this cartoon comes about due to a conversation with my friend Hannah Kowszun who’s words inspired it. i’m not sure i’ve done her point justice, but this is my attempt.


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About jonbirch

animator, illustrator, character designer, graphic designer. music producer/recording musician. co-owner of PROOST. proost.co.uk
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42 Responses to 682

  1. I only know of one.

  2. ymp says:

    We have some of those. They just don’t always have visible disabilities/health issues. And we do not sponsor an environment where we can actually talk about such things. Trust me.
    More would be better.

  3. http://tinyurl.com/cmxenv

    In case anyone is curious about the experience, first-hand.

  4. dennis says:

    WOW! but yeah that’s interesting. Imagine the faculties that would be submitted for Church building & Vicarage changes it would cost them MILLLIONS.

    If you take a look at the application form it asks you serious questions about your health! I asked why and they said just incase we need to help you in your ministry, SURE i said.

    I get the feeling that if anyone looks slightly different they are ignored by the cofe anyway thats why they all look the same the only difference i see in a vicar is beard or no beard and purple or grey.

  5. Carole says:

    Good point…but in this society in which people seem to think stats are the be all and end all, we need to be careful. Number 1 priority should be the right person for the job. My friend and her husband were married by a lovely minister who was wheelchair bound due to his advancing MS (though he had been a minister before MS had reared its ugly head). With good support from the community, there is no reason why certain disabilities should be a hinderance. What I would fear is an increase in candidates of diminished quality (in terms of giftedness for their ministry) simply in order to fulfil some artificial quota.

  6. @Carole – a very good point also. Quotas do my head in.

    Churches without decent access for those with disabilities also do my head in.

  7. Sam Norton says:

    I was about to say ‘what about Preston?’ – but I see he’s already commented.

  8. Ros says:

    Sadly, the Church of England is a little way behind in terms of equal opportunities.

  9. Gavin says:

    If, in the UK, there are 14,000 vicars and 2% of the general population are wheelchair users, then there should be about 280 vicars who are wheelchair users. Given that the demographic of wheelchair users includes the elderly, those confined to institutions, and a high proportion with learning difficulties, then the number of vicars who are wheelchair users will be considerably lower.

  10. Tokah says:

    Carole – just so you know, “wheelchair bound” is one of those seriously wince inducing terms. I’m not tied in, strapped in, or in any other way actually stuck. I can often be found on the floor playing with my niece, or sitting on the couch watching TV, or even crawling up a set of steps at an inaccessible establishment! Sometimes we even take the big power wheelchair out for a drive (my hubby calls it a car).

    Wheelchair user is the currently polite term, and wheelie is the term of choice with people who are in the know.

  11. jody says:

    i got the 3rd degree about my mental health issues of the past – they were quite honest and said it was about whether the underwriters of the pension plan would be happy to insure me – they were in the end convinced by my ddo and my therapist (a trained psychotherapist and also ordained) who, i think sent them away with a bit of a flea in their ear.

    but anyone who says it’s not about money…………

  12. youthworkerpete says:

    As with other people on this thread, I don’t think the Church of England is all that bad in employing various ‘minorities’.

    Firstly, I believe the split in people being ordained is currently around 60% men 40% women (of course, it will take at least a generation until the proportion of parish priests reflects this) – not 50/50, but since when has anything been that simple?

    Secondly, as others has said, the number of people who have to use a wheelchair is very low. I certainly know of one vicar who has two artifical legs and was ordained after his accident.

    I would imagine the number of middle class vicars v. those from working class backgrounds is a more worthy ASBO subject.

  13. Carole says:

    Tokah – I apologise – I didn’t mean to cause offence.

  14. Gavin says:

    @12 – asbolutely! Vicars are drawn from CofE congregations that are predominantly middle class. Though I wonder if this is really an issue…

    I mean, the CofE is part of the wider church that isn’t predominantly middle class. Perhaps the CofE is just very good at reaching middle-class people, as churches such as the Vineyard are good at reaching students?

    Perhaps the issue is where the *only* church (CofE or otherwise) in a given geographical community is not representative of that community’s demographic.

