Guest Blog

Introduction to the Bishops' Advisor for Disability and Inclusion Issues

Last August (2016) I was appointed as the Bishops' Advisor for Disability and Inclusion Issues.  Much has happened (personally and within the Diocese) since then, and it is only now that I am able to start working on this role.  So, a little about me, a little about the role, and a little about how we work together.

I am Revd Katie Tupling, Vicar of Dore and Priest-in-Charge of Totley.  I was ordained in Derby Cathedral 2003, and came to Sheffield in 2013.  My husband Chris is a Primary School Teacher (currently on a phased return to work whilst on dialysis for Renal failure) and we have a son at Dore Primary School.  My background pre-ordination is in youth, families and children's work (in Birmingham). 

I was born with Cerebral Palsy - diagnosed when I was 2 years old - and have walked with elbow crutches since 1992.  I have served on General Synod (2005 - 2010), Archbishops' Council Committee for Ministry of and among Deaf and disabled people (2006 - 2010), Disability Task Group for the Church of England's National Disability Advisor (2014-2016) and am a founding member of 'Disability and Jesus' (began in 2014).

The Bishops' Advisor role can be summarised under 4 headings:

  • To provide practical information, links and resources for clergy and laity in parishes on disability and inclusion in the Church
  • To help formulate diocesan policies and procedures for parishes and churches on disability and inclusion issues
  • To raise awareness and engagement on disability and inclusion
  • To convene a Disability and Inclusion Issues Working Group

I would very much like to hear from Churches and Mission Partnerships who already have Disability Policies in place, and how well they might be working.

In order to convene a Working Group I am interested in talking to people who might want to be part of it.

It would help me to know what kind of resources you might want, and in what format - ie websites, printed information, video links, a personal visit etc...

I look forward to hearing from you - remember this is a voluntary post, and I need to get the right blend of Role and Parish responsibilities!

Revd Katie Tupling

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The Blessings of Ignorance

Bill Goodman has just started work as Assistant Principal of St Peter's College and Director of Ongoing Ministerial Development. 
Here are a few reflections from his first week in post.

There’s a lot to learn when you’re new in town.  Does anyone else recognise that feeling?  It starts with locating the supermarket, DIY centre, post office, doctor, recycling…. working out why we got a fine for being in a bus lane, and how to combine tram with train to get to the office.  New patterns of life: where and when shall I pray in this place?  Not to mention learning the implications of moving into a smaller house: a few things we squeezed onto the removal van in the fond hope of finding a corner for them somewhere now make their way to the local charity shop. 

Ignorance can feel alarming and humiliating.  So many names to learn… and then instantly forget… and then try to learn again!  When does it get just too embarrassing to ask a name again?   Yet somehow not knowing can also be fun.  Exploring the local bakery: ‘Hmm, I wonder if those taste as good as they smell… only one way to find out!’

Being ignorant is an opportunity to let other people help and teach you.  One of the keys to learning is choosing some good questions, and then listening carefully to people’s responses.  When you’re new, you can innocently ask interesting questions: ‘What’s been going up to now?’  ‘Why do we do it this way?’  ‘Who are the key people?’  ‘How do we decide our priorities?’  (Not forgetting, ‘How do you work this irritating photocopier?’)  And interwoven with all this, the bigger questions: ‘What is God saying and doing here?’  Your question might even spark the other person to a new train of thought – so you both end up learning more.

Ignorance only becomes a problem when we refuse to admit it, or when we don’t even notice it.  In today’s world, it’s easy to form ‘gated communities’ of like-minded people, perhaps a social media group or a church home group.  It becomes a kind of echo-chamber, where we only hear voices and views that sound much like our own.  So we don’t realise how much we still have to learn, or how others may see things differently.  (I know someone who occasionally searches online for a topic in which he has no interest at all – just to confuse that clever algorithm in his Facebook page, which works out his preferences and chooses what news and views to feed him!)  In study groups you need someone who is brave enough to ask awkward questions: it may become less comfortable, but the learning goes deeper.  We need good understanding to build our convictions on.

Being new tends to be somewhat bewildering, and at times you can feel pretty clueless.  Which you are; and that’s okay, for now.   So let’s hear it for ignorance: something we simply need to acknowledge and embrace.  That’s the gateway to the fun bit, the adventure – exploring new places, people, ideas and possibilities.  There’s always a lot to learn.

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What we need is more love and less paperwork - Renewal and Reform

By freeing-up clergy from administration, more time can be given to growing the Church and serving local communities, argues Graham Millar, from the Mission Partnership Development Worker Project in Sheffield Diocese.

Anyone not involved closely with parish ministry may be surprised to know research has found that administration takes up more clergy time than any other type of work. Paperwork is clearly not what most priests are called to and filling in forms and photocopying, whilst humbling, do little to grow the Kingdom.

The ‘Experiences of Ministry’ research undertaken by Kings College London in 2013, was one of the catalysts that led the Diocese of Sheffield to secure funding to support up to a third of its parishes with admin support.

