Pat Storey is a soon to be bishop who doesn’t mind dropping you a message on Facebook. She’s made history by becoming the first female to ever have been given the title in the Anglican church in Britain or Ireland. At the end of next month Pat will move to Kildare. It’s no small promotion. She’ll move from overseeing the parish of St Augustine’s from the ‘wee church’ on Derry’s Walls to overseeing the activities of 18 churches in her new parish of Meath and Kildare.
Speaking from her home in Derry’s Waterside this week the 53 year old said she was still both “excited and scared” at her new role.
“At least now, the shock’s worn off,” she smiles.
Looking back to when she was told the news last month, the mother of two, who has been rector at St Augustine’s since 2004, said she had no idea she was even being considered for the role.
“It came completely and totally out of the blue. I was actually driving home from the wedding of a friend when I got a call from the Archbishop of Armagh to tell me the news. I can genuinely say I was in complete and utter shock. I told him I’d have to go and think about it and I did. I took overnight to really consider things and I decided I would do it. I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t felt it was God’s will but you have to trust the church and the process”.
Like most people who consider the issues around a change of job, Pat had her family to think about too. Her husband Earl works in the city and her children Carolyn and Luke live here too.
“Like any other women I juggle things around work and family. My husband has a business here and my children are here too. But it was a time to measure things up, and my children are both grown up now and you get to a point where you realise that you can’t live your entire life through your family so when it was all weighed up it felt like the right decision.”
Asked how it sits with her having made history as the first woman to take up the role, without deliberating, Pat says:
“Not well. To be honest, I think of myself primarily as a minister answering to the call of God. The fact that I’m a woman is irrelevant. I’ve never made gender a big issue but for other people it has been a big issue. My father always instilled in me the belief that I could be very happy and confident without complaining about gender. I was uncomfortable with some of the headlines because I feel like the whole thing should remain God focused.”
Still in the process of tying up loose ends here in Derry, where she’s worked and lived for almost ten years, Pat says there are key challenges ahead for the church as she looks to her new role.
“Some aspects of the role I’ll only figure out when I get there , but there’s no doubt that there are huge challenges for the church at large in terms of the secularisation of society. Our task is to keep God, and our faith as relevant as it ever was. Essentially, we have to find modern ways of communicating, and new ways of telling the same old story. I still believe, above anything else that a personal relationship with Jesus Christ brings happiness and wholeness and that’s key for me.”
Pat says she has no doubt she’ll miss her home and her parishioners here in Derry.
“It will be extremely difficult to leave the city and the church,” she says. “We weren’t looking for a move and we could quite happily have seen our days out here. The messages of support and congratulations from people locally have been overwhelming. I’ve had hundreds of cards and I haven’t had one negative comment. It’s all been absolutely lovely.”
The soon to be bishop has promised the people of Derry a small tourism boost too as she prepares to move on.
“I intend to be a great ambassador for Derry too. I’ll be sending everyone in Kildare to Derry on their holidays!” she laughs.