Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Joanna Jepson

Joanna Jepson: A Lot Like Eve

How did a woman – known as “chipmunk” by her cruel schoolmates when she was a teenager – become chaplain to the London College of Fashion, the glamorous poster-girl for C of E, and the author of a book exploring body-image? And why does a self-confessed feminist challenge abortion policy and practice?
The story involves: facing the torment of her peers; reconstructive surgery; the rejection of her childhood ideas of God; living with a brother with Down Syndrome; and becoming a priest.
Born with a cleft palate, by the age of 17 Joanna Jepson had a face that “literally didn’t fit” – her upper and lower jaws wouldn’t meet properly. At school she was called “can-opener”, “wood-chipper”, among other things. A letter slipped inside her Bible at a church youth-group read: “You are so ugly. Why don’t you just kill yourself?”
Growing up in a strict, evangelical church and household, she wasn’t convinced the frightening God she’d grown up with was on her side either. “I think the God I was afraid of then was the God who was always beyond pleasing, and beyond reach,” she told the Church Times.
In her memoir “A Lot Like Eve”, published by Bloomsbury, she says she felt she was rejected, “in exile from Eden”. Worn down by the cruelty of others she considered surgery, but she was afraid to pray about it. She feared that God would say “No,” feeling that he “wanted me to be something I wasn’t.”
At the age of 19, Joanna had surgery to push back her upper jaw and reshape her lower jaw into a proper chin. After a year spent recovering, she cut her hair and came out of hiding.
With new-found confidence, she gradually discovered a gentler, less dogmatic faith in a more intimate, loving God – leading her to study theology and train for the Anglican priesthood. Her physical and spiritual transformation also gave her the courage to stand up for others. 
In 2003, as a young curate, she made headlines for winning a judicial review into a case where a 28-week old unborn child with a cleft palate had been aborted. Today, her concern is particularly about the abortion of those with Down Syndrome: currently, 92 per cent of women who receive an antenatal diagnosis decide to terminate the pregnancy. 
Her brother Alistair has Down syndrome, and she calls him her inspiration, “a vision of life lived out in the light, nowhere near the cover of a fig tree.” Her stance on this issue has divided opinion, and she has received comments as vitriolic as when she was at school. And hen she was appointed as the first chaplain of the London College of Fashion, in 2006, there were sneering headlines, this time, ironically, because she was so good looking.
Now 39, and the mother of a two-year-old, she is no knee jerk pro-lifer – she is not against abortion per se. But she does believe there should be more public debate: “The more common abortion for disability becomes, the more acceptable it becomes, and that leaves us with a very troubling hypocrisy,” she says. “We can’t channel vast energy into equal opportunities and diversity agendas and then turn round and offer terminations to any woman who is suspected of carrying a baby with an abnormality.”
Joanna Jepson may feel that she’s a lot like Eve, but she’s not about to go into hiding. You’ll find her happily open to question on a platform in Boughton Park this August.

Greenbelt Festival / Shop & Talks / Talks
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Ten Years of Recorded Talks

If you need a bit of guidance on what’s hot, you can now scroll through the fifty most popular talks or alternatively, you can browse through talks from this year's festival, browse through different subjects or find your favourite speaker.
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