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Obituary: The Revd Jean Griffiths

by
12 March 2021

The Revd Tony Crowe and a correspondent write:

THE Revd Jean Griffiths was something of a pioneer right from the start of her working life. Having trained as a teacher, she became the only female teacher in a boys’ school. Later, she was a lone Anglican teaching in a Roman Catholic primary school. She used to play the organ for the school mass. but couldn’t receive communion.

In 1980, Jean trained to be a Southwark Pastoral Auxiliary, a voluntary pastoral post in a parish or the community. One of her tutors introduced her to the chaplaincy at HM Prison Brixton, where she became a pastoral counsellor. She would volunteer at the prison every Saturday morning, sitting at a small table on one of the wings, just out of earshot of the officers’ desk, where she listened and talked with any prisoner who wanted to unburden himself to someone. It soon became clear that this was the work to which she was being called, and she gave up her teaching career to work in the prison.

She took a full part in the pastoral work of the chaplaincy, taking her turn at preaching, and set up and chaired an innovative staff support group. Her fellow chaplains found her to be a warm and supportive colleague, who was able to venture into traditional male territory and hold her ground, as her sense of vocation led her into unexpected places.

In 1990, Jean became the first paid lay member of the chaplaincy, and was ordained deacon in 1995. She showed an amazing ability to mix with ease with the most difficult and trying prisoner or some high-level visitor; she could cope with the awkward to the simpering, the cleaner to the Governor, with different faiths and personalities, and do it all with an irresistible smile and confidence.

In the wider Church, she believed in an inclusive Church. She worked tirelessly with the Movement for the Ordination of Women and supported moves to include same-sex couples into the life and work of the Church. She also found time in her busy life to chair the supporters’ group of the local Welcare charity — a Southwark diocesan initiative in support of underprivileged families.

Shortly after her 80th birthday and a celebration of 20 years in ordained ministry, Jean was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and was soon unable to continue as an active priest. Later, she developed lymphoma, which was treated with radiotherapy until the end of last year, when the fragility of the skin made further treatment impossible. When the full effects of the disease caught up with her, she fell ill for few days. She received communion and anointing from the Bishop of Southwark on 31 January, at Candlemas, and died peacefully in her sleep four days later. May she rest in peace and rise in glory. She is survived by her husband and two children.

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