Ordination of six new deacons for Connor Diocese
Six new deacons were ordained in Connor Diocese at a service in St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast, on Sunday September 13. Two, Brendan O’Loan, ordained for St Patrick’s, Jordanstown, and Janet Spence, ordained for St Stephen’s and St Luke’s and the Parish of St Michael, Belfast, will serve in the Ordained Local Ministry; while Sarah Crawford was ordained for the Parish of Derryvolgie; Andrea Cotter for the Parish of Skerry, Rathcavan and Newtowncrommelin; Nathan Ervine for the Parish of Magheragall; and Alan McCracken for the United Parish of Ballynure and Ballyeaston.
This was the Rt Rev George Davison’s first ordination service since he was consecrated Bishop of Connor on September 3. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the service was open to invited guests only. A video of the service will be available shortly.
An ordained local minister is not an incumbent of a parish but is someone who can exercise some leadership role within a local congregation - the nature of their deployment can vary from diocese to diocese. The service was conducted under strict Covid-19 guidelines. All those in attendance were temperature tested before entering the building and everyone, including clergy, wore face coverings or visors unless exempt. There was no congregational singing, although hymns and anthems were sung by Cathedral Choir, socially distanced in the choir stalls and conducted by Director of Music, Matthew Owens. Communion served bread only, which was eaten on return to seats. Bishop George used hand sanitiser between the laying on of the hands with each candidate, and the sign of the peace was spoken only.
The preacher at the service was the Ven Barry Forde, Chaplain at Queen’s University Belfast, and recently appointed Archdeacon of Belfast. We invited the new deacons to tell us a bit about themselves and what inspired them to their ministry in the Church of Ireland.
The Rev Andrea Cotter
I live in Cullybackey and attend St Patrick’s in Ballymena. I was baptised in Lisburn Cathedral as a baby and had my faith nurtured in St Polycarp’s Parish, where I was confirmed and where I married Richard who is Finance and Administration Manager in Diocese of Connor. I am very grateful to my parents and all those who were involved in the formation of my faith during childhood.
I have a primary degree in Modern History and Politics from Queen’s University Belfast, and a Post Graduate Certificate of Education in Politics. For the last 16 years I have been working in First Trust Bank and am currently on a career break to pursue ordination. In a sense, I have always known that this is the path God has set out for me. I remember when I was about eight, sitting in the choir stalls of St Polycarp’s and as Canon Hall was delivering the blessing, I got a real sense that one day it would be me saying those words. For years I never did anything about it, but that sense of vocation was always niggling away at the back of my mind and when I married and moved to Ballymena, I have felt that sense of calling has been much stronger.
When Richard became Churchwarden in 2016, that sense of knowing became clearer and I knew it was the right time to test my vocation, so I enrolled on the Church of Ireland Theological Institute Foundation Course. I have always gone into this process of discernment with an open mind. If this is what God has planned for me, then when I pushed the door it would open. That has indeed been the case: I completed the Foundation Course, was successful at selection and in September 2018 found myself enrolled on the Full-Time MTh programme at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute.
Like everything worth achieving in life, there have been good days and bad days, but during these last two years I have felt God’s presence more acutely than ever before. I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to deepen my faith and to get to know more of God. It has been wonderful to be able to spend time studying and learning more of God’s Word, along with learning from the example of others. There have been many opportunities to learn and to grow during my studies and I have found it has been a real process of discernment and self-discovery.
I am grateful for the opportunity to work alongside people that I would never have known if I had not taken the initial step of exploring ministry. I have loved the experience that the course has given to be able to me to meet, chat, worship and pray alongside parishioners whilst on placements in Muckamore, Killead and Gartree; All Saints’, Antrim and Carrigrohane in Cork.
Over the summer, I have been studying Ecclesiastes with the Book Club from Ballymena Parish and have been reflecting on Ecclesiastes 3: “For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.” These words have been important for me as I have journeyed through my initial ministerial training. I know that this is the right time for me to be embarking on my Deacon year. I feel excited and privileged to begin my Deacon Year in Broughshane Parish. I sense that community is a big part of life in Broughshane and I am looking forward to coming alongside those who live, work and worship there. I hope that I can put all the lessons of the last two years into practice and am excited to experience and learn even more.
