Thirty years on from the ordination of the first female priest in the Church of Ireland, a series featuring four women in ordained and lay ministry in the diocese.
Rachel Irish–Colligan is a licensed Diocesan Evangelist and has been the Community Outreach Worker in Mount Merrion Church in Belfast for the past four years. It’s a part–time voluntary role, however some aspects of the job are funded through different programmes run throughout the year. Rachel is also a fully trained fitness instructor, which gives her the flexible hours she needs to work around ministry and home life. She is mum to three kids ranging from 9 to 14 years old.
How were you called to be a Diocesan Evangelist?
By complete surprise! I was in Willowfield, the church I attended at the time, when they mentioned the Evangelist’s Training course and something within me said I should go for it, even though my head was thinking ‘I’m nuts’, and I had already talked myself out of it before the service ended. But a week later I got an email totally out of the blue from the Deacon, Ross Wilson, with a reference attached and the application form to apply for the course with the deadline the next day. I applied thinking I’d never get in but if it was God’s will…
What reservations (if any) did you have as a woman entering ministry?
I’m not sure being a woman came into my reservations about entering ministry as I had so many other reservations stacking up in front of it. The fact I was a divorced single mum of three, I hadn’t really studied since I was in school and dyslexic and really just didn’t think I was smart enough or worthy enough to be there.
Do you think women in ministry bring particular gifts to the church?
I don’t want to generalise women in ministry, but I think women come with a deeper compassion and empathy for people and the situations they find themselves in. I also think hospitality comes more naturally to women. However, just like men, each are individuals and bring just as many and equal strengths and gifts as men. After all, the gifting is given by the same Spirit and God uses us all to forward the kingdom. I think it relies more on our obedience.
What excites you and brings you joy in ministry?
I love to see the changes God makes in people’s lives and circumstances as they learn to trust him and let him into their lives. There’s nothing more rewarding than to see the awe and thankfulness of someone experiencing God move in their life and watching faith grow, whether it’s for the first time or part of the journey of faith.
What are the challenges?
For me the challenges are accepting you can’t do all the things you wish you could, there just isn’t enough time in the week. I also found it harder when the kids where smaller to have them with me as I set up for different programmes even if it was children and family ministry and then afterwards to try to clear up. As a single mum, where I went the kids went.
What would you say to a woman who is considering training for lay or ordained ministry?
We all have challenges to overcome to be in ministry no matter whether we’re male or female. Yes, as a mum this can be trickier to manage, but it can be done. If God can use me in ministry, then he can use anyone. The Bible is full of examples of people not worthy in many ways and yet God used them because of who they were not despite it. Being in ministry has changed and deepened my relationship with God and changed me as a person for the better. You can’t be walking closely with God and not be changed.
To find out more about training as a diocesan evangelist, please contact Andrew Brannigan: email@example.com