  15. Gavin says:

    @10 – ‘wheelie’ – I didn’t know that – thanks! :) :) :)

  16. Keith says:

    We’ve got as many ladies as fellas as priests in the CofE now (pretty much) but women are more likely to be asked to be NSM, especially if they have a male priest partner.

    What we need now is priests in pink and ladies in purple.

  17. youthworkerpete says:

    #14 – I think the CofE and its parish system is supposed to be incarnational. Therefore wherever it is based it should be able to effectively able to minister to those around them (how this fits with a centrally controlled litergy I’ll never know!).

    So it many places, no it is not bad that it’s middle class. In the town I live (Hartlepool) yes it is! How our middle class parish has coped with it is to set up a plant, which is great in one sense, but also a recognition that the ‘big’ church is unlikely to change to meet the needs of the community it is situated in and suits better those who travel from the suburbs!

  18. jonbirch says:

    youthworkerpete… i, and i alone will decide what is and is not a worthy asbo subject… you here me!? me! me! :lol: only jokin’! your suggestion for a cartoon is a good one… i’m sure it will happen.

    tokah…i shall let my father-in-law know, the next time i see him, that he is a ‘wheelie’… i reckon that should cheer him up. :-) i had no idea either btw.

    i think this is a worthy discussion to have. as jody points out clearly above, there will be the same issues alive and kicking within the church as within any other institution. whether prejudice, money, ignorance or whatever. i can easily see how people may be accepted or declined based on whether they are easy to insure or not. this would be one of many ways in which the system could easily count out certain people. my wheelchair analogy in the cartoon is just one area where prejudices etc may exist. how about deaf, blind, mute… the numbers of possible applicants are rising now that we’ve expanded the list.
    i may be wrong… but how many people in these situations are even given the impression by others that the ministry is something they could even dare apply for? it’s easy to believe god is calling you to something when you have lots of encouragement.
    one thing i do know to be true… most able bodied people simply assume everything is fine unless injustice slaps them in the face. my eyes have been opened from gaining a family member with advanced m.s. prejudice, ignorance, stupidity and carelessness are alive and well everywhere.

  19. commutertheology says:

    how sad that people are focusing on asbo’s reference to numbers and not the concept it articulates. perhaps there should be several more panels saying “or these”, “or these” depicting all those people who make up the rich tapestry of our world and should be representative in ministry. Not because of affirmative action, but because of what everyone can offer to the kingdom and what everyone looks like from a position of authority.

    Did anyone else follow the recent CBBC debate surrounding Cerrie Burnell: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7906507.stm?

    equal opportunities is a thorny issue, but i think part of the problem is personal ambition and vision. if you are (cf. youthworkerpete) working class and have never seen someone like yourself, or someone you can relate to in ministry, it is less likely that you would be led to go there as you are.

    and forget the statistics game, what about the real issue – there is a huge unspoken void in the majority of churches on disability. like those parents who projected their own ignorance and fear of Cerrie onto their kids, we are unsure of how to approach disability when the gospels are so full of healing stories.

    If there were a vicar preaching from a wheelchair, it’s even odds that someone would pray for him or her to be healed at the end of the service… to me that seems so wrong.

  20. The Millers says:

    We don’t want our spiritual leaders to need God (or at least not in any blatantly obvious way), we want our spiritual leaders to BE God. And for some reason it’s easier for us to believe that of Captain America than of “wheelies,” the deaf, or the blind. We’ve got it all messed up… Men and women who have suffered little have little to teach us to help us through our own f*cked up lives.

  21. jonbirch says:

    yes commutertheology, i saw her on telly doing a short documentary. she is a wonderful person, who’s dealt with being thrown in to the limelight in this way with tremendous grace and wisdom.
    “if you are working class and have never seen someone like yourself, or someone you can relate to in ministry, it is less likely that you would be led to go there as you are.” i think that is very true.

    the millers… i think you’re right and that we do have it all messed up. churches are bad at looking after their leaders from what i’ve seen… i have seen and known a lot of leaders. they do not want them to be vulnerable and they do want them attending to everything.

    if you were a minister in a wheelchair, it’d be hard finding a church where you could easily access all areas.

