The third interview in the ‘Women in Ministry’ series.
Elaine Pentland is an ordinand in her second year at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute (CITI) and her home parish is Kilmore and Inch. Elaine entered college after a 20–year nursing career, 10 of which were spent on the front line. She has been married to Sydney for 23 years and has three children aged 20, 18 and 9.
How were you called to ordained ministry?
I found Jesus in the Church of Ireland. I was a little girl very much nurtured in the parish church and even as a child. I would say that my love of Jesus was expressed as being part of his church. That never left me. As part of Kilmore, which had two female parish readers, I realised that there was a role for women in ministry and I thought that I would ‘give myself’ fully to the church when I retired. In 2016, with a move away from the front line of nursing, I began to feel some dissatisfaction. I had an overwhelming desire to give all of my energies to advance the kingdom, and it didn’t go away. I couldn’t get it to go away. Although I don’t regret choosing a career in nursing, I remember saying to Sydney, ‘If I’d known then what I know now, I’d have chosen a life in the church.’” In the end it was my husband who urged me to explore ordination, so I began the process, which I feel is a really good process of discernment. I had a lot of self–doubt when I first arrived at CITI – I’d never preached a sermon – but God was so gracious, and I sensed a lot of his encouragement in my own devotions. Only now do I feel comfortable talking about a ‘call’ on my life! For a long time, a wee voice kept saying, ‘How could somebody like me be doing something like this?’
What reservations (if any) did you have as a woman entering ministry?
My identity is in Jesus Christ and not my gender. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ first, who happens to be a woman, not ‘a woman in ministry’. At the same time, I realise that though it’s not an issue for me, it is for some people. However, whether in my parish or diocese, the college or on placement, I have never felt any resistance from anybody. My experience has been totally positive.
Do you think women in ministry bring particular gifts to the church?
I very much think we’re all made in God’s image and both men and women have been designed with that spark of the divine within them. What anybody brings to ministry is that uniqueness of being created in His image. I believe that the gifts given for ministry are given from God, not based on gender but based on the equipping for the task that He wants you to do.
What excites you and brings you joy in ministry?
Jesus’ mission to save. I want to see real, living people that I know come to faith in Jesus. That’s the goal for me in this whole process, to see people reconnected in their faith, people discovering faith for the first time and to see a work of the Spirit in my generation.
What are the challenges?
Study! But anything that is of any value is hard work.
What would you say to a woman who is considering training for lay or ordained ministry?
Obviously, there are practical things to consider whether you’re married with children or single, but the Church of Ireland’s full–time or part–time options do offer flexibility. I would, however, say the same thing to a man or a woman considering ministry. Be attentive to the desires that are already in your heart and put them before God over a length of time. Test them, pray about them, seek someone out and talk about them. If it’s something that just won’t go away it’s time to act!