Professional deacon finds God in dementia service

Hawkes says the path to the diaconate was a slow burn. PHOTO/MARY ARGUE

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It’s a pleasant walk to see Annabel Hawkes.

The road dips and meanders through Rangitumau, so narrow in places it’s a single lane, then, when you think you’re almost to the end, a zigzag sand-colored driveway signals you’ve arrived.

It’s a serene place, completely off the grid, and beyond the door is the new Anglican Vocations Deacon of Wairarapa.

The land, which is home to Hawkes and her husband, is also home to five cats, three dogs and two donkeys.

“We lived for six months in this little house,” Hawkes says, waving towards one of the two small dwellings on the property.

Too long, apparently, especially in winter.

They moved into a comfortable prefabricated house set back from the hill.

A dozen solar panels flash in the sun under the veranda, which overlooks the Tararua Range.

Hawkes starts the coffee and recounts his ordination as a vocational deacon in the Anglican Church.

She was not looking forward to the ceremony, which took place on Ascension Sunday at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Wellington.

But she was pleasantly surprised.

“I was very anxious about it. But I had a blast.

“It was like a traditional church service – almost like a baptism.”

A vocational deacon is an interesting role within the Anglican Church, described as “a special type of order” for its community orientation.

“It’s all about community and going out and getting around. You talk to people and energize them in their spiritual life,” a church spokesperson said.

Originally from England, social worker Hawkes moved to New Zealand 24 years ago.

She says her husband Richard – an atheist – and her two adult children have been incredibly supportive of her growing involvement in the church.

Annabel Hawkes, the new vocation deacon of Wairarapa, during her ordination. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

“But I am not holy.

“I have never had the experience of Damascus Road. It was more of a slow burn.

Hawkes traces the early stages of his mother’s visit to a dementia unit in Wairarapa.

“That’s what motivated me. She had her faith all the way.

“She could still say the Lord’s Prayer. It was the last thing that escaped him.

Even after her mother’s death, Hawkes continued to visit residents of Wairarapa’s dementia units.

And for three years, even during covid, she visited Lyndale Manor, becoming “part of the fabric”.

“My job is to be with people. Sometimes I take communion, or we color, listen to music.

She said she spends much of her time sitting with people, encouraging them to take “another bite” at mealtimes.

“Sunday is a typical church day, so I go. I also know from visiting as a girl that Sunday can feel a little flat.

Hawkes maintains that delivering sermons and reading scriptures are far from the order of the day.

“Oh no. It’s not like that. I ask the nurses if there is anyone they would like me to see.

“And sometimes people mention God, just randomly, but most of the time I just run to the mouth and try to be nice.”

Raised in the Anglican faith, Hawkes says she was never particularly religious, but at 18, unsure of what to do, she embarked on a theology degree at The Holy Union just because it suited her. interested.

She has since added a degree in social work and a master’s degree in chaplaincy to her academic record.

“My thesis was to interview chaplains in dementia units. But I would like to do more…”

She is now considering a doctorate in hopes of extending the reach of interviews to people of all faiths providing support in dementia units.

But maybe that will happen when she is no longer working full time.

For now, Hawkes says a vocational deacon is exactly what she wants to be.

“The deacon is my thing. I will be nothing else. That’s it.

“People need to be taken care of, but that can mean we forget about them.

“God is already in the dementia unit. I’m just going there to let those people know they’re not forgotten.

As we walk back down the driveway, Hawkes walks me to the donkey paddock.

I see a shovel and a pile of manure. I can guess the afternoon task ahead.

Hawkes installs a speaker on the fence post.

What is the playlist?

True Crime podcasts, she says — she’s obsessed with them.

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