It was St Matthias Day, 24 February 1996, when a vision was finally realised for Jill, as this was the day she was ordained a deacon at St Saviour’s Cathedral by Bishop George Browning, the first vocational deacon to be ordained in the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn. After pursuing and waiting for many years Jill’s desire to be deaconed was finally fulfilled and the words from Psalm 37:4 came to life: ‘Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this.’
Along with Bishop George Browning, and his vision and understanding of the distinctive diaconate, two other people who inspired and understood Jill’s desire to be ordained were Deaconess Mary Andrews and Father Michael Cockayne.
How can the church engage its world? How can the ministry of the Church in the world be modelled to the laity? I believe the answer in part will come through the recovery of a diaconate marked by that servant character and engagement with the world with which the order began. Putting it simply, if the presbyterate has its place in leading the Church gathered, it is the diaconate which has its place in leading the Church scattered. The call of the deacon is to be the boundary rider of the Church, the opportunist for the gospel, the emissary, addressing the story of the world with the story of the gospel, having a place amongst the people of God, but living beyond the gathered community so as to point to the burning bushes in the wilderness.
~Bishop George Browning, 1994 Synod Presidential address on the establishment of a vocational diaconate in the Diocese
Jill was born in the Blue Mountains and prior to her training at Deaconess House she was a kindergarten teacher in the Blue Mountains. Deaconess House is now called MAC-Mary Andrews College. Mary Andrews was an inspiring woman who had been the principal of deaconess house in Sydney, but she had spent her childhood years in the parish of Cooma and always took an interest in the diocese of her birth.
Deaconess Mary encouraged and supported Jill in her time of study at Deaconess House and assured Jill of her prayers when she moved to work in the diocese of Newcastle, and later to work in England with the Bible Reading Fellowship. Deaconess Mary was a strong advocate for the recognition of the ministry of women and had a clear understanding of the servant ministry of the deacon.
Father Michael Cockayne, who is the leader of the Celebration Community in Queanbeyan, was a true mentor, teacher and friend, and along with Mary Andrews and Bishop George had an understanding of the diaconate as that of servanthood – ‘having a place amongst the people of God, but living beyond the gathered community so as to point to the burning bush in the community’ (Bishop George’s Synod address 1994).
Jill’s specific diaconal ministry has been in aged care, where she was involved in a number of facilities in the area of pastoral care and diversional therapy. Between 2012–2019 Jill was the chaplain at Bill McKenzie Gardens (formerly Ginninderra Gardens), and with the help of an enthusiastic and committed pastoral care team she saw God working amongst residents, family members, friends and staff.
Along with the weekly church services it was always thrilling to hear lots of energetic people make a joyful noise at the hymn sing-alongs. There were many touching moments when a person living with dementia who hadn’t spoken for a long time would join in singing a hymn. Other times a family member would be moved to tears as they would hear their loved one recite a familiar prayer or verse of scripture.
Sunday afternoon was always a very joyful time when residents and family members would meet with pastoral volunteers for afternoon tea. Heaps of delicious food was consumed and there was lots of fun and laughter, but it was also a time to share the message of the gospel and listen to those who were hurting and had deep needs. It was a time to give hope and peace, and the assurance of God’s love. Neither the pastoral care team nor Jill would tire in seeing someone who had previously shown no interest in God respond to the Christian message through these gatherings.
As an associate member of the Celebration community, Jill still has close contact with Father Michael Cockayne who continues to be an encourager and friend. Although now retired from full-time ministry, Jill still loves her servant ministry with the Celebration community in having a heart that notices the poor, the broken and the vulnerable. The joy of bringing the gospel of Jesus to people through word and action still brings enormous excitement.