The following is an article from the Down Recorder. The original article is available here.

Crossgar woman to be Church of Ireland deacon

21 July 2021

THE daughter of a former Ulster Unionist minister at Stormont is on course to becoming a Christian minister and says she wants to unlock the “dynamite of the Gospel”.

“Jesus is explosive,” said Crossgar woman Elaine Pentland who is about to be ordained a deacon in the Church of Ireland in the diocese of Down and Dromore. 

The mother of three — whose father is former UUP Environment minister Dermot Nesbitt — has been talking to the St Patrick’s Podcast at the St Patrick Centre in Downpatrick about her connection to the saint and why she walked away from a successful career in healthcare to become a minister in the Church of Ireland.

She also shared her struggle to make the transition with podcast hosts Martina Purdy, a former BBC correspondent, and former barrister Elaine Kelly, both of whom left busy careers to become Sisters of Adoration.

Mrs Pentland longs to proclaim the Gospel and recalled with amusement how she was inspired to put a stick of dynamite in the manger at Christmas, as part of her training to be a minister.

Mrs Pentland describes her call to ministry as “a pull”.

“About 2016 this little desire seemed to start to grow and grow and it was like a niggle, like an itch that wouldn’t go away, and it just got bigger and bigger and I became dissatisfied in my professional life,” she said.

Having trained as a nurse, she was by then working in Health Trust management. 

“I would often stand looking out the window and I would think that in the twinkling of an eye that there isn’t going to be any sick people. In the twinkling of an eye this world is going to change. 

“I wanted to give my energy to something that would last forever. I wanted to give my energy to the Kingdom.”

She was struck by the various Christian ministers who were going to the bedside of patients. “There was this yearning in my heart to be with someone in need…I would say, ‘Lord, please, I don’t’ want to see another minister –  you know what it does to me’.”

She also read with relief an article in the Belfast Telegraph about Martina Purdy’s decision in 2014 to quit her career for religious life. “All I could say is I get why she wants to walk away from something that is successful, and interesting, all because of a love for Jesus.”

She said her desire to serve God started to keep her awake at night.

“I was getting up at night 3am and taking a cup of tea in the middle of the night in the garden,” she recalls. “I was thinking, ‘What’s wrong with you? and I thought I was going to have to go and see the doctor’.”

One lunchtime at work she walked over to the grounds of Stormont and cried out to God, praying, “God what is this about? Why am I not happy…? Where is this all going?”

As a young person, she had attended Queen’s University to study history and then nursing and got married to Sydney. She said ministry was not on her radar at a time when there weren’t the same opportunities for women.

But as time went on, she said she spoke of her desire to serve in the church with her parents, Dermot and Oriel, and her husband, Sydney, and their support and encouragement made all the difference.

“Sydney knew my heart for the church and really it was one Easter and he said to me maybe you need to investigate this,” she said.

She faced a rigorous application and discernment process in the Church,  joking it was like a “a Christian version” of the reality TV show The Apprentice where you are grilled by different people, including the Bishop.

Thrilled at being accepted, she opted for full-time education, and is delighted that she will be ordained a deacon on August 22, an important milestone in becoming a fully-fledged minister.

During her training and study, Mrs Pentland said she developed a strong connection with St Patrick, as one of her assignments was a class presentation on Ireland’s patron saint and his famous Confessio.

She said that, until she read the Confessio in a coffee shop in Dawson Street in Dublin while studying at Trinity, she didn’t have much of a connection to St Patrick even though she went to school in Downpatrick.

“I just didn’t think about it. We didn’t even get a day off school [on St Patrick’s Day] and I would say with my church background in the Church of Ireland and Presbyterianism, they didn’t seem to make a fuss about St Patrick. I wasn’t even aware growing up that there was a service at Saul and a walk to Down Cathedral.

“And all I could see in university was St Patrick’s Day was a day for hedonistic debauchery. Coming from a Protestant background you had that feeling that St Patrick wasn’t ours.”

This changed when she read his Confessio, which is peppered with ure and begins with Patrick describing himself as a sinner and a simple country person. 

“I just read his words and you could just sense the man and sense his heart,” said Mrs Pentland. 

Struggling with going back to school at 40, she felt connected to Patrick who did not consider himself learned and who prayed that Ireland would always have clerics to preach the Gospel. “He’s a real inspiration for me for what I am doing and he makes me proud to be Irish.”

Mrs Pentland said she felt Patrick was “mine too” when she finally attended the little communion service at on St Patrick’s Day at Saul. Now she tells people that she lives five miles from where St Patrick founded his first church and enjoyed one of the camino walks offered by the St Patrick Centre.

When it was put to her that she was embarking, like Patrick, on a rather courageous counter-cultural path, she said: “It thrills me to be able to say that [Jesus died for love of each one of us]. My heart races whenever I can say I love Jesus and that Jesus is the answer.”

As the daughter of a politician, who worked for power-sharing in 1974 and participated in the 1999 Executive led by David Trimble and Seamus Mallon, she says all reconciliation work is very valuable and important but “real lasting reconciliation doesn’t work unless Jesus is in it and involved in it”. 

She said she takes an eternal perspective on life. “My citizenship is in Heaven. Yes I’m Irish, I’m unionist, I’m Protestant, but before anything I belong to Jesus.”

Mrs Pentland said she looks forward to spending her life “showing Jesus off”.

“Just look at Jesus because when you do catch a glimpse of him, nothing else matters,” she added.

Listeners can access the podcast at

Categories: Announcements