the Wellness Community Center in Salem, when she was diagnosed with cancer in April 2008.
Last summer, Moran was asked to preach in Rockport by the former minister, the Rev. Kathy Reis. Moran noticed that the church was filled with items to sell from local artwork to fair-traded coffee and tea in the church's continuous effort to raise money to help others.
After that service on July 3, she had mentioned that if they needed any help to give her a call. That remark would later come back to her when she learned about the search committee after Reis made plans to retire.
Beattie noted that Moran already has brought strength to the church in the couple of months she has been here.
"There is a spark that she is bringing and I'm hearing stories from parishioners. She has been in their homes already and helping them through tough times with kindness and good judgment and with humility," she said. "She is reaching out and wants to be involved in Cape Ann interfaith efforts."
Sunday worship is always at 10:30 a.m. at the historic church at 4 Cleaves St., and Moran says she is thrilled to be here.
"I have the best job in the world, to love people, and they are easy to love," she said. "They are some of the friendliest people I've met, and get to help them grow their church through worship services, and offering pastoral services and education. My door is always open."
Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3445, or at email@example.com.