Happy memories: Jill Elliot’s centenary story

Jill Elliot started work with BRF in January 1973, not long after the organisation’s 50th anniversary celebrations. Jill told us how she and a friend had travelled from Australia to London on two-year work visas and, within a matter of days, she arrived at BRF HQ.

17 July 2022

God pointed me to BRF

‘When we arrived at Heathrow neither of us had a job nor any money, but God was good and provided both of us with work and enough money on which to live. I believe the way in which God pointed me to the headquarters of BRF to be quite a miracle.’ 

Just two or three days after their arrival in England, Jill and her friend Robyn visited All Souls Langham Place. In the entrance there was a table with lots of leaflets and pamphlets.

‘My eyes landed on a Christian newspaper that had a position advertised,’ says Jill. ‘The position was for a field worker with The Bible Reading Fellowship. It looked absolutely ideal. Not only would it include seeing a little more of England, I would be able to tell family and friends in Australia that I was working in Buckingham Palace Road! But most important was that the role was to assist people to grow in faith and understanding of the Bible.  

‘Within two weeks of our arrival in England I was welcomed into the BRF family.’

A teacher and experienced Christian education worker, Jill was well-qualified for her new fieldworker role, travelling around England with BRF Bible reading notes and other BRF materials, encouraging people in their faith. ‘I’d go to churches and schools and just little groups of people, and introduce them to BRF,’ she says. ‘I had a little Renault, and I was able to park it in Buckingham Palace Road, outside the BRF office, and fill it up with books. You certainly couldn’t do that now!’

‘Within two weeks of our arrival in England I was welcomed into the BRF family.’

The impact of Vatican II

One of the aspects of her work which Jill found most rewarding was to meet with Catholic Christians.

‘In 1973 it was less than ten years after Vatican II, and the Catholic Church had really come alive. Until then, Catholic lay people hadn’t been used to reading the Bible for themselves, but that was all changing and we had a lot of Bible reading notes especially for Catholic Christians. It was just such a joy to see them engage with the Bible and to be able to sit down and have a Bible study group and talk about the Bible, and pray together. That was so new and so special.’

A visitor from home

Just a few months after Jill joined BRF, she was in the office one day when the then director, Ian Thompson, came up to her. She recalls: ‘He was very excited! “Jill,” he said, “we’ve got an Australian bishop here!”‘

The bishop in question was Neville Chynoweth, who was then the assistant bishop of Canberra. He and his wife Joan were visiting London, happened to pass BRF headquarters and walked in. They all went out for lunch, and Jill is still in touch with Joan.

Bishop Neville was instrumental in the expansion of BRF’s work in Australia and after Jill returned home, she played an important part in that mission.

‘He was very keen to see BRF expand in Australia.’ Jill says. ‘A number of the Australian dioceses liked Scripture Union materials, but Ian really liked BRF’s emphasis on not just the scriptures, but also prayer and Communion. So he was really keen to see BRF expanding. That’s really how it started, and I did that job for about twelve years, up to the early 80s.’

It was exciting work. Not just all over Canberra but all around Australia, Jill would meet with groups of people keen to practise their faith seven days a week.

‘They were just so full of joy,’ she says. ‘One group I remember particularly met in a monastery. Their meetings were quite charismatic but still had such an emphasis on the scriptures, and there was always a book table there with our BRF material set out, along with other resources. That was just so wonderful to see.

‘There was such a rich variety of people: rich and poor, old and young, learned and unlearned and those in every different position in society, from the very lowest to the top. The governor general of Australia came to one of the churches I went to, and he loved his Bible and loved his Bible reading notes. That was very special to think that one of the most important people in Australia was reading our notes.’

‘There was such a rich variety of people: rich and poor, old and young, learned and unlearned and those in every different position in society.’

Bible notes to the outback

The real joy of Jill’s work with BRF was to visit small country communities.

‘In those days, for them to have someone come to visit, bringing not just Bibles and Bible reading notes, but also other Christian materials, was so important. They wouldn’t go to big towns or cities so they’d never have been able to get to a Christian bookshop. Sometimes I’d get messages telling me how they were just waiting and waiting for the mail to come so they could get their Christian material.

‘For me, it was such a pleasure to be able to work in outback Australia to see the joy it gave people to have someone come to their church from one of the cities. It was such a privilege for me, but also such an encouragement for them.’

Of course, it’s so different today, when travel is easier and towns and Christian bookshops are more accessible, and even unreliable internet access has transformed communications. All these years on, Jill still keeps in touch with BRF and follows developments with interest and affection.

‘When I read about the centenary celebrations, it brought back so many memories of that time in 1973. BRF had such an impact on me personally: seeing God use this literature in a remarkable way to bring lonely, isolated country people close to himself. I grew so much through meeting such a variety of people. Wherever you are, I guess, you can become quite narrow if you’re living in the same place all the time and with the same people. But I met such a variety of people of faith – often different expressions faith to my own – and that was wonderful, because it really made me grow up in my own faith.’

Jill Elliot lives in Queanbeyan, a town near Australia’s capital city, Canberra. Jill first trained as a teacher and then went on to study theology at Deaconess House, part of Moore College in Sydney. Before joining BRF in London in 1973, she worked in Christian education in parishes and for two different dioceses in Australia. On her return to Australia she continued to work for BRF and then moved into chaplaincy work, particularly in the field of ‘aged care’. She was ordained a vocational deacon in 1996, which has been ‘a big part’ of her Christian journey.

Bible reading notes

The new issues (September–December 2022) of all our Bible reading notes are available to order now. To find out more about which notes might be right for you, and to order, click on button below.

Thank you!

A big thank you to everyone who helped to make our tenth anniversary Festival of Prayer such a success: keynote speaker Gemma Simmonds; all our other speakers and workshop leaders; our friends from Rippon College, Cuddesdon, and from Oxford diocese; all our volunteers and staff; and above all everyone who joined us on the day to discover more about the adventure of prayer.