Jane Elizabeth Heckles, longtime justice-advocate in the United Church of Christ, was born on Friday the 13th in August, 1954, to Doris Evaline MacKay Heckles and William Robson Heckles. Jane was their second child to big brother Bill. Her mom called Jane “her lucky 13.” Her dad had immigrated from England with his parents and a group of their friends in his early years. 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.
The foundations of Heckles’ Christian identity, faith, and professional life were laid at First Church of Christ Congregational in West Hartford, Connecticut, and at Camp Yo Aunta on Cobbosseecontee Lake in Maine. Always a curious learner, she was a religion studies major at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania. Then she earned an M.Div. degree in 1980 from Andover Newton Theological School, located at that time in Newton Centre, Massachusetts. She later earned a D.Min. degree there in 1997. For her doctoral degree, Heckles 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. Heckles was ordained to Christian ministry in 1980 at The Federated Church of Christ UCC in Brooklyn, Connecticut, where she served her first pastorate.
She met the love of her life, Kathleen Greider, in 1979. They were 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, Jane 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.
Heckles’ life was grounded in many values, principles, and commitments. Chief among them was 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.
Shortly after she began her first pastorate, Heckles was called to serve the wider church, first at Andover Newton Theological Seminary as Director of Development (1981-1991). During those years she helped double the amount of donor giving. She also served as adjunct faculty at the seminary (and later at Claremont School of Theology), teaching in the areas of stewardship and field education.
In 1991, the couple moved to California when Greider became a professor at Claremont School of Theology. Heckles served the UCC’s Southern California Nevada Conference, as its first stewardship minister in 1992 and later as Co-Conference Minister with Rev. Daniel Romero. She was a bridge-builder in multiracial and multiethnic churches of the UCC and continued her justice work for the LGBTQI community, including working on the marriage equality campaigns in California. Heckles served in this position until 2008.
From 2009 to 2013, Heckles served on the national UCC staff, working on financial and missional support for the denomination. She was interim pastor of University City United Church, San Diego, in 2013 and 2014. In 2015, she was recruited by the Pension Boards of the UCC to develop the 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. Over her five years of leadership, the program enriched the lives and ministries of more than 250 clergy.
Throughout her life, Heckles volunteered for a variety of causes and programs. Her most significant service was to Pilgrim Place, a retirement community in Claremont, California, where she became a member of the board of directors in 1998 and eventually served as chair. After Jane and Kathleen became residents at Pilgrim Place in 2016, Heckles continued her years-long 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.
Jane Heckles died on June 18, 2022, after a brief, intense struggle with pancreatic cancer.
(This biographical statement adapted by Mark Bowman from obituaries written by Kathleen Greider and United Church of Christ News.)
Biography Date: August 2022
United Church of Christ/Congregational Church | Clergy Activist | Open and Affirming in the UCC (ONA & formerly UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns) | California | Claremont
“Jane Heckles | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed May 29, 2023, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/jane-heckles.