Pioneering minister who was the first woman to be ordained and inducted to a Church of Scotland parish

Born: August 28, 1924;

Died: February 2, 2018

EUPHEMIA H C Irvine, who has died aged 93, was a pioneering minister of the Church of Scotland and one of the first women to be ordained in the church. Although there were other women ordained earlier to the ministry of the Church of Scotland, Effie Irvine (as she was always called) was the first to be ordained and inducted to a parish.

Brought up in Clydebank, she was evacuated to Balmore during the war, and later, with her Brysland family in 1951 she moved to Partick where she was educated at Hamilton Crescent School. She left, aged 14, to become an office girl in a plumber business, and joined the Anniesland firm of Barr & Stroud

The family became members of Jordanvale Parish Church in Whiteinch. In 1951 Effie married Alex Irvine. After speaking at a woman’s meeting in her own church, she began to be asked to speak in others. She wrote “I realised that if I were to be doing this kind of speaking which involved a gospel message, I’d need to be educated.”

She was accepted for correspondence courses at London University to study, aiming to obtain the qualifications to study in the divinity faculty of Glasgow University. Subsequently she enrolled for a bachelor of divinity degree which was in the first year that the course did not first require a previous degree.

The following year, 1968, the Kirk’s General Assembly decided that women should be permitted to enter its ministry “on the same terms and conditions as men”, and presbyteries by a considerable majority agreed.

Effie Irvine then applied to be a candidate for the ministry of the Church of Scotland, but, like many, she was not initially accepted at selection school. Already committed to the Glasgow course in divinity, she went on to graduate. Encouraged to do so by Professor William Barclay, she reapplied to selection school, on this occasion successfully.

Today it is unthinkable that a divinity student should be expected without guidance to look for a minister they could work with to gain the practical experience to combine with academic studies. Effie Irvine telephoned the Rev Jim Aitchison, minister of Broomhill in Glasgow and Scotland cricket international, who said he would need to ask his kirk session (a wise, but not an essential precaution). They agreed.

After one evening service in 1971, Effie Irvine was told that Rev Campbell Gillon of the then pioneering urban Renfield St Stephens Church in Bath Street, wanted to meet her. He asked her to be his full-time probationer assistant for a year.

Then she had to find a congregation of her own, and was determined it would be in an urban parish. She was asked to be minister of two linked congregations in Campsie. Campsie was not exactly urban, and every time she met the vacancy committee she turned them down. On the fourth occasion she changed her mind. She had not applied for the charge. She had not been asked for a CV. She was 48, and the Church of Scotland still had not come to terms with women ministers.

But aware of the opposition which still existed, Effie Irvine said “I made up my mind that because nothing or nobody could change the situation I would just get on with my parish ministry and let the outcome speak for itself. Over the years and very slowly I did break down a few barriers."

She took being minister to a parish very seriously. When she was told by a parishioner that he was a miner, “ you won’t understand, you’re a woman”, she immediately arranged to be taken down a mine. She also worked closely with the Roman Catholic priest Fr McCulloch, often holding joint services of worship.

Effie Irvine first went to the holy land of Israel/Palestine with the veteran tour organiser of trips there, Rev James Currie. In 1974 when she was in Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee with Mr Currie, she was asked if she would lead a trip on her own later the following year. James Currie interrupted: “only if she comes with me in April as well.” But she refused to be bulldozed into this trip.

Circumstances then dictated that she would go. James Currie died two days before he was to lead the trip. Effie Irvine was asked to take his place which she did, after the travel committee secured the agreement of her kirk session who, she said later, “the folk on my session remembered all that the Rev James had done for our wee church over the years."

Effie Irvine was to become involved in the shared leadership of visits to Israel/Palestine, before she took a considerable number of trips herself.

She retired in 1988 to Bishopton, where she occasionally conducted worship and is survived by two nephews and four great-nephews; she was pre-deceased by her husband Alex.