logo of the United Methodist Task Force on Disability Ministries

February 2012
Vol. 2 No. 2


loan closet with walkers, wheelchairs, toilet risers, crutches and more
Health Loan Closet of First UMC of Park Ridge, IL


of the

United Methodist

 Disability Connection


Greetings in Christ! 

This issue marks the end of the inaugural year for the newsletter.  Thanks for your enthusiastic support of this venture!  I've learned from every person I interviewed, and am so grateful for the incredible ministries I'm discovering. 


A surprising number of churches offer medical equipment loan programs as part of their outreach to the community.  You will learn from a few of those programs, and the people who started them, in this issue. 


Besides sharing some of the roles that occupational therapy practitioners can play in your ministries, we also introduce parish nursing this month.  We will explore more about parish nursing and health ministry later this year when we look at congregational programs for individuals with Alzheimer's dementia and their families.  While some congregational health ministries and disability ministries operate separately, churches with combined or coordinated ministries offer strong, holistic programs that address the many complex issues faced by persons with chronic illness and disability.  Let us know about your ministries!

Lynn Swedberg, Editor

In This Issue
Medical Equipment Loan Programs Address Common Unmet Need
Occupational Therapy Practitioners Strengthen Local and Conference-wide Disability Ministries
Parish Nurses are Valuable Partners in Disability Ministry

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Medical Equipment Loan Programs Address Common Unmet Need

Medical equipment such as walkers, bath benches, and crutches can make the difference between independence and dependence for persons with temporary or long-term disabilities.  Insurance does not cover all equipment, and uninsured individuals often find finances stretched thin due to medical bills.  A number of United Methodist churches reach out to their communities by collecting and loaning medical equipment to those who need it.

People operating loan programs see God at work every time an unusual piece of equipment, such as a special sliding tub bench, is donated at just the time that they get a

smiling girl in loaner power wheelchair
Kylan demonstrating loaner power wheelchair

request for it.  A high school student in Indiana who uses a power wheelchair for mobility lost eligibility for state funding because of family moves.   When her chair broke down and needed extensive repairs she had to use a manual chair, which she couldn't propel by herself.  Someone told the family about the Ligonier UMC Depot loan closet, which "just happened" to have a power chair that fit perfectly and allowed her to regain independence at school.  She will use this chair until she can obtain her own through state channels, a process that can take a year or more.

A young man with a traumatic leg amputation required his parents' assistance with bathing because no one would fund the recommended shower bench and the family's budget was already strained.  The family heard about the Depot and obtained a bench so the man could regain showering independence. 

Most "loan closets" began because someone saw a need.  Roger Barker, an occupational therapist in Batesville, AR, noted people "falling through the cracks" at work.  He initiated HELP (Health Equipment Loan Closet) at Batesville First UMC by requesting equipment

commode, wheelchair, bath bench etc. available through H.E.L.P.
some of the equipment at H.E.L.P.

donations through the church newsletter and local newspapers.  He approached medical equipment vendors to let them know he did not intend to compete with them, but could supplement their charitable work.  The equipment is stored in a vacant room, and he or the church secretary issue most of the equipment.  Local hospitals refer people in need, and church members use the program as well.  The program runs on the "Good Samaritan" principle rather than having recipients sign releases, but Roger is comfortable issuing devices he has inspected or repaired to make sure everything is adjusted and in working order. 

The Depot at Ligonier (IN) UMC operates on a more formal basis.  Applicants are screened to ensure that all other resources have been exhausted.  People needing equipment fill out an Application for Assistance form explaining what is needed and releasing the church from any legal responsibility for equipment malfunction.  (See the Equipment Checkout Form from Grace UMC in Lemoyne, PA for another example of a form with a liability statement.) Volunteers work with the client's therapist or doctor to ensure the correct equipment is issued.  The program, started by occupational therapy assistant Angie Kidd, partners with the local Agency on Aging and the Red Cross who refer people needing equipment.  Each donated item is cleaned with an approved sanitizer (they recommend "Clavicide") and stored in an unused church classroom where medical records can be locked for confidentiality.  Angie has trained all volunteers who issue equipment.