  22. mlc says:

    what about hermaphrodites??!! could a church handle a pastor who was a hermaphrodite??

  23. josh says:

    as far as physical disabilities, my cousin is a pastor (united methodist church in the u.s.) and is blind. he has church members help him with some things, such as to help in serving communion. but he is loved and welcomed and, maybe surprisingly to some people, not as limited as you might think. he does get some interesting reactions when people see for the first time him walking into the church building with his guide dog!

  24. beckyG says:

    I’ve never met an ordained Episcopal wheelie here in the States – there was only one disabled person when I was at divinity school and she was studying to be a UCC pastor.

  25. beckyG says:

    22. I don’t want to offend real hermaphrodites or Episcopal clergy by making a smart ass comment on Episcopal clergy and human sexuality.

  26. beatthedrum says:

    I guess this comes down to

    1. How many ‘Wheelies’ are christians
    2. The age of said “Wheelies” are they two old to “minister”
    3. Are the said “wheelies” called to be ministers, has God actually called them into that role
    4. Can they fulfill the role fully as in do all that is asked of them?

    My father was a “Wheelie” and wuld i think have been able to fulfill all the roles of a parish minister from the said parambulator… but God never called him and he never asked.

  27. beatthedrum says:

    He would have been a wheelie version of Father Jack mind and that might not hhave been so good either ;-)

  28. subo says:

    great topic, and yep, here’s to sharing in the sufferings of Christ

  29. Robb says:

    Is this purely about wheelchair use?

    At theological college we have 10% hearing aid users. We have one priest sit in the sanctuary in a wheelchair.

    My sending church has a vicar who suffers from chronic pain so our altar has medical type aids around it to facilitate.

    The monastery has just voted to radically level the floor so that it is wheelchair accessible throughout.

    There is one church locally who have no wheelchair access at all. The council wouldn’t let them. They spent 4 years trying to get it but weren’t allowed.

    My mother is in a wheelchair and the church has never discriminated against her. They provide her with parking and access throughout. The council have discriminated against her through their parking provision. One person parked in the one disabled parking space in town. She blocked them in – went to do her shopping and then came back with her electric chair and winched it into the back of the car and drove off. The person who was stuck sat in their car didn’t even dare get out and say anything.

    And the second picture? In the CofE there were more women ordained last year than men.

  30. matybigfro says:

    Isn’t it sad that on the whole ‘Clergy’ is just another job that belongs to its own social strata much like teacher or banker. And if you aren’t middleclass before you become a minster you pretty much dam will by the time you finish being one.

    Maybe I’m naive but when i read Vincent Donovan’s Christianity Rediscovered I had the wonderfull image of leadership for a church community being developed and raised up from within it (regardless or infact much more wonderfully in regard too race,abilities and gender)

    I’ve hesitade voicing this as i’m worried it might be offending and thats not my aim. however When hearing about that lovelly childrens TV present It seemed to me that trully we are all disabled, it’s not that there are non-disabled and disabled people, but that imperfection is the beauty of humanity. To be been not fully able makes us not God and in those moments when we accomplish the imposible maybe thats God.

  31. Pat says:

    “imperfection (as) the beauty of humanity” is a really interesting way of looking at it matybigfro. Is this a way of saying then that if we were ‘perfect’ (in ‘inverteds’ because there might be a variety of ways of understanding perfection :D ), we would believe ourselves complete and self-sufficient, with no need of anything from anyone else (divine or human) – whereas having ‘disabilities’, whatever form that might take, make explicit the underlying reality which we might otherwise ignore – that humans, made in the image of God, are essentially relational beings?

  32. Robb says:

    matybigfro – yep. it isn’t possible to be a working class minister because you are educated beyond that class. Would we rather have ministers who are working class but don’t know anything or would we rather have people like me who come from a working class background but got a degree or two in theology?

    Why does being working class disentitle you to an education?

  33. matybigfro says:

    Pat I loved what you have to say it wasn’t the root of what i was thinking but fits with it wonderfully.

