Madam Bishop a first for these islands as Derry rector becomes ‘The Most Rev’

First woman bishop in Ireland or UK to be consecrated in Dublin on Saturday

Mon, Nov 25, 2013, 01:00

How to address her? “Your Grace”, seemed appropriate but that is reserved for archbishops, even if “grace” is hardly the first word that comes to mind when considering some who have held such office. “My Lord”, of course, is out.

She will be “The Most Rev” as opposed to “The Right Rev”. Bishops of Meath and Kildare are automatically “The Most Rev”. All other bishops in the Church of Ireland are “Right Rev”. She also has been referred to as “Bishop-elect Storey”. So what’s it to be?

“Call me Pat,” said the Co Down native who will be consecrated on Saturday as the first woman bishop in these islands.

Hers was a late vocation. She wanted to be an air hostess. She was a doctor’s receptionist and worked for years with Weight Watchers. She is a wife and the mother of two adult children. This is no ordinary bishop.

She grew up on the Cregagh Road in east Belfast in a family that was “nominally Presbyterian but we didn’t go [to church]”. She “fell into” religion at Trinity College Dublin. She had gone there in 1978 to study English and French because she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her “very glamorous aunt”, who was an air hostess.

A friend was also a student at TCD. “She kinda worked on me I suppose and eventually I started reading the gospels, made a decision of faith for myself.” She started attending church in Kill O’The Grange parish – “a lot of the students” went to church – and became a youth worker there on finishing at Trinity in 1982. Working with youth would be a major part of her life.

‘Ecstatic’
At the time she survived on £10 a week, stayed with “a lovely couple in Killiney”, while her family funded her car. Her family were “really pleased” when she started going to church. They were “thrilled, and then when I mentioned the ministry later on in life they were over the moon”. Her mother has since died, while her father is “ecstatic” that she will be a bishop.

It was at Trinity she met her husband, Earl, then training for the ministry. He was a curate in Dungannon when they married in 1983. She became a receptionist for a GP there. They moved to Crinken parish in south Co Dublin in 1986, where Earl was rector for 10 years. Their two children, Carolyn (26) and Luke (22), were born there. She worked for Weight Watchers for several years and “did jobs that fitted in with family life”.

When the children were a bit older she wanted to do more with her life. She and Earl discussed it. He thought “two ministers in the family would be chaos” so when she was accepted it was “a bit of a shock”. She began training in 1994. Her first curacy was in Ballymena, Co Antrim. Earl was by then working in Belfast. She became curate at Glenavy parish there when Earl was rector. “Actually, it was grand but we wouldn’t have done it long term. It was a very happy time . . . we’ve been happy everywhere we’ve been.”

In 2004 they moved to Derry where she has been rector at St Augustine’s since. Earl has set up a PR business there. “It’s devastating to be packing up and leaving. I love Derry. It’s a very special city.”

She was on the road to Derry when she got that “most unexpected” call from Church of Ireland primate Archbishop Richard Clarke. She had been at a wedding in Wicklow and was driving home.

Elected
“The archbishop said something like: ‘Look Pat, this is going to be a surprise. You’d better pull in’.” He told her she had been elected Bishop of Meath and Kildare. “I fall on the floor of my little MX5 and think how will I get home with this news?” She asked for 24 hours to think about it.

She rang Earl. “I think he thought from the tone of my voice someone had died.” The family discussed it. She and Earl went for a long walk over the Foyle bridge, and back.

“It would have been a very hard thing to turn down.” She recalled how Archbishop Clarke had said “trust the church. Trust the process. You’ve been elected. It’s not tokenism. Those sort of things helped. I felt like I had to trust the Holy Spirit.” The following morning she rang to accept.

She and Archbishop Clarke have discussed how she is to be addressed and decided that, on formal occasions, she will be addressed as “Madam Bishop”.

This afternoon, in Maynooth, she and Earl will move into the residence of the Bishop of Meath and Kildare. She will be consecrated in Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral on Saturday.