GABRIELLE THOMAS first felt convinced that God was calling her to ordained ministry while working for Youth For Christ, more than 20 years ago. But, six months after she began training at Trinity College, Bristol, she was struck down with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME).
What began as flu-like symptoms gradually spiralled out of control, and within three weeks Ms Thomas could no longer walk and had lost the feeling in her legs. After five years, she was unable to cope with light or noise, or even chew her food, and had to go into hospital.
But, even at the darkest points, she said she never entirely lost her faith. “I have some amazing friends who kept praying for me,” she said. “I said to myself: ‘This isn’t going to be for ever,’ and I would pray through various Psalms I had learnt by heart. It was sheer bloody-mindedness.”
Ordination faded from her mind, but she remembered a Christian nurse who had insisted: “If you were called, you were called.”
“I laughed at the time, but there was this sense that it hadn’t completely gone away.”
After three years being bedridden, and having been told she would never walk again, she had a “miraculous” three-day recovery in 2008, after which she could walk without a stick. She began working for a church in Cheltenham, and the question of ordination arose again.
Now, after an unusual training process, which included also studying for a Ph.D., she is ready to begin her curacy in affluent south-west London.
“It is going to be different for me, because in the years when I did work, it was mostly with people who were homeless, vulnerable, or in prison,” she said. “But it’s good to be in a different context — I’m seeing it as something I will learn from.”
Gabrielle Thomas was ordained deacon in St Paul’s Cathedral on 4 July, and is serving her title at St Mary with St Alban the Martyr, Teddington, in the diocese of London.