Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Recognising Deaconesses in Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI)

St. Patrick’s Day on March 17 is the feast day of the patron saint of Ireland, celebrated on March 17, the anniversary of his death in the 5th century. 

It seems appropriate therefore to highlight in this post the Deaconesses in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI). There are fifteen deaconesses currently serving in local congregations across PCI, alongside hospital, and prison chaplains and other specialist ministries. Deaconess Rosemary Spiers is the President of the Deaconess Association 

Deaconess Louise Davidson

Deaconess Louise Davidson is one of the most recently commissioned Deaconesses (2020). As part of her journey in becoming a deaconess, she undertook three years of training at Union Theological College in Belfast.

Previously an auxiliary nurse working in the Ulster Hospital and a community healthcare worker for 25 years, Louise said that she had always felt God’s call on her life. “I have always had that desire to help and support people and that has been accompanied by real sense of God’s call on my life, while not exactly knowing where it might lead. I always had an interest in what a deaconess did, so to follow in the footsteps of so many faithful women is a privilege. I am so thankful to be able to join them and I’m really looking forward to working with the team at West, walking alongside people and watching God work in their lives. It is a privilege to be able to serve the Lord in this way, something that I couldn’t have done without the support and encouragement of my family".

The first Deaconesses in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland began their training in 1908, when the office of Deaconess was established by the General Assembly. This followed an earlier 1904 General Assembly report that looked at the work of the Church in industrial areas. One of its recommendations was that minsters in urban congregations be provided with trained support staff to assist them in the carrying out of their duties. This included the training of women for full-time church work. Since then, hundreds of women have been called by congregations, and to other areas of specialist ministry, as deaconesses within the Church. The overall responsibility for them lies with PCI’s Council for Mission in Ireland in partnership with Presbyterian Women (PW) and the Council for Training in Ministry.

Each of the denomination’s 19 regional presbyteries have certain responsibilities for deaconesses, including the commissioning of them to the office of deaconess. This takes place after they have been called to serve in a congregation, which is responsible for deploying them to meet specific local pastoral and community needs. 

Mission in Ireland Secretary, and PCI’s current Moderator, Rt Rev Dr David Bruce, noted that “Deaconesses have played an important role in the life of our Church for well over a century now, seeking to serve God, the Church and the community. Taking up lead roles in missional and evangelistic activities, they support the warp and weft of ordinary congregational life in so many important ways. I am hugely supportive of the work that our deaconesses do, a group of women deeply committed to the service of Christ in the community, which is such a powerful social witness to the gospel". 

At the commissioning service, PCI’s Women’s Ministry and PW Development Officer, Pauline Kennedy, presented Louise to the Presbytery for her commissioning as a Deaconess. During the service, she also presented her with a badge of office, a silver brooch bearing PCI’s emblem, a representation of the burning bush (Exodus 3), Latin motto ('Ardens sed Virens' -‘burning but flourishing') and the word ‘DEACONESS’.

In September 2021, a new intake of three Deaconess trainees will begin their training. 

Deaconess Rosemary Spiers is President of the PCI Deaconess Association. 

Deaconess Rosemary Spiers

(edited from an article on the PCI website)

This prayer is attributed to Patrick:

Christ be with me,

Christ before me,

Christ behind me,

Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,

Christ in every eye that sees me,

Christ in every ear that hears me.

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