logo of the United Methodist Task Force on Disability Ministries
July/ August 2011Vol. 1 No. 5

members using wheelchairs in front of church steps

Task Force members outside historic (and inaccessible) St. George's UMC

in Philadelphia  


of the

United Methodist

 Disability Connection


Greetings in Christ! 


The Task Force just returned from a productive annual meeting near Philadelphia.  In addition to business (see the article below) we experienced historic Philly.  We were pleased to learn that historic St. George's UMC is planning a new entrance complete with an elevator which will hRussell touching the Liberty Bellelp visitors access the archives, library and museum as well as the sanctuary and fellowship hall.  The design is comprehensive and expensive, and is compatible with the 1769 exterior.  The project is about to enter the fund-raising stage.


We were also delighted that Task Force member Russell was permitted to touch the Liberty Bell so that he could form a tactile picture of the bell.  Public facilities were generally accessible to wheelchair users, though tour vehicles were not.   We yearn for the day when churches and tours will be as readily accessible as public spaces are today!   


Lynn Swedberg, Editor

In This Issue
Ramp Building Ministries
Upcoming Disability-related Events
Highlights of the Task Force Annual Meeting

Quick Links


Find us on Facebook
Subscribe to our newsletter

Ramp Building Ministries 

Building wheelchair ramps for community members has many benefits, including training youth and adults as potential Volunteers in Missions (VIM) team members, energizing a cooperative parish or annual conference, and increasing disability awareness as volunteers interact with ramp recipients.  Many current ramp teams trace their ministry to "Takin' it to the Streets", an annual blitz building events sponsored by the Louisiana Annual Conference VIM leaders four to twelve years ago. VIM coordinator Rev. Larry Norman partnered with local churches and solicited volunteers from throughout the conference for weekend events which ended with Sunday worship.  In the second year 300 workers built 33 ramps in New Orleans.  The conference no longer holds the blitz, but at least eight regional groups continue to build ramps.

Greg Forrester, NE Jurisdiction VIM coordinator, attended one of the LA events.  A partner organization in his town of Cortland NY alerted him to the need for ramps.  His group initially built each ramp from scratch to meet specifications, but realized the benefit of a modular design that could be quickly installed and easily taken apart and recycled when the original user no longer needed it.  The Ramp Plans are available on the NE VIM website along with a liability release form.  Greg provides training throughout his jurisdiction and beyond, including a session at the Nomads national gathering after Hurricane Katrina.  He emphasizes the need for building relationships as well as ramps.

"Ramps of Hope" is a ministry inspired by Greg's work and initiated in the Erie County areavolunteers building modular ramp of the Western Pennsylvania AC by Deacon Debbie Hills.  Once aware of the need for ramps, she began assessing assets available, and found donated storage and assembly space in an old school, some seed money, and a group of churches struggling to engage in joint ministry.  She located a local agency, Love Inc., to determine need and eligibility, and spread the word through area social service agencies.  Funds for building materials come from grants, donations, fund raisers, and recipients or family members.  She checks the local building codes and need for permits and inspection, and notes a wide variation in codes and interpretation.  Ramp modules are built in advance and stored, then installed when needed.  The ministry has five team leaders and a food coordinator who organizes meals which are shared with the recipient family.  She and other make intake and follow-up visits, asking aboutPA ramp crew installing ramp unmet needs and remembering families with holiday baskets. In the context of establishing relationships, when the time is right (and if they do not have a home church) families are invited to attend the nearest UM church.  Since April 2010 volunteers have built 21 ramps. 

Debbie Wade, Task Force secretary, coordinates "R.A.M.P." (Reaching Accessibility for all Methodist Persons and Places) for the North Alabama AC.  Recipients do not have to be United Methodist.  In addition to ramps, churches and individuals have been assisted to install bathrooms, chairlifts, and elevators.  Some projects only need funding, while conference volunteers help build others. A retired engineer who happens to have a disability draws up most of the plans. Unique features include fund raising through a Conference Advance Special and through the conference Bridge Builders program for congregations committed to being active in disability ministry.  