I am passionate about hospitality in our churches, so that all those who enter our doors feel welcomed and loved. I want to encourage all those I meet to find joy in all that God has provided for them and encourage them to use the talents and skills that God has equipped them with to promote the gospel message both inside and outside the Church. I am also looking forward to working on my dissertation as I reflect on how the Church of Ireland marriage services can aid mission today. This topic is one that has been of interest to me for a long time and although this makes me incredibly apprehensive, I am eager to learn more, to be surprised and have discussions with others on this topic.
The Rev Sarah Crawford
I was born in Lisburn and have lived there most of my life. As a child, I was baptised in Lambeg Parish. I grew up in a Christian home, but it was always my personal decision to make the commitment to follow Jesus at the age of six. At such a young age it didn’t mean that much to me, until at age 13, I suffered from a neurological illness, prompting me to question God and his place in my life.
I attended Belfast Bible College to study Theology. Initially, I thought I would study for two years and then go on to something else or continue to work in my part-time job as a dispensary assistant in a local pharmacy. The two years turned into three and a BA (Hons) in Theology. During my time at Bible College, I undertook a placement as a hospital chaplain in the Belfast Trust. It was during this time that I felt a strong call to ordination. At the beginning I was reluctant, but as time went on the call became stronger and my rector Dean Sam Wright in Lisburn Cathedral, helped me to explore aspects of ministry.
To date I have completed two years at The Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This time has been both rewarding and challenging and I give thanks for the people from my home parish, placement rectors and close friends who have supported, encouraged, challenged and prayed for me along the way.
This year may be a little different than I’d imagined due to the ongoing pandemic, however I’m excited to learn under James and follow the path that God has put in place for me As I approach my ordination as deacon, I am both excited and nervous, but I hold to the truth that my time is in God’s hands.
The Rev Nathan Ervine
I was born and raised and continue to live in Lisburn. Since coming to faith when I was 19, I have been worshipping in Lisburn Cathedral, where I met my wife Grace. We have a son, Jacob who is almost three, and another baby due in December. We also have a dog called Rudolph who is five.
Before beginning training for ordination, I did an undergraduate Degree in Theology at the Irish Baptist College. I also worked as Youth and Families Worker in St Peter’s Parish Church, Antrim Road, Belfast, in the year leading up to beginning ordination training. Before that, I trained as a Joiner and worked building climbing frames and sheds.
I felt God calling me into full-time ministry a few months after coming into a personal relationship with him. During a mission trip to Poland, I witnessed around 60 young people giving their lives to Jesus, and as I stood there and watched them respond to the good news of Jesus Christ, I felt God was telling me that this was what he wanted me to do with my life.
While not knowing at the time that that call would be to ordained ministry, I spent the next couple of years exploring God’s calling by getting involved in youth ministry, spending a summer doing mission in Poland, a year interning in my home church, and three years studying and training at the Irish Baptist College. During this time of discernment, God give me a real passion for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, seeing people coming into a personal relationship with him, and seeing people using their gifts for the work and glory of Jesus.
I am thankful to God for the opportunities over these last number of years, both at the Irish Baptist College and at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute; for the friends and family I have journeyed with; for those who have taught me and helped me grow as a disciple of Christ; for those who have prayed for and with me; and for those who have affirmed the sense of God’s calling over my life to ordained ministry. I am excited to get started in Magheragall Parish and to see how God is going to move over the next year.
Despite the uncertainty of how ministry will look over the next year due to Covid-19 restrictions, I am looking forward to getting to know the congregation and to ministering and sharing the good news of Jesus alongside them!
Rev Alan McCracken
I grew up in Newtownabbey and as a family we worshipped in St John’s Whitehouse. I was a member of the Boys’ Brigade, and the organisation played an important part in my young life as it let me meet new friends but, most importantly, it introduced me to the Gospels and the teaching of Christ.
As a young lad, I had my heart set on joining the army, so aged 17, I signed up for a life in the military, serving with the Royal Irish Rangers. After serving my time, I returned home and was married to Karen. I began working as a financial consultant, and completed my Financial Planning Certificate of the Chartered Insurance Institute in London. I worked in this sector for several years, but I missed army life, so in 2008, I re-enlisted into the Army Reserve, serving with the 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Regiment.