    Robb – my problem isn’t with education my problem is with the cultural imperialism that often comes with western modes of education. (in the same way as when the English educated the Africans they also anglicized them {or when the CofE Christianized the Africans they Anglicanised them} the same thing I think happens allot when one class takes it upon itself to educate another) When you say ministers are educated beyond that class there’s a hint of elitism contained in that comment. I have two major problems with your statement, one is the idea that to be good minister/pastor/servant/leader you must have a degree or two in theology – It suggest to have good theology one must do a degree which I think is just bull, there are as many theologians with terrible theology and fantastic academic records as there are people with a great grip on theology that have never studied formally but learnt from life experience, reflection, reading, community and a deep spiritual life. Also it suggests that to start serving God fully one must have the full and proper preparation and training or that being a minister is in some way a fuller/better/more advanced way of serving God and thus unlike all other people who may choose dedicate lives to God, your vocation requires the holy anointing of theological certification.

  34. Robb says:

    Woooooooooooooahhhhh. Hang on a minute.

    Elitism? Me?!

    By the standard definition someone who has a degree in the UK is no longer working class. That means that I am no longer working class by definition.

    “if you aren’t middleclass before you become a minster you pretty much dam will by the time you finish being one.”

    My comment was that the church – almost every church – insists that its leaders are educated to at least degree level. There are some who are educated to diploma level but generally, they insist on at least a BA level education. RC requires a doctorate! Most free churches require “bible school” to about MA level.

    And those who know me well will know that I am anything other than elitist. The thing that I am most proud of is coming from a family who work. My dad got up and went to the big hole in the ground to work a night shift digging stuff up. When the police went into the pubs and beat up the strikers, that was our community.

    Elitism? My socialist butt was enabled to go to university by a miner who wanted me to be whatever I could be. He also told me that if I didn’t do the work I’d be getting a proper job.

    I delight in telling the posher people I know who like to talk about Eton and the like in the broadest Yorkshire I can muster that “I wor educated int’ local comp'”. If anything the thing I am most often accused of by those who know me is inverse snobbery.

    Please bear in mind that this is the internet and that sometimes people write something quickly with little thought. That person is often me. I seem to have badly expressed a lament that the church is unable or unwilling to enable working class people to minister to and for working class people for it educates people into a different class. I’m not saying that people need to have a degree to minister, I am pointing out that the church currently does. Sorry, I have been really clumsy with my previous comment.

    For the record, I make no apology for being educated. I worked damn hard to do that and I have had to pay for it myself. I worked full time as well as being an undergraduate to pay for it when the state decided that they wouldn’t.

  35. jonbirch says:

    big respect robb. to you and your wonderful dad.

    matybigfro. you make an interesting point… not the case with robb… but none-the-less some thought provoking stuff.

  36. Pat says:

    matybigfro @ 33 :-) your way of putting it started off various interesting trains of thought for me….and even if they weren’t precisely what you had in mind when you made the comment, I found them useful :-D

    Regarding your comments about training for ministry – while I agree that a degree in academic theology is not the be-all-and-end-all (and my dad certainly didn’t have one, but seemingly, from what Robb says, the rules for the CofE)are different now), I do think some kind of training is necessary and I’d see developing some level of ‘theological’ literacy as an integral and vital part of that. But maybe we have different ideas about what ‘theological’ comprises? :-)

    Robb @ 34: My dad was also an Anglican minister from a working class background. He worked full-time whilst training for the ministry (college at evenings and weekends) and then did his first curacy as an nsm whilst still working full-time in his ‘secular’ job. He had to battle against a certain amount of prejudice as well as snide comments about ‘getting into ministry by the back door’ I would hope that attitude is a thing of the past….but maybe that’s naive :-( . Anyway, he was a great example to me – in all sorts of ways.

  37. Robb says:

    Pat – I guess it is a difficult one. We need theologians and pastors and enablers and pioneers and practical doers and leaders and followers and …… stuff. Ordained and not.

    Sorry – I can only really speak of the CofE. These are also just idle ponderances as I avoid the task of decorating a paschal candle – don’t ask!!