The ‘Mission Partnership Development Worker Project’ is a six-year programme that has been supported by a £1m grant from the Church Commissioners’ Strategic Development Fund, part of the Renewal and Reform programme.

So far six development workers have been appointed to provide groups of churches (working together as Mission Partnerships) with professional support in areas such as administration, communication, publicity and finance. This number will more than double in 2017.

The overall aim is to free up clergy time for mission and the project has engaged academic partners to evaluate the success of this in relation to: church growth; lay leadership; and financial stability.

Wedding management is just one example of how this works. The development worker is able to provide an efficient response to initial enquiries, manage diaries for multiple churches and organise organists/choirs/bells etc., leaving the clergy free to provide pastoral support to couples.

One vicar described their development worker as ‘a God send’ and another reported being able to finally develop working links with a local credit union which resulted in the church becoming a base for money advice and support to the local community – creating both missional and community engagement opportunities. This was a development that had been talked about for years – but was made possible by the easing of the administrative burden.

Waiting & Wanting

The Access credit card once coined the strapline, “Takes the waiting out of wanting.”

Have it now – pay later: convenience for most, credit trap for some, consumerist tendency for us all. Our material and financial wants position themselves as gods.

As Christmas comes round, the retail industry goes into overdrive. “Wanting” comes into its own. Only a few shopping days before Christmas as you read this…

We all want Christmas, of course – the presents, the family, the celebrations, the holiday season, and, above all, the message of Jesus’ birth.

But what about the waiting?

We are still in Advent, which is the Christian season of waiting: four weeks or so of self-examination, preparation and expectation, before we celebrate Jesus’ birth. Advent teaches us to value the waiting, as a time to prepare our hearts and lives to be ready for Jesus at Christmas. Waiting, watching and being prepared is vital to Christian living.

The waiting only increases our joy when Christmas day is revealed, and we celebrate the greatest of all stories – Jesus, the Messiah, God’s Son, our Lord: born in a stable, laid in a manger, worshipped by angels, adored by shepherds, visited by wise men.

We mark the Advent season at the start of our Christian Year, because watching and waiting, rather than wanting and getting, come first in God’s economy. The Old Testament Scriptures prepared God’s people for the fulfilment of God’s plan. God’s promises to Abraham, Moses and the Prophets spoke of wonderful things, but they were kept waiting for hundreds of years. Still they hoped and waited before Jesus arrived.

As we prepare for Christmas, we too prepare ourselves, and wait for a future beyond December 25th. Jesus will return, glorious, at the end of time. He commanded us to watch and wait expectantly, because even Christmas doesn’t deliver everything we want. Despite our songs of “peace and good will”, the world remains a place of strife and tears, our lives remain fragile and mortal. 

Only when Jesus returns at the end of time will all our wants be satisfied. Our Christmas joy will only be complete when God’s new age dawns, when sin, sorrow and death will end. The earliest Christians used to say, “Maranatha!” – “O Lord, come!” The Bible ends with Jesus’ final recorded words, “I am coming soon.” We could want nothing better.

There can be no true wanting without waiting, because what we most need is to be for ever with Jesus, which is infinitely worth waiting for. Don’t take the waiting out of wanting, because our waiting helps us to want the very best. Value the waiting, not as impatient frustration, but as a time to prepare and be ready for the joy that will be ours at Christmas, and then for ever when Jesus returns.

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Are we a Raft or a Trawler?

My training incumbent used to ask his church “are we a raft or a trawler?”

On a recent visit to a parish I was really encouraged to see the notice board advertising loads of events and activities for children. In addition to Sunday school there was a weekly toddlers group and a monthly Messy Church service. It was also clear that the church was regularly visiting the local primary school. None of this had shown up in the 2015 statistics for mission.

Chatting to the Vicar, she explained how working through the Mission Action Planning Tool had helped the PCC and the wider church to make working with children and families their number one priority. They had then stepped out in faith and worked with the Centenary Project to appoint a part time children and families worker who they share with a neighbouring parish.

The visit came as a timely encouragement to the Parish Support Team as we carry on the detailed work of editing and fine tuning the second Mission Action Planning Tool which comes out in January with the imaginative title of MAP 2. This will help parishes to celebrate and review their progress since MAP 1 and then prayerfully discern what God is calling them to do to build on this over the next two years.

As a Vicar for over 20 years I found parish planning to be a helpful and liberating exercise. Not only did it provide a really effective way of involving the whole church in praying and listening to God and to each other about our direction and priorities as a church, it also gave me and the PCC a clear mandate to say these are our priorities and this is what we need to spend our time money and resources on doing. At a time of ever growing demands and seemingly constant change it’s really helpful to have clarity about what are priorities are. Without a clear sense of direction we either drift around aimlessly like a raft, or as it says in Ephesians 4:14 , we are “tossed back and forth by the waves and blown here and there by every wind”. Alternatively we can be more like a trawler, with a clear plan and sense of direction carrying out our God given commission to catch fish.

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