Vale: Jennifer Robin Hall

Vale: Jennifer Robin Hall







In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen


Some three weeks or so ago I dropped in on Jenny in the nursing home room where she spent the last days of her earthly life.  Though it was not explicitly articulated as the reason for the visit, I was there, of course, to say good bye. I knew that about an hour would consume my share of her failing energy, but it certainly was a precious hour of quality time, always to be remembered and cherished.


Though Jenny lay on her bed a little listlessly, she immediately recognized me by name with a brightening smile as I entered the room: mentally she was still as sharp as ever on that day.  We talked about all manner of things.  At one point, noticing the TV in the corner, I asked if she was still able to watch TV.  The news she had seen of the Yarloop bush fire prompted her to recount her own memory of bushfire trauma, as a child at home with her Mother on a farming property in the South West. As the fire encroached on to the property, threatening the farm house, the piano, as perhaps the most precious possession, was moved outside into the middle of the lawn so that it would not be lost with the house. The local Volunteer Bushfire brigade did what it could to control the blaze. She heard later that children in the local school all got to their knees to pray.  For Jenny and her mother it was a stay and defend situation, and very threatening.  And then, just as the flames reached the garden fence around the house a change in wind direction took it away.  The house was saved.  Ironically, the only thing lost that day was the piano which blistered and buckled in the heat from the fire; it would have been better had it been left within the protection of the house.  She wryly commented that you never quite win in these situations.


Jenny started life as a banker. I asked her how it was that she and Bryan had met.  She told me of an evangelical rally, perhaps an event of Campaigners for Christ or some such body, in the Perth Town Hall.  One of her friends told her who else was coming in the group, and the friend observed that one of them was an Anglican.  And the rest is history.  Bryan was at the time a budding youth worker, but Archbishop Moline suggested to him that he should train for Holy Orders.  Once again the rest is history.  What a formidable team they made.


We naturally talked about the ordination of women, for as you know Jenny was one of the pioneering ten who were the first women to be ordained priest in Australia.  Jenny had already had a hugely distinguished ministry as a hospital chaplain, first in stipendiary lay ministry and then from 1 March 1996 (now nearly 30 years ago) as a deacon.  She told me that, though she had a clear sense of vocation to ordained ministry she was not a campaigner.  The politics of the struggle to open ordination to women was not her cup of tea.  The Movement for the Ordination of Women left her cold.   Too strident: everything would happen in God’s good time.  But she nevertheless harbored a secret inner sense of calling to ordination.  She reminded me that, as the prospect of ordination began to look more and more like a real possibility for women, she made an appointment to come to my office to ask what she needed to do to be ordained.  I had forgotten this, but I apparently replied that she did not have to do anything more. She had already done it all.


She had acquired a theological qualification, she had not only ministered effectively in a pastoral situation for many years, she had herself been involved in the Clinical Pastoral Education of clergy, and also run training programs for lay people in pastoral care.  In those days, in the wake of the charismatic movement of the 1970s and early ‘80s we were very conscious of the importance of the individual gifts of the Spirit and of the importance of the exercise of them in lay ministry. Every baptized Christian was said to have a ministry. And so they did. But by the mid-1980s we were also aware of the importance of honing people’s gifts and bringing them from the status of gifted amateur to a more professional and skilled way of operating.  Along with Doug Davies, Judy Peterkin and a couple of others Jenny accepted a pivotal role in the education of people in pastoral care.  Indeed, this group was the driving engine of pastoral ministry in the diocese.   We were also motivated at the time by the view that lay ministry should not be confined to liturgical roles in the sanctuary on Sundays, but that this Sunday role of liturgical assistant was a visible sign to the community of a less visible dispersed ministry of pastoral care out in the wider world, just as the leadership of worship of the ordained priest is a visible sign of his or her role of leadership of the parish community in much more dispersed and diverse ways all through the week.  The last thing we needed was to raise up a population of sanctuary mice.  We actually called them at that time Pastoral Assistants to make the point.  And so training in the pastoral care took on an importance that otherwise it might not have had, and Jenny was a key and enthusiastic player in that exercise.  Eventually she ran more formalized specialized training courses for lay assistants to hospital chaplains.


Jenny thus worked for many years as a chaplain at the Charles Gairdner Hospital. As one of the first women to be ordained priest she has left her mark on the history of Australia. But she also made an enormous contribution to the life of the Diocese of Perth as an educator, passing the wisdom she had acquired through hours of practical experience on to others. The Diocese of Perth owes an enormous debt to her.


At the rehearsal for the ordination of those first ten women priests, ten very splendid Bibles were produced which were to be presented to the ordinands as part of the actual ceremony.  They were brand new editions of the Oxford Annotated Bible that cost something like $75 each.  As my own covetous eye hit upon them I said “Gee, I wouldn’t mind one of those!”   This passing remark was overheard by Jenny. The following week Bryan and Jenny appeared in my office with one of the same volumes, which they presented to me.  This is a token of the kind of generosity of spirit and care of others that characterized both of their lives.  This Bible sits on my desk; it still has the card in it in Jenny’s handwriting with a message bit too personal to read right now, but not a day goes by that it does not remind me of them both.


It does not have to be said, because it is palpably clear to all of us, that Jenny was a woman of enormous faith, biblically grounded faith in the Word of God, uncomplicated, unwavering, strong, secure and steadfast.  It is always quite a different experience to officiate at a funeral or memorial service of a worshipping Christian believer of the kind Jenny undoubtedly was, compared with that of somebody whose Church connections have been minimal or even non-existent, whose life appears ultimately to amount to little more than a string of random happenings, and who has died without hope.  Jenny’s profound personal faith meant that her life was informed by a clear sense of direction and purpose, and oriented ultimately towards the Christian hope of life to come in the eternity of God.


The prospect of death appeared not to have phased her.  In her room that day she observed the leaves drying up and falling off the tree outside her window.  In calm acceptance of her coming end she said that life is like that:  we just dry up and like a leaf fall off the tree.  In one of his emails to me just a couple of days before Jenny died Stephen let us know, in his words, that she was ‘on her home run to glory.’  Like mother like son: that is almost certainly how Jenny saw her approaching death: a home run to glory.


An old family friend was reading Isaiah 43 to Jenny on 4 February (which happened to be Jenny and Brian’s 60th wedding anniversary) and Jenny wanted to highlight some words from a particular verse that popped right out of the text for her.  Isaiah 43: verse 4: “You are precious and honoured in My sight, and…I love you. …Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”  Who could ask for anything more?


We commend her to the everlasting arms of the God of eternal love.  Amen

Stephen Hall
Stephen Hall
Lives in Perth, Western Australia.

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