Further guidance regarding ramp specifications is available through the US Access Board.  Check the Task Force web site for a more detailed article (coming soon) with step by step guidelines for starting a ramp building ministry.

Top of page

Upcoming Disability-related Events

Missouri AC                                                                             Sunday, August 14th 3:00pm

UM Regional Disability Awareness Service

Worship Theme: "Christ Invites all to the Table"


You are invited to stand and sit as a community in solidarity to celebrate the gifts and graces of people with disabilities, and to affirm those who have been called to serve in leadership roles and the ordained ministry.  We gather as a socially conscious church to encourage all to work for the full inclusion of people with disabilities in the Church Universal and in our society.  The service is designed to help put action to the words: Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Open Doors.

Location: Manchester UMC, 129 Woods Mill Rd., St. Louis, MO 63011

For more information contact Rev. Russell Ewell 


Top of page  

Highlights of the Task Force Annual Meeting 

Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J. hosted our July 13-15th Task Force Annual Meeting .  Our aims were to strengthen our working committees, and through the committees design an effective presence before and during General Conference to increase awareness of the Task Force and help pass our proposed legislation (see Issue #2).  We made minor changes to the legislation based on feedback from the annual conferences. We crafted plans to create strategies and build networks and coalitions to expand disability ministry throughout the denomination both nationally and globally. Bishop Peggy Johnson of the Eastern PA and Greater NJ Annual Conferences spent an afternoon with us exploring issues and options.


SamSam Kabue and Rev. Tom Hudspethuel Kabue from Nairobi, Kenya, executive director of the Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (EDAN) of the World Council of Churches helped us begin envisioning how we can become globally involved.  He shared tools and resources from EDAN, and we were especially excited about the useful theological statement A Church of All and for All.  He and Task Force affiliate member Rev. Tom Hudspeth (pictured at left) are planning a World Deaf event and Disability mission trip in Kenya for 2013.  Stay tuned for information on how you can participate!


For a copy of the minutes of the meeting, contact the Task Force Secretary Debbie Wade.   

 Top of page 


Disability Awareness - Do it right! from the Ragged Edge Online community, Mary Johnson, Editor.

Available from the Advocado Press, this book is recommended for every Disability Concerns committee at all levels of the church.  Written by persons with disabilities, the book offers meaningful alternatives to the popular disability simulation activities which do not bring about true changes in attitudes or practices.  The authors suggest ways to'Disability Awareness - do it right!'  partner with community members who live with disabilities to learn how they cope with the barriers and challenges they face.  Each event should be built around a tangible goal, e.g. partners working together to reduce a specific barrier in the church and/or community.  Short readings and media suggestions supplement the step by step guide to planning a successful event.  The book is designed for a secular audience but can be easily adapted by religious organizations.

Top of page  

We look forward to partnering with you.  You can help us in many ways, including the following:

- Forward this newsletter to five persons who also have an interest in inclusion of all persons in the life of the church, and encourage them to subscribe. 

- Let us know of upcoming disability-related events in your districts and annual conferences;  the deadline for the September issue is September 1st.
- Send us ideas for articles, or information about effective programs we might highlight.  Upcoming issue topics include addressing homelessness of persons with disabilities and ministries with persons who are blind or have low vision.
- Sign up to be a resource person by downloading the Resource Person Application from the Get Involved page on the Task Force web site; scroll down to Disability Connection to find the link. 

In closing, we offer this prayer from EDAN (from the interim statement "A Church of All and for All", reprinted with permission), which echoes the yearnings of many from around the globe: 
May we who are made in your image, O God, mirror your compassion, creativity and imagination as we work to reshape our society, our buildings, our programmes, and our worship so that all may participate. In you we are no longer alone, but united in one body. Trusting in your wisdom and grace, we pray gratefully in Jesus' name.


United Methodist Task Force on Disability Ministries