The Diocese has appointed its first Enabling Church Advisor to support parishes in spotting and removing barriers which prevent them from welcoming people with impairments or disabilities (one in six people) into the life and ministry of local churches.
The Revd Zoe Heming (pictured above, centre) was licensed in the half-time role by the Bishop of Lichfield, the Right Revd Dr Michael Ipgrave, at a special service on Wednesday night. The service was at St Andrews Church in Aston, in Newport, Shropshire, where Zoe will spend the other half of her time serving as vicar.
Zoe, who often uses a wheelchair due to chronic pain, was previously the Curate of Hodnet Deanery in north Shropshire. As well as being a regular panellist on the dioceses weekly TGI Monday online chat show, she is a member of General Synod and has spoken and written extensively on how the Church urgently needs to notice who we exclude from church life and how this disables our churches from being a healthy Body of Christ.
Zoe said: When I became ill, I didn't know how to practice my faith without causing more pain. Like many (in all our parishes), I would stay home rather than seem irreverent during worship which had a huge impact on my faith. The Bible is full of stories of God enabling people to understand and embrace their own weakness. He walks with us and can help us to be less afraid of not being who we were aged 20 - faith and gifts can still grow even as our bodies decline. There are so many simple, inexpensive ways to worship together and embrace one another's gifts to make sure that no-one is isolated from church life or left feeling like a bad Christian.
Bishop Michael added: Everybody has a place at the table of God and we need to do what is best to ensure or church buildings and the way we organise our worship are open to all. This may lead us to change some of the ways that we think and behave.
These are our brothers and sisters, faithful Christians, and we need to make sure they are part of who we are. Any of us may have the experience of being disabled in different ways at different times in our lives and Zoes appointment is one way of enriching and supporting each other as part of our discipleship together.
Zoes appointment follows the commissioning of new Diocesan Advisor to the Deaf Church, the Revd Susan Myatt. Susan's appointment has come about in a unique partnership between the Church of England and the Baptist Association in the Midlands in a move to encourage deaf people to play a leading role in local worship.