‘You can’t say no to God’ terminally ill woman is ordained deacon in Portsmouth

06 July 2018

Neil Pugmire/Portsmouth diocese

Jeannette Hayward on Saturday, at Portsmouth Cathedral

Jeannette Hayward on Saturday, at Portsmouth Cathedral

JEANNETTE HAYWARD has suffered from cancer for more than a decade, and, despite being told that her illness is terminal, she was ordained deacon in Portsmouth Cathedral on Saturday.

“My prognosis is: I’m dying,” she said shortly before the ordination service. “But I’m at peace. I’m in God’s hands.”

The Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Revd Christopher Foster, said: “It was a pleasure to ordain Jeannette as a deacon, not least because her life experiences, strong faith, and caring personality will help her to offer effective pastoral care to others.”

Mrs Hayward will serve her title at St Jude’s, Southsea, but will work mainly at the newly reopened St Margaret’s, near by, in Eastney. When asked why she was taking on such challenge in her circumstances, she answered: “You can’t say no to God: you answer God’s call. I have just had a fabulous weekend preaching at both churches, which was just amazing.

“I thought I would be exhausted, but I am not: I am just exhilarated by the whole experience, just glorifying God and doing what he asks me. I think I would not be at peace if I wasn’t doing this.”

Born in Kenya in 1957, Mrs Hayward returned to Britain with her family after independence in 1963, driving all the way in a Land Rover — including crossing the Sahara. They settled in Portsmouth, and became part of the community of St Jude. In her mid-forties, she was diagnosed with clinical depression: one of a sequence of health problems.

In 2007, she required major surgery for bowel cancer, and had to give up her work as pastoral care co-ordinator at St Jude’s. On another occasion, she spent four days in a coma with bacterial meningococcal meningitis. She has since learned that the cancer has spread to her chest and liver. Her husband, Steve, has also been diagnosed with cancer.

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Mrs Hayward always felt that she wanted a deeper involvement with the Church, she said, but feared that her dyslexia would rule out studying for ordination. “In the end, I said to God: ‘If you want me, you have to give me the ability to do it.’” Then she found a place on the Portsmouth Pathway. “It came just when I needed it,” she said. Chemotherapy meant that she had to defer her first year.

“I managed to get to nearly all the classes until last May [2018], when I was in hospital for 11 days, and there was one term where I had to Skype into lectures when I had problems with my immune system. But there was never any point at which I thought ‘This is too much.’ There were times when I thought I wouldn’t make it, health-wise, but my commitment never failed. Once I had said yes to God, I couldn’t go back. I felt I had been called, and had to press on.

“I think my fight helped me with my vocation. Everything that happens to you moulds you as a person. It helped me to see what was important and what was not.”

She does not regard establishing a newly planted church as hard work. “I just find it exhilarating: there is such a buzz. My husband is one of the worship-band leaders; so we are in it together. It’s really, really exciting, just wanting to change lives. I do get tired easily. I have chronic asthma, so find breathing difficult, and my mobility is not very good, either, but I am not deterred by what I have to do.

“I have chemotherapy every other week, but that gives me a ‘steroid buzz’ for a few days so have more energy on a chemo weekend. Medically, they are buying me time. I just take each day as it comes.”

The Vicar of St Jude’s, Canon Mike Duff, said: “St Jude’s has shared in all the twists of Jeannette’s life journey. We have wept at her diagnosis, prayed for her survival, rejoiced in her healing, and affirmed her calling.

“Jeannette offers an extraordinarily powerful witness to her hope in Jesus in the face of death, and we are delighted she will remain part of St Jude’s and St Margaret’s congregations as curate. Although we will have to manage her workload carefully, we look forward to the insights she will bring to our staff team, and the unique ways she will be able to encourage so many.”

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