The Revd Katie Tupling is looking forward to raising the profile of disability and faith in the Diocese of Oxford when she joins as our new chaplain among Deaf people and disability adviser.
“I am thrilled to be coming back to Oxford (where I trained for ordained ministry), to be working alongside Bishop Steven and his team, and to be fully engaged with both the Deaf Chaplaincy team, and the disabled community within the Diocese,” says Katie.
As she moves to Oxford, she says her brand new job will is an ambitious one. “The first part of the role is to bring together both disability and deaf issues. Although many people have been doing these roles across the country for a number of years, mostly they have been unpaid and voluntary. The role in Oxford is something of a blank canvas, but it is the role I could have written the job description for personally.”
“I hope that the Oxford Diocese could become a centre of excellence when it comes to Christians who are deaf and disabled living out their faith in an authentic way and teaching the able bodied and hearing church a huge amount.”
Katie was born in Scarborough, but moved around as a youngster. Her faith journey began when she was seven, when she says she had a sense of God’s presence being very real, but also a lot of arguments with God around disability and faith. Born with cerebral palsy, she didn’t begin to walk until she was five.
“In my teens I used elbow crutches on and off and was provided with an NHS wheelchair that mostly gathered dust in the garage,” she says.
After major orthopaedic surgery in her early 20s, Katie now uses elbow crutches all the time. “I also have a most excellent purple wheelchair, which I love.”
As a youngster in Wales, Katie also belonged to the church choir, an important part of Welsh church life and was an active and inquisitive member of the Sunday school. “I had a lot of questions for everybody and particularly my vicar, the Revd Ian Davies. Somehow I worked my way through my dilemma between a loving God and the reality of disability, and I came out the other side with a clear call to ordination.”
Katie tucked that calling away, but says it came back when she was in her mid-teens. “I thought it was a ridiculous idea because women were not allowed to be priests and I wanted to be an actor. The problem was that God moved mountains to allow women to become fully priested and I was no good as an actor.”
After A levels she took a year out working for the George Muller Foundation in Bristol, before her undergraduate theology degree at Westhill College, Birmingham.
At university Katie met her husband to be, Chris, who was training to be a primary school teacher. The couple found jobs, a house to rent and got married within eight weeks of graduating.
Katie had already begun her discernment process while an undergraduate in the Bath and Wells Diocese, a process she continued in Birmingham. Her work life saw her employed in telesales then various churches as an out of school worker, before she began two years of ordination training at Oxford’s Wycliffe Hall.
So how does Katie square the notion of an all loving, omnipotent God with her disability? “I have more of an issue with fellow human beings who treat my diagnosis and use of crutches/a wheelchair as a pitiable tragedy. That’s disabling,” she says.
And what advice would she give to someone struggling with a disability? “My advice would be find your own identity. Don’t panic. Disability isn’t a bad word.”
Katie’s curacy was in Belper, outside Derby, before her first incumbency looking after the three churches of Hathersage, Bamford and Grindleford in the Hope Valley before five years in the Sheffield Diocese as vicar of Dore and Totley.
She was a disability adviser to the Bishops of Derby and Sheffield, is co-founder of Disability and Jesus and was part of the organising group for a disability conference at Lambeth Palace in 2018.
“On a personal level, it’s not all about the workplace. I enjoy time on our canal boat, drinking real ale, putting LEGo together with my son, watching a good film with my husband and seeing our adopted bewildered lurcher becoming more confident as every year goes past.”