    I think people have historically seen one pattern of ministry. Wealthy family gives first son the estate and the cash and the second son went to seminary. In the last 100 years it has been largely eroded over the last 100 years or so. Unfortunately there are still those who want to perpetuate the old boys network. That mentality screws women and people like me who don’t belong to the old boys network. I know so many people for whom it is knowing the right people. The number of name droppers I know and the people who seem to have studied Crockford’s as a key text is worrying.

    Since the ordination of women this seems to be eroding quite successfully. The number of higher posts I know women in is becoming more akin to a cross section of society.

    As a curate my incumbent is a woman. My DDO was a woman. The ordination is 50/50. 3 men and 3 women.

    This has a huge impact on the old boys network as that in itself seems to be becoming more and more sidelined as the real world moves on and leaves people living on their little island.

    You mention “ministry through the backdoor”. There are some who still talk like that.

    One observation that I have about that is that it is often women who get the raw end of the deal here. Often it is self imposed as well. Or imposed by their commitments to family. Or imposed by a husband.

    A lot of women train in later life. Training seems to be proportional to effective working life. As women seem to offer later in life than men the education that they are offered (not imposed upon people as a terrible thing to have to endure, education offered as a gift to be embraced. Much as the church first offered free education to children) tends to create a two tiered system. Working with someone who was ordained priest at 73 I have to ask what the benefit of 3 years of university would be to someone who has 73 years of experience – most of which was vicarage life.

    But then I come back to the first point I made. We need theologians and pastors and enablers and pioneers and practical doers and leaders and followers and …… stuff. Ordained and not.

    I guess I would like to see everyone flourish into that which Jesus sees.

  38. Robb says:

    Pat – Oh yeah – meant to say… the CofE rules are “You should be operating at the theological level at which you are capable”.

    That works in practice as “If you have no formal qualifications do a diploma or a degree (they usually push for a degree but not as much for later applicants). If you have a degree, do a masters. If you have a masters do a doctorate.”

    I had a BA in theology and was an RE Teacher (which again rules me out of the working class – despite playing snooker in the workies with my dad this weekend). That was why they made me do an MA. If you are under 30 you train full time. If you are over 30 you are able to train part time. The older you get the less likely the diocese is prepared to pay for you to train full time as it costs the church about 20k a year.

    I am painfully aware that I am a very expensive person as I was 26 and had a degree in theology. I know that it is a great privilege that it has been to have the church offer me the opportunity for 3 years full time training and pay for an MA. I also know that historically I would have been going down a hole in the ground and digging coal like the rest of my family. It makes you feel a bit small really. I just hope I will somehow put it to good use over the next 37 years.

  39. Pat says:

    Robb – thanks for these. I guess that, in the end, it’s really a question of balance and integration – drawing together all those disparate threads from background, life-experience and education; holding the inevitable tensions and using the whole as a resource for oneself, a place to go out from and come back to; and a place to make safe shelter where others can be comforted, confronted, nurtured and challenged.

    And for what it’s worth – from what I’ve seen of how you operate in the virtual, I’d rate the chances that you’ll ‘put it to good use over the next 37 years’ as pretty high :-)

    Good luck with the pascal candle – I’m sure you’ll manage to do something which is the perfect mix of safely traditional and subtly subversive :-P

  40. Robb says:

    You are too kind.

  41. matybigfro says:

    Only just caught up with this thread and if your still reading Robb sorry for being a bit spikey and taking your comments the wrong way

    I think my original comments about class were much more to do with cultural and stylistic elements of the class difference than economic or educational and a bit rash and sweeping. I’m really glad for folks like you and pat’s dad who I am sure are ministering wonderfully as who God created you to be

    my comment came from meeting too many ministers who allong with education recieved a cultural inoculation from their class background in becoming ministers and a certain institutional classism around many church’s leadership.

  42. Robb says:

    Not a problem Matybigfro. I know too many of them too. I had a Jewish friend yesterday telling me that “he didn’t think they’d allow it”. The it he was referring to was “my look”.

    We have so many challenges ahead of us if we are to get anywhere.

    When I asked him what he meant he said…

    “weeeeell….. aren’t you supposed to be a posh, grey, middle aged man with a suit?”

    I’m not sure that they have any drugs strong enough to give me a cultural inoculations :D

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