The Rev’d Yvonne Clarke celebrates 30 years as a Female Deacon in the Church of England. She tells her story here. WATCH congratulates and celebrates with Yvonne.

I told my family that WATCH asked me to write briefly on celebrating thirty (30) years as a Deacon in the Church of England, the first black female. My children said to me, “what for, look how you are being treated, what they are doing to you and you’ve done nothing wrong?” They said this, as at present there is a Bishop’s Visitation and Inhibition in my parish of All Saints. I know that the celebration is not only for me and what it meant when I changed from a Deaconess to Deacon. It’s for everyone, and my telling a little of my story, to encourage and inspire others to have faith, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ always will sustain you.

I began Ministry as a Church Army Evangelist, later became a Deaconess. I was ordained Deacon on 15th March 1987, the first black female Deacon in the UK, Priested 1994. I valued and enjoyed these different facets of Ministry in the C of E. I have faced many challenges over the years, especially now as I celebrate 30 years as a Deacon and not being able to celebrate with my parish.

The most challenging for me is the journey I am on in the Church and the challenge to my leadership as a Priest of 1994. How do I inspire, build, transform and encourage people of faith, people to Faith in the Church? I have been to lots of places, seen lots of faces, and had many tears, sorrows, questions for tomorrow. Yet through it all I have learnt to trust in Jesus, trust in God. I have faced many challenges. At the core for me is the one when colleagues reject you, women, particularly BAME. It’s not to be upset. You have to teach them that they of all people should understand and know what it feels like to be judged unfairly. The character Rocky said, “It ain’t how hard ya hit. It’s about hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward”.

The question I often ask of myself in my Ministry is how do I create an environment that enables people to flourish and grow? For me leadership development is a very personal and individual journey, conducted within individual contexts, varying levels of technical competence, maturity and emotional intelligence with different levels of leadership responsibility in each role. I use my skills to empower others whilst remaining humble. I look for emerging leaders who I can help develop and mentor. I give people a chance to tell their story. I am an advocate for justice. Being a strong black woman with a strong Christian faith, going through uncharted territory, often coming under scrutiny, sometimes with fascination or tinged with prejudiced for fear of the unknown. Rather than let this become not so positive an experience or hinder me in my ministry, I use this ‘double jeopardy’ to define and sustain my personal growth as a person and a professional. In this particular dynamic, I have experienced power imbalance due to being a black female Priest and thus sought to eradicate this form of injustice from my own practice and in life.

I will celebrate with my family, friends 30 years as the first black female Deacon in the C of E, UK adding another chapter to my book and remembering the words of Maya Angelou, “you cannot go through life with a catchers mitts on both hands, and you have to be able to throw something back”.

I realise the Church is much like a jar of sweets, we may have come from many different bags, we all have different flavour, colours and tastes, but together we have made the Church come together against the odds, to have more than any individual sweet. “Men and women are limited, not by the place of their birth, not by the colour of their skin but by the size of their hope”. ML King. The fundamental truth is that out of many we are one who breathes, lives in hope, and where there’s doubt finds truth in God.

Yvonne Clarke