The Very Reverend Dr Gregory Jenks is Dean of Christ Church Cathedral in Grafton. Before commencing his role as Dean of Grafton in 2017, Dr Jenks was Dean of St George’s College in Jerusalem.
This is his story.
I started my studies for the priesthood immediately after finishing high school. Although I have had a couple of short periods in regular employment, I guess I have always wanted to make a difference by serving the faith communities which I have been privileged to lead.
Making the world a safer place for everyone and leaving it in better shape than we found it has been ingrained in me from my childhood.
This is a very challenging time for religious leaders of various faith traditions. Fewer people identify with a religion and even people of faith may be less engaged with the religious institutions than in the past.
Following the terror attacks in Christchurch, Aotearoa New Zealand earlier this year, the glare of national and international media attention turned onto the local community in Grafton as. Building relationships with civic leaders, with local media, and with local community groups in the Clarence Valley has been really important. It is also very rewarding.
I want to consolidate the Cathedral in Grafton as a place of spiritual hospitality for people of all faith and those with no faith. Everyone is welcome here. The Cathedral is open every day for people to sit quietly, pray, light a candle or participate in religious services. The gardens are also available to everyone as a quiet place in the busy centre of the town. From that base I hope to persuade the Clarence Valley Council to register Grafton with the compassionate cities project as part of the intentional development of a more inclusive and tolerant community. This will require ongoing work with Council, with local multicultural organisations and with the various faith communities in our region.
I was born at Lismore in the Northern Rivers region of the NSW north coast. Like most people in the area at that time, my family was very ‘Anglo’ although my father’s side of the family included around 200 years in the USA. We moved to Brisbane when I was 15, and most of my adult life has been spent in SE Queensland. The family has always enjoyed coming back to the Northern Rivers for vacations, as that is very much the country where my soul has its roots. In the past decade or so I have had many opportunities to visit and work in Israel/Palestine, as I have been one of the directors for an archaeological project on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. As I have worked with Israelis and Palestinians of different religious backgrounds, my initial cultural context has been enriched and expanded.
Most of us do not set out to do anything distinctive or heroic. We simply have to be authentic in whatever situation we find ourselves.
Our life experience will give us the wisdom we need when some special challenge presents itself.
A key concept for me these days is ‘compassion’. That is central to so many religious traditions. The heart of compassion, as I see it, is not feeling sorry for the bad experiences which other people might be having, but simply a genuine interest in other people, their culture, their spiritual wisdom and their food. Maybe it is more ‘compassionate curiosity’ than compassion by itself.
Rather than finding difference scary, I find it fascinating as a doorway into other ways of being human.