Women in Ministry – The Diocesan Reader

Thirty years on from the ordination of the first female priest in the Church of Ireland, the last in the series featuring four women in ordained and lay ministry in the diocese.

Esther Simpson was licensed as a Diocesan Reader in June 2019. She works part time as a Classroom Assistant in a local school in East Belfast and is raising four rapidly growing–up children who are now in the later stages of education or have just completed their degree.

Parishioners may remember Esther came along to share with us at St Molua’s back in October 2020.

How were you called to the Reader ministry?

My calling to Lay Readership probably began when my great aunt began teaching me about the bible as a child. She had a passion for God’s Word that was infectious. More directly I had heard of the Lay Reader’s Course and thought it might be something I might do but it took a definite nudge from God (during one of the Bible Weeks) to apply. From there it was the process of applying, interview and the course itself that confirmed the calling.

What reservations (if any) did you have as a woman entering ministry?

Lots! I was brought up in a church that did not (and still does not) ordain women so I wondered how I might be viewed and whether my gender would hinder people from hearing or receiving God’s word. I didn’t doubt that I could do what was required, it was more whether I should. Other factors such as family commitments, etc also played a role in my hesitation.

Do you think women in ministry bring particular gifts to the church?

I think all people bring particular gifts to the church. God has designed us uniquely and so we should seek increasingly to value each other’s contributions because we are not whole without them. Leading on from this, if a woman’s gifts are in preaching or teaching or leadership and she is stopped from practising and exercising these gifts, the whole church is impoverished. Generally, I think the church (and society as a whole) has a more balanced, nuanced and broader perspective when voices from men and women are heard.

What excites you and brings you joy in ministry?

I am passionate about God’s Word. It excites me and challenges me every time I open it. Preparing sermons is daunting but wonderful, expanding my own understanding and knowledge and then listening and crafting the message for the congregation before me. I also love writing liturgy and prayers that rework scripture into words that we might say to God and approach Scripture creatively.

What are the challenges?

There are lots of challenges! After preparing for a sermon, I generally have about 2 hours of material so allowing God to direct the message (and not just pick my favourite bits) is a real discipline. In these days of lockdown, I think preachers need greater trust in the work of the Holy Spirit as there is no immediate feedback from a congregation. Knowing when to say “No” – and when to say a last–minute “Yes” – can be difficult but also a real blessing. It can become easy to get comfortable with what you are comfortable with.

What would you say to a woman who is considering training for lay or ordained ministry?

Look at your motivations – you will have more than one. Consider your own story and the significant points where you experienced God. Ask a few people to specifically pray for you, not just while you make the decision but on an ongoing basis. Keep reading the Word – however feeds you best. Be patient. Be willing to submit to the wisdom and discernment of others because this is not a solo decision. Keep listening to God. He will and can use you in many ways and many roles whether you are ‘in ministry’ officially or not; He wastes nothing.

Read other articles in the series on Women in Ministry at these links:

The Rector – Revd Emma Rutherford

The Diocesan Evangelist – Rachel Irish–Colligan

The Ordinand – Elaine Pentland

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