Elva Reynolds – deacon extraordinary
By Ken Russell
When Elva Reynolds of Hokitika offered herself as a candidate for ordination as a deacon about 25 years ago, it continued a calling to which she had already given a lifetime of service. Indeed, when Elva began her diaconate ministry in 1986, she was already past the commonly accepted retirement age.
This irony was remarked upon in January when Elva celebrated her 90th birthday with family and friends. Yet despite reaching a
milestone that most of us might think was a signal to slow down, Elva is far from retired. She is zesty and alert, and has no plans to quit the ministry of service that has blessed the Westland community. In describing her call to ordination, Elva drew on the image of Sarah who dared to laugh at the apparent impediment of her age to bear a child.
While Hokitika is Elva’s focus, her efforts extend throughout the West Coast, from Westport to Haast.
My own involvement with Elva began in 1957 as a newly married and very green probationer appointed to the Hokitika Circuit. Elva was a member of the Churches of Christ in those days, but already ecumenically committed, and leader of one of the largest Life Boy teams in the country. She sized us up immediately, and before one could utter a prayer of protest she had us both in uniform – me as chaplain and Judy as a junior leader. Elva and her husband late Winston offered and an open home to two nervous new-arrivals.
She came to the diaconate after Winston died in office as mayor. A very active mayoress, she was already busy politically, and served as trustee of the Westland Savings Bank and regional liaison officer for Presbyterian Support and Methodist Social Services. She also served with Citizens Advice Bureau, Age Concern, and Prisoners Aid – to name only some.
During her diaconate years Elva was a foundation member of Coast Care Trust, which oversees the community care of psychiatric patients throughout the region.
Elva’s 90th birthday coincided with another celebration in Hokitika, the 25th anniversary of the ministry of Rev John Drylie at St Andrews United Parish. John too is a former mayor, and, during their long association in the parish, he and Elva created a very strong team of presbyteral and diaconal ministry.
Yet it would be a mistake to identify Elva solely with a ceaseless round of community appointments. She reads the bible every day with growing discernment. Her bible sits alongside a library that features the work of Borg, Armstrong, Geering, Spong, Brueggemann, Harper and others. And she likes a good murder mystery too!
Appropriately, Elva has been recognized for her community service. In 1976 she was named West Coast Woman of the year. She was awarded the Queens Service Medal in 1993, and in 1999 she received the Tower Senior Achievers Award.
Those of us fortunate enough to join Elva for her big event were amazed to find her sparkling and lively as ever. During out visit to Hokitika, we dropped into a fast food place on Revell St for one of their special pies. When we said we were in town for a 90th birthday, the guy behind the counter asked us with typical Coast bonhomie, whose birthday? When I named Elva his face lit up. “Mrs Reynolds! I’ll send her a card. She’s one special lady!” Amen to that.