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Saturday, 15 October 2016

Prophets & Seers: Calling from the Edge

The 5th annual conference on Disability and Church, delivered through a partnership between St Martin in the Fields and Inclusive Church, was held today. Entitled 'Prophets & Seers: Calling from the Edge,' the conference explored Professor John Hull's call for disabled people to challenge the church with a distinct prophetic ministry. Before his untimely death last year, John was a beloved friend and a great supporter of these conferences. 

Through plenary talks and in small groups, with a silent space and a marketplace, we explored the issues arising from our experience and considered how we can resource each other and the church. This conference was organised by and for disabled people, supporters and people with an interest in these issues. 

  • Ann Memmott, who is autistic and is a national advisor to churches and organisations throught the country.
  • Donald Eadie. In recent years Donald has lived with a serious spinal condition which forced him to retire early as Chair of the Birmingham District of the Methodist Church. He has often been in the firing line for advocating justice and respect between people of all faith, women and men, gay and straight people. He is a much consulted Methodist minister, retreat leader and author.
  • Emily Richardson - tweeter/blogger
  • Alex Gowing Cumber. Self supporting Anglican priest, artist, life coach and soul companion; chaplain and creative therapist for adults with learning difficulties. Trustee of Inclusive Church
  • Tim Goode - Southwark Diocese Disability Advisor. Trustee of Inclusive Church
  • June Boyce Tilman - Professor of Applied Music, University of Winchester, composer, hymn writer and priest. June has a particular interest in the relationship between theology, spirituality, healing and the arts, and has written widely on music and healing.
  • Miriam Hodson - expert by experience, mental health consultant, play therapist.
  • Fiona MacMillan - chair of Disability Advisory Group St Martin in the Fields and a trustee of Inclusive Church
  • Jonathan Evens - Associate Vicar for Partnerships at St Martin in the Fields and Priest in charge at St Stephen Walbrook

Alex Gowing Cumber said: 'It's at our weakest and most dependant that God moves in power. I encourage the church to enable it's weak and vulnerable, both lay and ordained, to positions of wise and strategic leadership. From a point of total weakness, Ezekiel designed infrastructure and transformative culture from his bed. Don't forget the bed-bound prophets of today, some of whom are members of your church and living in your community.'

Donald Eadie said: 'We bring our discovery of bread on the edge and wells of water under our feet, in desert and destitution as did both Elijah ( 1Kings 17:1-7) and the slave girl Hagar before us. (Genesis 21: 8-20) Consecrated food from heaven is not confined to lie under white cloths in our Churches. We bring these gifts and many others, not as victims but as liberators.

I have come with a story of a journey, from the centre to the edge, of making connections between our experience of body and the body of Christ, and of receiving threatening gifts which could transform.'

He asked us: 'What does the journey toward transformation through vulnerability mean in your situation? What are your stories of frightening liberation?'

Ann Memmott reminded us of Jesus' saying, 'You are the salt of the earth' and asked: Do disabled people keep faith fresh? Do disabled people prevent faith groups from 'silting' up? Do disabled people help prevent others slipping into glib ableist ideals, in our faith? 

Her prayer was: 'Loving God, we are called by you. We are called by name. We are called as we are. We are called, through your grace, to be our authentic selves. Our calling is from the edge. Help it to be a powerful call. For truth, for love, for friendship, for true enablement. For mutual sharing and learning. In the name of Jesus or Lord. Amen.'

Jo-Jo Ellison told us about Notes On Blindness : Into Darkness, an immersive virtual reality (VR) project based on John Hull’s sensory and psychological experience of blindness. The interactive experience complements the story world of the feature film and forms an integral part of our outreach programme. Each scene addresses a memory, a moment and a specific location from John’s audio diary, using binaural audio and real time 3D animations to create a fully immersive experience in a ‘world beyond sight’. The project won the Storyscapes Award at Tribeca Film Festival and the Alternate Realities VR Award at Sheffield Doc/Fest. The experience is now available for free on the following platforms: Samsung Gear; Mobile or Cardboard: iOS | Android.

She also said that in the UK only 54% of people who are blind or partially sighted use audio-description. 77% are dissatisfied with what is on offer. So, for blind and partially sighted audiences Notes on Blindness is available with four soundtrack options:

• The standard version is the original film soundtrack with no extra description or sound effects.
• The audio-described versions use a spoken description to relate what’s happening outside of the dialogue. You can choose between versions by audio-describer Louise Fryer and Tony-nominated actor Stephen Mangan.
• The enhanced soundtrack version uses more original narration from John and Marilyn to tell the story, along with extra sound design and music. It’s a version that evokes the action, rather providing a literal description.

To make sure you can use audio description at any cinema, Archers Mark have partnered with MovieReading. This free app allows you to use your own smartphone and headphones to synch the film with your choice of soundtrack. More information about the MovieReading app is available at

Emily Richardson spoke about finding her voice on twitter. Her twitter bio - often wobbly, frequently achey, usually smiley - describes her limitations and attitude, making twitter the ideal format within which to explore and express her thoughts and ideas.

In our closing Eucharist we prayed:

God of all, we thank you that you have known us since we were in our mother’s wombs.
All Please help us to feel your loving arms around us when times are hard.

We thank you that although we are as numerous as grains of sand, you still know us each individually.
All Please help us to respect the differences in others.

We thank you for the different gifts you give to each of us.
All Please help us to look for and nurture these gifts in others.

We thank you for both darkness and light.
All Please help us to have faith that you are always there in the shadows.

We thank you for giving up your son to die on the cross for us.
All Please help us to remember, that all we have to do is ask and all our sins will be forgiven.

We thank you that on the third day, Jesus came back to life and now lives with you in heaven.
All Please help us to keep trusting that one day we will be there with them too. Amen.

We used the words of John Hull for  part of our Eucharistic Prayer:

'It is because of its broken-ness that partakers of the bread proclaim the death of Christ, for in his death he was broken. When he gave thanks, Christ broke the bread and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

“Broken-ness lies at the heart of what took place at the Last Supper. Not to discern the broken-ness is not to discern the body of Christ and not to realise the paradox of strength through weakness and life through death.”

In the same way, after supper he took the cup and gave you thanks; he gave it to them, saying: This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.

“We ask that, as we take the body and blood of Christ, we become apostles of inclusion, witnesses of vulnerability and partners in pain.”

Our prayer, together with the angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, is for ability made perfect in inability.'


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