The Rev. Julie O’Neill

Deacon, St. George’s Episcopal Church | Griffin

In her faith journey, Julie O’Neill continually offered to God an open heart for where she could and should serve. As a mother of four, she didn’t think the priesthood matched her. But for 27 years as she raised her family at St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church in McDonough, she moved through nursery duty, youth group, women’s ministry and outreach.

“I was ready to do more,” she recalled. “I had a constant curiosity, walking through an open door, then deciding to walk through the next open door.”

Today O’Neill serves as a deacon at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Griffin, a role that she lived before she had the title. Assigned by the bishop, a deacon has a sacred duty to connect the congregation with opportunities to serve the most vulnerable in their community—especially the poor and marginalized. O’Neill was ordained in 2022.

“Going to the grocery store is just a part of being a deacon,” she said. “You don’t aspire to become a deacon; you already are one. It’s just a way of being. It’s just a part of how you treat people and how you see the world and always trying to make that connection, no matter where you are.”

When tornadoes touched down near St. George’s (but only slightly damaged it) in early 2023, O’Neill mobilized 50 church members to respond. They prepared 300 meals for the workers who were clearing roads, restoring power and removing debris.

This was the latest outreach for a congregation rooted here well before the Civil War. St. George’s is one of the oldest Episcopal churches in the state, and has supported the creation and operation of schools, a subsidized retirement facility next door to the church, a health clinic dedicated to serving the uninsured, and a food pantry.

With her clerical collar, O’Neill sometimes gets stares in Griffin, the county seat of conservative Spalding County. Those moments are opportunities too. “I’m grateful even for the people who will come up to me and say, ‘I’ve never seen a woman wearing that before.’ That’s when I get to say, ‘Yes, everybody gets to serve. If this is the desire of your heart, and you just keep walking through doors, it’s there for you.’”