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Agherton Parish appoints Northern Ireland’s first parish nurses


Agherton Parish, Portstewart, Diocese of Connor, 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 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 his parish review, ‘A 360˚ Approach to Pastoral Care’. 

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, building on their existing strengths,” Malcolm said. 

“In a large parish people, some people can get lost. This project to upskill our lay visitors has a 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. 

“An important aspect to these new appointments will be 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 gives them a heightened sense of God’s peace and       well–being.

 “We are not replacing the doctor’s surgery or local hospitals; we are instead complementing those excellent services. The parish nurses will be advocates for the parishioners who need extra support.”

The nurses will visit the many different groups active in the parish to give advice and discuss issues such as mental health and nutrition, and will also run community events in Portstewart. 

The parish plans to hold an informal ‘clinic’ following the Wednesday morning weekly communion. “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,” Malcolm said.

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 that cares, we want them to reconnect with a church that worships,” Malcolm said.

Eileen said she was ‘blown away’ by the role. “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,” she said. “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. This job is about signposting people to existing 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 said that when she read the job description, she realised that this post was definitely for her.  “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,’” she said.

“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 on the development of this new concept of parish nurses,” 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.”

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