A FUNERAL director, a former dental nurse, a grandmother who lived in Northern Ireland at the height of The Troubles and a woman raised alongside 12 siblings in Malawi are among the new intake of priests of deacons in the Diocese of Durham.

This week, 22 people from diverse walks of life and all ages from 24 to 70 will be ordained at ceremonies in Sunderland Minster, St Mary’s Church in Barnard Castle, St Nicholas Church in Durham and Durham Cathedral.

Breaking with the tradition, this year, the first time in living memory, ordinations will be conducted under strict social distancing conditions relating to the Covid 19 pandemic.

The Northern Echo:

Daniel Ackerley, will become a priest with St Peter and Elton, St John, in Stockton.

After leaving school and college, he worked for a short time as a semi-professional musician, teaching and performing.

For the past eight years, he has been principal funeral director at John Duckworth’s, a small, family firm in Sunderland and South Shields.

He said: “From a young age, I was a chorister at St Peter’s Church in Stockton-on-Tees, which gave me a love for God, the Church and liturgy. My faith grew and developed whilst at Ian Ramsey School and I became involved with the Christian Union.

"People began to ask me if I was going to be a vicar. As a schoolboy, this seemed ridiculous but as time went on, the sense of call grew and wouldn’t go away.

“I am serving the parishes of St Peter’s Stockton and St John Elton as a self-supporting curate as I continue with my role as a funeral director.”

Married mother-of-one Sarah Cliff, who will be a priest at Barnard Castle and Whorlton, was born and brought up in Darlington.

She left school at 16 to start work as a trainee dental nurse and later worked in credit control, working mainly in engineering and transport sectors.

Her last role before full-time ministerial training was as a credit manager for a PLC.

She said: “I do not come from a church family but around the age of 11 I was aware of God’s presence and took myself off to the nearest church to find out more. I found myself in my local parish church and there I was nurtured and grown in faith.”

Mahalha Wachepa, originally from Malawi, grew up in a strong Christian home with 12 siblings.

Her father is a retired priest and her late mother was a teacher, and after working as a teacher herself in Africa moved to the UK in 2002 with her husband Dennis and four children and has worked in healthcare services.

The grandmother-of-one, who joins the Durham North Team Ministry as a deacon, said: “I grew up facing different challenges, poverty, social inequality, gender inequality and violence, and poor healthcare facilities.

"Overcoming these were helped by my faith in God, praying every day and consistently. Prayer has been part of my life since young.”

She said her faith gave her comfort and strength following the loss of her four-year-old child to meningitis.

Claire Elwood will be ordained a priest in the Parish of St Nicholas Durham.

Born in Merseyside, she spent her early years in Northern Ireland in the height of The Troubles.

She has lived in the East Midlands for 31 years and is married to Tim, a photographer, whom she met in Nottingham when she was training as a nurse. They have three children and two grandchildren.