Agherton Parish appoints first parish nurses in Northern Ireland

Wednesday October 30th 2019

The Rev Malcolm Ferry with newly appointed parish nurses, Eileen Irwin and Noelle McNinch, and Agherton Parish pastoral care coordinator Wendy Floyd.

Agherton Parish, Portstewart, has become the first Church of Ireland parish in Northern Ireland to employ professional parish nurses.

Noelle McNinch and Eileen Irwin will undergo training with Parish Nursing Ministries UK before taking up the role in a job-share capacity.

This initiative is very important to the rector of Agherton, the Rev Malcolm Ferry. The two nurses will realise Malcolm’s vision of providing three-fold Godly care to the families of the parish, namely religious care, pastoral care and spiritual care.

This vision is outlined in a parish review ‘A 360˚ Approach to Pastoral Care,’ presented by Malcolm soon after he arrived in Agherton as rector in May.

The post of parish nurse was advertised in August as a part-time role for one qualified nurse. “When we saw the calibre of those who applied, the select vestry agreed that a team of two nurses with different skills would encourage and complement each other,” Malcolm said.

Since the parish review, a total of 20 people have offered themselves as pastoral visitors. They will now receive training from the parish nurses.

“For the first time we will have ongoing supervision and support for our lay visitors, developing the skills of the team,” Malcolm said.  “These parish visitors will receive critical training in how to talk about a loving God rather than a broken world. They will gain the confidence to share faith and encourage those they visit.

“In a large parish some people can get lost. This project to upskill our lay visitors has this sense of everybody building towards a people of God, helping, sharing, and being realistic in what that looks like in a modern world.

 “The parish nurses will look for those who are most vulnerable – the elderly, people coming home from hospital, new mums and others. This is a holistic approach to pastoral care,” he said.

“People will be more open to talking about the issues of health if the person visiting them is a qualified nurse.

“An important aspect to these new appointments is that the parish nurses are able to pray as part of the spiritual care of those being visited. When a person in authority prays with someone, it really helps and gives them a heightened sense of God’s peace and well-being.”

 “We are not replacing the doctor’s surgery or local hospital, we are instead complementing those excellent services. The parish nurse will be an advocate for the parishioners who need extra support.”

Malcolm emphasised that the nurses would not only be looking out for the elderly, but will visit the many different groups active in the parish to give advice and discuss issues such as mental health and nutrition.

“We will also run annual community events as we want people in Portstewart to feel that Agherton Parish has something to say about the community’s health,” he said.

It is planned that the nurses will hold an informal ‘clinic’ following the Wednesday morning weekly communion. “People can go and have a chat, and can relate any health concerns they have,” Malcolm said.

“These professionals are open to hearing the small voices of uncertainty. We think this is a gentle approach to caring. Building these new relationships will be embedded in our pastoral care. It is ground-breaking and God-honouring as we are trying to serve the people.”

The parish is also proposing to run information evenings to tell other parishes in the diocese about parish nursing. “We will be educators in modern pastoral care,” Malcolm added.

The parish nurses will not visit residential homes or hospitals where there are nurses on site, but will visit people in their own homes, particularly those who are isolated.

“By reconnecting people in the geographical boundaries of the parish to a church which cares, we want them to reconnect with a church that worships,” he said.

Speaking of Noelle and Eileen, Malcolm added:

“The panel felt that God had brought these two people of calibre, quality and spirituality to our door. We felt lucky. Our parish has been praying during the recruitment process and that has really empowered us.”

Helen Wordsworth, Director of Parish Nursing UK, also visited Agherton to hear the parish vision.

Noelle will travel to England for four days training in November, and will start in Agherton soon after. Eileen will do her training in March, but will be present in the parish from February.

“Are we about to heal the world?” said Malcolm. “Probably not. But when people discover a God of love in personal engagement, that will make a difference.”

Eileen was alerted to the post by a friend who saw it advertised on social media. “I was blown away by it. I had never heard of a parish nurse before and it ticked all the boxes,” said Eileen. “I have a long history of nursing, most latterly in the community, but with the constraints in the NHS you don’t get the opportunity to explore Christianity or faith.”

“I have worked with people with long term chronic diseases, and that gave me an opportunity to get to know them, and I have prayed with patients on an ad hoc basis. But when I saw this job I thought ‘Wow, that’s what holistic nursing is all about!’

“What an opportunity in these days when there is so much mental illness and loneliness. There are a plethora of services, but this job is about signposting people to those services, and giving support from a Christian perspective on their journey.”

“I am very excited to be able to share faith and nursing together. It is so new and innovative, it is just wonderful and an interesting new challenge of faith.”

Noelle was also directed to the position by friends. “I wasn’t really searching for a new job but several close friends posted the advertisement to me thinking it was my ideal post,” she said.

“When I read the job description, I realised that yes, this is definitely for me, in fact was really excited about it.

“My nursing experience has involved school nursing, diabetes, elderly care and palliative care. I have gained counselling skills and have completed courses in youth ministry, pastoral care and recently the ‘Cornhill Course.’

“As a nurse, total patient care is my aim, and pain can be caused by physical, emotional and spiritual distress. This new role permits the nurse to use God’s Word, prayer and to spend time with parishioners in order to alleviate their pain and aid in the healing process.”

The Ven Paul Dundas, Archdeacon of Dalriada and the Bishop of Connor’s Commissary, welcomed the initiative. “As a diocese, we congratulate Agherton Parish and the rector, the Rev Malcolm Ferry, on the development of this new concept of parish nurses and the appointment of Noelle and Eileen to these positions,” he said.

“It is an exciting missional step for the parish in its witness to parishioners and their families. We trust that Noelle and Eileen will be used by the Lord in their new vocation in the parish and community of Portstewart.”

The cost of this project has been covered by Agherton Parish.

The aims of the Parish Nurses UK programme are:

  • Strengthening the engagement with God
  • Underpinning the work of the rector
  • Training and coordinating parish visitors and volunteers
  • Helping build a parish community that gives people purpose for living
  • Encouraging mutual support
  • Complementing traditional health care
  • Fostering spiritual well-being through a holistic approach

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