Obituary: Rev. Jane Elizabeth Heckles
Beloved spouse, cherished sister, super auntie, ministry leader
Beloved spouse, cherished sister, super auntie, ministry leader, and the best friend you could ever have, Jane Elizabeth Heckles died on June 18 after a brief, intense struggle with pancreatic cancer.
She was born on Friday the 13th in August of 1954 to Doris Evaline MacKay Heckles and William Robson Heckles, their second child to big brother Bill. Her mom called Jane “her lucky 13.” During his boyhood, her dad had immigrated from England with his parents and a group of their friends. They all settled in the Westville section of New Haven, Connecticut, and built the close neighborhood network so vital for immigrants. “Janie” was adored in that community — not least by her British grandmother, for whom she was named. She was strongly influenced by her British heritage, all things MacKay, and a whole lot of Connecticut and New England sensibility.
She met the love of her life, Kathleen Greider, in 1979. Brought together in Somerville, Massachusetts by a softball team called The ERA, they declared their love for one another in the cat food aisle of a grocery store in January of 1980. They first mothered two black cats named Lilith and K.C. Later, she and a black cavapoo named Neekah turned Kathleen into a dog person. The couple had 42 years of partnership and were married in 2008, as soon as the law allowed.
Her life was grounded in many values, principles, and commitments. Chief among them has been faithfulness to family of blood and family of choice, special devotion to nieces and nephews, cultivation of longtime friends, and the necessity of competence and contributing to the good in the world. She found great pleasure in travel of all kinds, watching sports — especially her beloved Red Sox — and staying current with all things technological.
The foundations of her Christian identity, faith, and later professional life were laid at First Church of Christ Congregational in West Hartford, Connecticut, and Camp Yo Aunta on Cobbosseecontee Lake, in Maine. Always a curious learner, she was a religion studies major at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, and earned the M.Div. (1980) and D.Min. (1997) degrees from Andover Newton Theological School (ANTS) in Newton Centre, Massachusetts. For her doctoral degree, she studied giving patterns in churches that declared themselves open and affirming to LGBTQI persons. She posited accurately that while churches that voted to become open and affirming might see an initial dip in financial support, ultimately the decision led to stronger giving and clearer sense of purpose for the congregation.
She was ordained in the United Church of Christ (UCC) in 1980, in The Federated Church of Christ, UCC, of Brooklyn, Connecticut, where she served her first call to ministry. She was soon called to serve the wider church, first at her alma mater, ANTS, as director of development (1981-1991). In those years, she helped double the amount of donor giving. She also served as adjunct faculty at ANTS (and later at Claremont School of Theology), teaching in the areas of stewardship and field education.
In 1991, the couple moved to California when her wife was called to serve as professor at Claremont School of Theology. She began her service to the Southern California Nevada Conference in 1992, first as stewardship minister and then as co-conference minister. She was a bridge builder in multiracial and multiethnic churches of the UCC and continued her justice work for the LGBTQI community, including service to marriage equality campaigns in California.
From 2009 to 2013, her ministry was in the national setting of the UCC, where she worked on financial and missional support for the denomination. Her theological depth was demonstrated in a campaign called “Changing Lives: That’s Our Church’s Wider Mission,” which described the church’s mission to be continuing testament, extravagant welcome, and changing lives. She helped strengthen the financial ministries of conferences of the UCC as well as local churches. She saw shifts in the landscape of ministry, including many churches considering closure. She was the chief author of a resource to help churches close their ministries faithfully, often by leaving a legacy financial gift.
Feeling a pull again to local church ministry, in 2013 she began serving as interim pastor at University City United Church in San Diego, leading it through a successful pastoral search. Finally, having witnessed the burden and blessing of ordained ministry, she was recruited by the pension boards of the UCC to develop the Episcopal CREDO program for UCC clergy. CREDO offered a holistic approach to wellness — support for reflection on financial, spiritual, psychological, and vocational aspects of their lives, in a retreat-like setting of extravagant welcome and care. The program enriched the lives and ministries of more than 250 clergy.
Throughout her life, she volunteered for a variety of causes and programs. Her most significant service was to Pilgrim Place, where in 1998 she became a member of the board of directors and eventually served as chair. After the couple became residents at Pilgrim Place in 2016, she continued her yearslong practice of helping out in the food court during festival, lent her fundraising skills to benefit the Pilgrim Place Resident Health and Support Program, used her technological and communications skills to establish and maintain the online PP Post, and became a weaver of lovely placemats and scarves.
She is survived by her spouse, Kathleen J. Greider; brother, William R. MacKay-Heckles; and their families.
A celebration of life will be held at 6 p.m. July 13 on Pilgrim Place’s Porter Circle. In lieu of flowers, contributions in her honor are welcome to the Resident Health and Support Program at Pilgrim Place at https://www.pilgrimplace.org/giving, or to a charity of your choice.
Participants are invited to wear blue and will be asked to show proof of vaccination and follow COVID-19 precautions.