Getting to know The Reverend Jenny Willsher

Posted 14 February 2020 12:50pm

The School community rejoiced late last year as we heard the news that The Reverend Jenny Willsher would be joining CGGS at the full-time School Chaplain. Since commencing at the start of this year, Reverend Jenny’s cheerful disposition and desire to make the most of every day has seen her quickly, and warmly, embraced by students and staff alike.

I sat down with Reverend Jenny to learn more about her life, her loves and what drew her to the position of School Chaplain.

What book are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading a book called Lives in Ruins, which is about archaeologists and their lives. It’s a book I bought for my son who’s studying to be an archaeologist. My favourite writer is Anne McCaffrey and her dragon books and her fantasy and science fiction books.

What kind of music do you like to listen to?

I’m going to show my age and say my favourites when I was growing up were John Denver and Abba, but I do like Jean-Michel Jarre and themes from different movies.

What do you get up to when you’re not working here at the School?

I love cooking, I love gardening, birdwatching, bushwalking, swimming, doing family history -  but family history is really on hold now until I retire because it’s going to take too much time to do all the hard bits.

Our favourite place to go is down to Tidbinbilla for birdwatching and walking, and seeing the platypus – I love them. And we often go over to Jerrabomberra Wetlands to do some birdwatching.

Are there particular types of birds you are always excited to see?

I have favourite birds; rainbow bee-eaters and superb blue wrens are my two favourite birds, but the aim is to always find new birds and identify them and get their patterns. And I love the gang-gangs around Canberra! I’ve never lived anywhere that’s had gang-gangs.

Where else have you lived?

I was actually born in Broken Hill and I had some time down on the South Coast, but most of my growing up, before I finished uni was in the Newcastle area. When David and I first got married we were in the Newcastle area then we went down to Victoria, then to Sydney and then back to Newcastle, and then Fiji. We were in Morpeth (NSW) for a few years and most recently, before we came to Canberra, I was the head of a university residential college at Charles Sturt University in Wagga – for nearly 12 years which is the longest we’d stayed anywhere.

You mentioned going to university, what did you study?

I started off doing a science degree, and with that degree I worked with Wyndham Estate Wines, the Forest Commission of Victoria and Roche Pharmaceuticals. Finally the Church got around to letting women being ordained and I’d studied a Bachelor of Divinity, for ordination. A few years after I was ordained, I tried to bring the science and theology together by doing a Master of Applied Ethics degree – trying to find the answers. But there are no answers!

Was there always a spark within you that linked you with divinity?

I first felt a call to ministry, a deep prayer experience where I was called to be a priest, when I was about 14. I got really excited and went and told some of my friends. They laughed, and I couldn’t work out why they were laughing and they said, ‘Well, there’s no such thing as a woman priest.’ And I thought, ‘Hmmm, I haven’t ever seen one,’ and I didn’t realise it was an issue for the Church, so I had to wait.

With that trailblazing spirit, you are embodying one of our School values

Which is one of the reasons I was excited to be Chaplain, because we can do anything and God gifts us to do anything.

What are you most looking forward to in this role?

Hopefully, opening people’s eyes to the possibility of a God who loves them, a God who has gifted us with life. Life is meant to be enjoyed. And opening them up to possibilities for how they can care for God’s world and care for each other.

What’s something that most people wouldn’t know about you?

I was the first woman priest in Australia to have a baby! It was a bit of a challenge too because the Church didn’t have very good maternity leave policies so I took four weeks' annual leave. David actually took six months long service leave, so he was ‘houseparent’.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

It’s a joy to be part of the family, I’m looking forward to it because this is such a loving, compassionate school. I’m here for people, if they want someone to chat to or discuss the big questions of life and universe – that’s what I’m here for.

Sally Wagnon
Communications and Engagement Manager