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Love for God and God’s people draws Cara to ordination

Cara Greenham Hancock. Picture: Elspeth Kernebone

Elspeth Kernebone

3 February 2023

When Cara Greenham Hancock told her family she planned to join a monastery, her mother said, “That sounds like the sort of thing you would do.” 

It did. As her faith deepened in her early 20s, Ms Greenham Hancock had explored how she could give herself fully to Jesus and his church. 

While exploring this, Ms Greenham Hancock joined Tymawr Convent in rural Wales in late 2020. Here she began the seven-year discernment process towards life vows. 

But, three years later, Ms Greenham Hancock is back in Melbourne about to make a lifelong commitment to the church, but a commitment of a different kind. Instead of life within a religious community, she will minister in the wider body of the church, as an ordained Anglican minister working in a parish.  

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On 10 February, Ms Greenham Hancock will be ordained a deacon at St Paul’s Cathedral, before beginning a role as an assistant curate. 

A desire to be given fully to Jesus and his church led her to seek life in a religious community. Likewise a desire to be fully given to Jesus and the people of God led to her desire to serve as an ordained minister in Melbourne. 

At Tymawr convent, Ms Greenham Hancock joined in a life structured around prayer. The sisters gathered once daily for Eucharist, four times daily for offices of prayer, singing Psalms and Scripture, and spent two hours daily in personal silent prayer. 

Ms Greenham Hancock said after months living in that rhythm, everything became prayer. 

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She said living in a religious community meant learning through the discipline of living together in love, which was inseparable from loving God. 

At the same time, Ms Hancock was doing manual labour for the first time in her life. Planting, weeding, harvesting, laying paths, shovelling snow. Working with her body and with creation, she read Scripture differently.  

Coming in to chapel with dirt under her fingernails, she would hear the gospel fresh. 

The convent life was an integrated way of living, one that offered a cohesive view of creation, of the human person, and of the divine plan for that. 

“It’s deeply both about the individual relationship with the soul of the Lord, but also it’s a community. It’s very much about learning to live well with other people, and learning to see other people with the same kindness that God sees them,” Ms Greenham Hancock said. 

“Those hours of silent prayer is exposing yourself to that bright searching light of the Lord, which makes you realise things about yourself, and you bring that into how you live together, and you bring that into how you understand God. 

“It’s a life that’s cohesive and integrated and has that single purpose of growth and love.” 

Cara Greenham Hancock. Picture: Elspeth Kernebone

Ms Greenham Hancock’s path to faith – and to ordination – began as a seven-year-old in a non-Christian home, who asked to go to church. It took her through a period as teenage university student, new to Melbourne, who wrestled with the idea of redemption, but wasn’t a member of a church community and wasn’t ready to claim the label of Christian. It took her through a period of growing in faith, soaking in prayer and the Scripture, looking to give herself fully to Jesus, exploring this life as a member of a religious community. 

But the path didn’t lead to life in a convent. 

As part of her discernment at Tymawr, Ms Greenham Hancock visited Melbourne. It stirred her up inside so much that, so in consultation with the order, she returned for a year to study and work at Christ Church Brunswick.  

Her time in Melbourne made her feel alive, and that she had something to offer. Formed by new ways of praying and looking at people, she felt that she had the best of both the convent and the parish life.  

It had been through this parish life, and in this parish, that Ms Greenham Hancock came back to the church after a period away. 

In 2014, her grandmother died. Ms Greenham Hancock stayed in bed for three days then thought, “What would Gran do? She’d go to church.” 

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So, she did. She began attending Christ Church in Brunswick regularly. In in its rhythms of prayer, of worship, its deep sense of belonging, and its morals and ethics, she more and more saw a universe with Jesus at the centre. 

Here in gathering, reading Scriptures and celebrating the sacraments she was driven to deepen her faith, to touch the mystery of God’s imminence and transcendence.  

It became less and less comfortable to go through any other part of her life without Jesus at the centre. 

Ms Greenham Hancock didn’t remain at Tymawr Convent, but she wouldn’t be the same person now without her time there. She sees it as having slowed her down and made her gentler with herself and with others, as she saw more of the gentleness of God. 

She became quicker to laugh at herself, more patient, more focussed, harder working, and more reverent of other people and of created reality.  

She refers to herself with a borrowed Jesuit phrase, as a “contemplative in action”. To Ms Greenham Hancock, this means a serious commitment to personal prayer, and a focus on the Lord. It also means taking the fruits of that prayer into the world, looking at people in that light, meeting their needs and treating people in a Christlike way.  

Back in Melbourne it began to just make sense for Ms Greenham Hancock to put herself forward as a candidate for ordained ministry. 

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To her, it was about the feeling of completely being given to Jesus and completely being given to the people of God at the same time. It was the feeling of being at the threshold of the church in the wider community, where people encounter and are drawn in to the truths of the faith. And it was about a completeness of love both for God and for God’s people, and of the gift of being a vessel for the love of God and the presence of Jesus in a particular way, to a particular community, in a particular context.  

Now, as she readies herself for ordination, she knows what that context is – for now. In February Ms Greenham Hancock will begin her role as an assistant curate at the Parish of St Stephen and St Mary Mount Waverley. 

Ms Greenham Hancock isn’t sure what shape her life will take as an Anglican minister, although she feels drawn to parish ministry. But she is finding more and more peace surrendering to not knowing.

She believes this openness and delight in where the church might go are part of what gifts she offers to the church. Her curacy is the beginning of this. 

“The church is going to be very different in 10 years’ time, we’re at a time of change and facing all sorts of challenges, and I don’t find that daunting, I find that quite exciting,” she said. 

“[I’m] very excited. There’s so much newness, so much adventure, so much discovery ahead of me: new people, a new part of Melbourne to discover, new church traditions, a new way of church life.” 

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