Throughout my life, I have always had this voice in my head calling me to Christ which I ignored until I could no longer do so. I had a strong vocation to share my faith with others, I gave my life to Christ to let him choose the path I would take. Through the support of my friends, family, clergy and my local church, I began to explore my faith more deeply. After a meeting with the then Bishop of Connor, the Rt Rev Alan Abernethy, and the Diocesan Director of Ordinands, the Rev Canon Will Murphy, I began my vocational journey.
I completed the Church of Ireland Foundation Course which led me on the journey to study for my Master’s Degree in Theology at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. My journey of faith has been a fantastic experience so far with the help and support of my wife Karen; my placement church rectors; the lecturers and students at the Theological Institute in Dublin; and my work colleagues, who have travelled with me over the years, supporting me through the ups and downs on my journey to Ordained Ministry. I thank you all for your support.
I am excited to be serving my Deacon Internship at The United Parish of Christ Church and St John’s alongside the Rev Jonny Campbell-Smyth. I am looking forward to getting to know everyone, getting my sleeves rolled up and getting stuck in to further the Kingdom of God.
The Rev Janet Spence
I was born a ‘very long time ago’ to two wonderful parents and have six siblings, one of whom we lost in March of this year. I am happily married to William and we have numerous nephews and nieces who we love. I was born and bred on the Shankill Road and have been a parishioner of St Stephen’s (now St Stephen’s and St Luke’s) all my life. I was baptised and confirmed in the parish church.
I have been blessed by the people God has put in my life to guide and nurture my spiritual journey: Alice and Joe McGrand, George and Peggy Stewart, Tom and Susan Perry and Bobby Murray and many more members of the congregation over the years.
I was heavily involved in Sunday School and Girl Guiding in the church, and in 2011 became a lay reader. More recently, I have worked with the Rev Canon James Carson and his wife Heather as part of the ministry team of St Stephen’s/St Luke’s and St Michaels, following early retirement from nursing.
I have always felt the Lord’s call on my life in the lower Shankill where I believe there is a great need for the Gospel to be shared and heard and I continue to look forward to God using me to grow His kingdom in this place.
The Rev Brendan O’Loan
I am currently in training to be an Ordained Local Minister OLM, working within St Patrick’s, Jordanstown, and very much looking forward to my diaconate ordination. Dora and I have been married for 22 years and we have three wonderful children, Rachael, Robbie and Corey, and three grandchildren with another little one expected in October. I was brought up as a Catholic in North Belfast, but became a member of the Church of Ireland more than 20 years ago when I married; and this is where my journey towards ordination began.
The Rev John Mann (later Dean of Belfast) who was then the rector, asked in passing one day if I had ever considered becoming a minister in the Church. At this stage I had just accepted a Head of Department role at Hazelwood Integrated College in Belfast and felt that my true vocation, at this stage, lay in teaching.
It was not until recently that things dramatically changed. As a member of St John’s and St Ninian’s Parish, I remember listening to the Rev Elaine O’Brien’s sermon on vocation and feeling that God was telling me to follow Him. The more I tried to ignore this request, the stronger I felt it. Having talked it over with my wife, the next step was to talk to John Mann and before I knew it I was sitting in front of Bishop Alan Abernethy who was praying with me that I be able to discern God’s call for me.
The process of discernment took time. Initially I had felt that the path I was called to follow was that of a full-time minister, and through a series of positive encounters I now find myself in St Patrick’s Jordanstown as their OLM candidate.
Over the past three years, the rector, the Rev Canon Nigel Baylor, the Select Vestry and parishioners have afforded me support, valuable advice and every opportunity to get involved within the life of the parish, from preaching and leading services to getting involved in holiday Bible club and visiting parishioners. The experience has been extremely positive as I would consider St Patrick’s to be very much my spiritual home.
As I take the next step towards becoming a minister, I am reminded that my path has been shaped through encounters with others and how each experience has impacted on me. It is with gladness, and a hint of anticipation, that I look forward to whatever the future holds. I would ask that you pray for me and my family and for all those who live within the parish of Jordanstown.
To find the full photo gallery, see the Diocese of Connor website.