Janet Hesketh, RIP

Janet Hesketh was a member of St Mary’s in Karori, Wellington, and extraordinarily served the Diocese, the Province, and her community throughout her life.  At her recent funeral in Karori, her friends Rev John and Rev Barbara Bonifant shared eulogies – this obituary being an adaptation thereof.

We first met Janet when we returned from England to start medical practice in Karori, more than 40 years ago.  We became parishioners of this parish of St Mary’s which in those days had youth group of 120 plus young people. The driving force of this group was the Hesketh family and Barbara and I were persuaded to get involved. Janet was a force to be reckoned with in the parish, active in leadership roles.  She worshipped in this church all of her life, and was always responsibly assertive in expressing her views but never unkind.

As an adult, Janet took on roles as a vestry member, church warden and nominator.  She was an active member of the Association of Anglican Women and the Mothers’ Union.  She was elected as a diocesan synod representative in 1983 and served on that body from 1983 until 1988 and again from 1989 until 2004.  She was deputy chair of the committee of synod and the its chair from 1999 until 2003.    She served on the Diocesan Standing committee from 1989 until 1994 and on a number of Diocesan Committees.  Not surprisingly she was awarded the Bishop’s medal in 2004.  She was appointed a lay Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral in 2009.

Not content with being very active in the Wellington Diocese, Janet was also elected to General Synod.  She was outstanding as a lay woman in that body and served in a number of leadership roles – she was the Pākehā presiding member of General Synod on five occasions over ten years as well as being a member of the standing committee.  She served on other important church committees such as Te Kohahitanga, The Tikanga Pakeha Ministry Board, the Provincial Public and Social Affairs Committee.

On reading Janet’s CV, one theme shows up over and over.  If her children were involved in any activity, then Janet was on a committee that ran that activity.    From Play Centre to School Committees, to the swimming association where she became a race official at both local and national levels.  Janet continued in Guiding and was the Commissioner from 1969 until 1978.  I remember the garage in Parkvale Road being packed with boxes of Girl Guide biscuits.

Janet became a member of Mothers’ Union in 1961 and was a foundation member of the Association of Anglican Women.    She led groups in the parish and was Diocesan President of AAW in the mid-1980s.  She was on the AAW Social Concerns committee and the convenor for a time – ten years’ service in all.   Janet had a real concern that lay women in the church needed to stand up and be counted –  she commented to me that with so many women being ordained she thought she might be the only woman left in the pews and she was anxious that women might leave all decisions to clergy, something she did not approve of.

Janet told me that once Margaret started school, it was suggested to her that now she had more time perhaps she could be interested in the National Council of Women – and as they say, the rest is history.    Janet was a feminist in the very best possible way – she believed totally in the equality of men and women.  In a study group at the time that the New Zealand Prayer Book was introduced, she said that she was very heartened and felt empowered, and yes, maybe even liberated by one phrase in one of the Eucharistic prayers which says: “male and female He created them.”  She commented that now not only has the Anglican Church said it, but it is also written down.  Women therefore needed to ensure that this was acted upon in all facets of our church life – in liturgy, in our structures and in governance.

Janet’s work with National Council Women opened up many doors for yet more service.  She was a Life Member having been National President as well as having earlier held the position of National Secretary.  Janet served on the parliamentary watch committee and was Editor of the Circular magazine. Janet was the author of many, many submissions on all sorts of topics – everything from casinos to domestic violence and licensing laws.  She fought for religious festivals (like Christmas and Easter) to be acknowledged in our state schools.  The majority of her submissions had the wellbeing of women at their heart.  You can be sure that any submissions in her name were well researched and very prayerfully and thoughtfully put together.

Janet attended meetings and conferences all over the world.  Sometimes for NCW, sometimes for the Council of Churches and sometimes for the Anglican church.   We met her once in the airport in Singapore – we were on our way back to New Zealand and she was heading off to Tashkent.  We hopped off the travelators, ran to a mid-point, had a quick hug and then went our separate ways.   Bystanders looked on bemused.

I have valued her friendship and her mentoring especially when I was People’s Warden here a couple of terms after her tenure in that role.  Her advice was valuable, sensible and kind. Janet has supported and mentored many women, believing passionately in women’s ability to do anything, believing in the education of all (although she jokingly said that the only use her degree had been was that she shared lectures with Archbishop Brian Davies and that meant in later years, his door was always open to her – no appointment needed).  She fought strongly for equal rights for all – not just for women.  Those beliefs were underpinned by her strong Christian faith, her Bible reading and study and a life led by prayer.

Janet truly lived out her Christian faith and practiced what she believed in service to others as well as in a disciplined worship life.  She was theologically literate, well able to debate with the ordained clergy and at times much better informed than them.  She shared her knowledge in study groups, in preaching and guiding many others in their faith journey.  I was a beneficiary of this and was privileged to have Janet present me at my ordination service.

Janet we will miss you.  All women, but particularly Anglican women owe you a huge debt.   Your awards were richly deserved: the Queen’s Service Medal in 1988 and the Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit awarded in 1996.   We are so very proud of you, as you were of your family.

We have no doubt that Janet now rests in the presence of the God she knew and served.   She richly deserves the rewards of eternal life.  Janet may you rest in peace and rise in glory.