From the Heart – Rev. Debra Blair – Part 1

From starting as a Nursing Cadet to becoming a Sister then transitioning to become a Priest, Rev. Debie Blair tells us about her life and faith.

Debie’s mum, Iris, had a strong influence on her early religious life as she was very involved in the running of the Christ Church mission in Davyhulme. Debie always believed in God and, at the age of around 9, joined another mission church nearby so, with her best friend, went to both churches every Sunday. As a teenager she particularly enjoyed visiting the Christian summer school in Scotland for two weeks, not least because of the joyous singing and many other church activities. Debie’s mum and brother were so involved in Christ Church that, when funds for the later church were being raised, Iris ensured her family’s name was etched on a brick!

As much as she loved church life, Debie temporarily left church at age 14 when she started accompanying her dad, Daniel, to Manchester City’s Maine Road ground – and even got a job in their souvenir shop, attending many concerts there and actually meeting singer David Cassidy. She also got involved in playing football and was a member of the Manchester United Ladies’ Team until they disbanded.

Debie knew she didn’t want to stay in education so, at age 16, was sent to college to gain qualifications to go onto SRN (State Registered Nursing) training. Her mum said she wouldn’t last a week – she actually retired 38 years later!! By the age of 21, Debie had completed her initial nursing training then realised there was something missing from her life so decided to go back to church, trying various denominations – including the Jehovah’s Witnesses – but chose St. Mary’s C of E in Davyhulme. Their services fitted in with her shift work and she got confirmed there with her brother, Garry, at age 25. That year she also got promoted to being the youngest-ever Ward Sister at Wythenshawe Hospital – as well as getting her first mortgage!

Debie never let the grass grow so, after completing an opthalmic course, she then did a nursing degree which led her to become a Relief Sister and eventually a Hospital Manager when nearby Withington Hospital was closing down. A masters degree in Health Care Ethics soon followed. Despite a gruelling work schedule plus carrying out her teaching role – often working over 70 hours a week – Debie maintained her daily prayer time but eventually realised the pressure of maintaining targets and living a very distorted work-life balance was becoming too much, decided she had to try something different so she could enjoy a personal life too.

The Lord was guiding Debie when she saw an advertisement for a Bereavement Nurse and, though it was on a much lower salary, she got the job which was a new post which left her work-free at weekends. Working under the jurisdiction of the Coroner, she could develop the role and, having acquired safeguarding experience as well as having worked in Accident and Emergency previously, she found she had many personal tools she could call on. One of the major privileges she found in the job was learning about other people’s faith experiences and situations. Part of the job was liaising and giving support to bereaved families at the hospital and within local nursing homes; supporting people when identifying bodies in the mortuary and in the lead-up to inquests, as well as doing follow-ups on major incidents in addition to the myriad amount of paperwork which had to be completed for every case. Liaising with the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, and facilitating hospital bedside marriages also fell under her duties.

While dealing with death was obviously Debie’s primary role, she found her own faith grew. She would often call in the hospital chapel before attending tragic incidents and working with the Hospital Chaplaincy Team, funeral directors and the mortuary staff strengthened her faith even more. Debie also helped to set up an annual Memorial Service for adults alongside the Chaplaincy Team.

With extra time on her hands and weekends free, Debie then got more involved in St. Mary’s church life and she became a Eucharist Assistant which enabled her to set the altar, administer Holy Communion, take Communion to the house-bound and other related tasks. She started undertaking readings at church then was asked to lead an Advent Meditation session. One thing lead to another and it was then suggested she go into Ministerial training. Aged 53 by this time, and having worked in Bereavement for 10 years, Debie at first dismissed the idea but, after overcoming some initial obstacles, she felt God was sending her a message that this was to be her new vocation. Coincidentally, her mum died during the year so she found she would have more time to focus on her studies.

It was now time to decide where her future would lie.

SEE NEXT MONTH’S EDITION OF ‘FROM THE HEART’ TO FOLLOW DEBIE’S NEW VOCATION.

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