It’s been a weird time lately hasn’t it? The woman who embodied the strength and pride of a family of nations, succumbed, as we all must, to the destiny we all share, in the shedding and resting of the body which has worked hard in the carrying of hopes, fears, service, power and children. Over the last six months of speculation about the Queen’s failing health, being kept discretely out of sight lest anyone think less of her, has taken me back to a time when I couldn’t face going to the one place and gathering where my comfort, strength & hopes were most readily found - church. I stayed away for about 18 months… it was just too embarrassing, too difficult. I couldn’t face not blending in, not standing up (like you are told to) for those hymn verses (HOW many?!). People would think I was either disrespectful or a nuisance, causing a fuss etc. It was best for everyone if I stayed at home, kept the mobility aids I begrudgingly used out of sight, just like Her Majesty and her PR team chose to do. I wonder if anyone dared to challenge the Queen’s thinking about this? I am glad that someone challenged me. In the way that perhaps only good friends can, she ‘socked it to me’ straight!! She told me that I was being prejudiced about being seen as disabled. She called me “ableist”! I was mortified - because she was right.
Fast forward 10 years and using a walking stick and wheelchair in my full time work and ministry as a vicar and someone who helps churches to put things in place so that nobody feels like a nuisance or a bother. Our churches are places of invitation, where people may find comfort, strength to face difficult days, friendship and hope which transcends the struggles of our frail, limited bodies and lives.
So now I recognise the prejudice, the ‘ableism’ in myself, the world around me and in the church I have made vows to faithfully serve. As Christians this isn’t yet another ‘ism’ we are afraid to be caught out being - accidentally or otherwise. It’s something we should help one another to change so that nobody would be too embarrassed or ashamed to seek prayer, worship, comfort and fellowship in their parish church.
There are actually loads of simple and cheap ways to begin this journey in our churches. I’d love to share them with you so why not join a growing network of parishes learning together how to be the one place people can come truly as they are and find the grace we all need.
Revd Zoe Hemings is the diocese’s Enabling All Advisor and vicar of Newport.
Contact her by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), phone (07871 622598) or the Enabling All team’s Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/enabling.all)