The Rev Joanna Jepson was bullied at school as a child and then victimised as an adult while she was training to become a nurse.

Like thousands of other people born with a cleft lip or palate, Ms Jepson, 27, knows first-hand how miserable society's cruel prejudices can make life.

Ms Jepson, curate of St Michael's Church in Chester, was born with a cleft palate. Her upper jaw extended beyond the front of her lower jaw to such an extent thatshe could not close her mouth and her top row of teeth was always exposed.

Today, after successful reconstructive surgery, there is no physical evidence that she ever had a facial disfigurement. But Ms Jepson still bears the emotional scars from the abuse she suffered while growing up.

She said that when she was 12-years-old, a 16-year-old boy began bullying her. She said: "He said I looked like a can opener so that was what he was going to call me. And he did. I felt mortified and used to pray to God to perform a miracle and give me a different face so I didn't have to be so self-conscious."

When she started training as a nurse years later, the bullying continued. Her neighbour in the nurses' accommodation called her a chipmunk. After Ms Jepson complained, the woman played music in the middle of the night. Ms Jepson said that she became so depressed that she left the college, abandoning her nursing career.

When she was 20-years-old she went to Bristol University to study theology. By that time she had undergone the surgery that had changed the way she looked, and her confidence was beginning to return.

After university she worked in a bar, a clothes shop and as a school chaplain. She also decided to become a vicar. Three years ago she was accepted for training at Cambridge University, and was ordained in July.

Ms Jepson, the eldest of three children who grew up in a Christian household in Cheltenham, speaks positively about growing up with a brother who has Down's syndrome."We both live positive and fulfilling lives," she said.