Equipment may be donated by family members, nursing homes, or organizations that collect medical devices for overseas but have more than they can ship.  When loan programs receive supplies they cannot use, they in turn pass items to others who can use them for medical missions.  For instance, excess walkers from the Park Ridge UMC Health Loan Closet will be taken on a mission trip to Haiti.  The closet, which is widely used by the community and church, is operated as part of the church's Christian Care Core health ministry.

A loan network is a model for churches that lack storage space or prefer, for liability

sample dressing devices including sock aids, reachers, and shoe horns
dressing devices available through FUMC

reasons, to remain a third party to loan transactions.  The Medical Equipment Lending Library at Fredericktown (OH) UMC utilizes the network model.  Members notify the library of equipment they will store in their homes but are willing to loan to others.  The office maintains a list of items available and provides contact information so persons needing equipment can call individuals who have items for loan.  The

loan devices including page magnifier, bent spoons, and long sponges
other sample devices

program is publicized through the newsletter and neighboring churches, but mostly by word of mouth.  When members fill out a "menu of ministry" form during the annual stewardship campaign, options to select from include "lend medical equipment" and "contribute to the equipment lending library".  


At the Scioto Ridge UMC in Hilliard, OH, Parish nurse Barb Williamson coordinates the Medical Equipment Lending Network.  Members contact her to offer equipment or to request items when they are released from a hospital or care facility.  The person needing the devices contacts the owner and makes the arrangements, but Barb may deliver the items if the recipient needs this assistance.  She is familiar with the equipment from prior visits to the persons who are now lending the devices, and only lists items in good repair.


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   Occupational Therapy Practitioners Strengthen Local and Conference-wide Disability Ministries

Occupational therapy (OT) may be the least understood rehabilitation discipline, as many people believe that occupation means putting people back to work.   OT practitioners are trained to facilitate a person's full participation in his or her environment of choice, and to help people gain as much independence as possible.  This makes OT practitioners an excellent resource for guiding congregations to enable members with disabilities to identify and offer their gifts within the church body. 

Occupational therapy assistant Angie Kidd finds many ways to use her OT expertise at Ligonier UMC in Ligonier, IN.  She initiated the Health Ministry Network, which takes a broad view of health to include reaching out to families affected by disability.  Network activities include leading the annual Disability Awareness month, promoting accessibility, and assisting children of varying abilities in vacation Bible school.  Angie co-leads a support group for families of adults with disabilities.  She found that the American Red Cross "Family Caregiving" curriculum was appropriate for training people who care for

photo of Chris and Angie Kidd
Chris and Angie Kidd
parents and adult children with disabilities.  She supplements the sessions with information from her OT practice.  Angie and her husband Chris play major roles in the operation of the Depot medical loan program.  As an OT practitioner, Angie is able to match an individual with the best wheelchair, ensuring that the chair not only fits that person and home environment but also enhances the person's ability to function. 


Occupational therapist Roger Barker is the chair of the Arkansas Annual Conference Committee on Disability in addition to running the H.E.L.P. loan closet at

business card for H.E.L.P with logos and church contact information
business card for H.E.L.P.

his congregation.  Church accessibility is one of his passions.  His background as an OT enables him to take a holistic approach to accessibility.  Rather than focusing only on ADA regulations and measurements, he also looks at the human factor.  Roger assists the Conference and its churches to examine inclusivity and to overcome attitudinal barriers that still exist.  The committee is compiling a directory of disability-related programs in the conference.  They plan to gather accessibility information from churches by using an on-line survey process. 

One local activity that Roger is planning is a hands-on day of mission.  The event will take place on a Sunday.  Church members will meet, then spread out to support people with disabilities through ramp-building, respite, visitation, and other services.  Through his medical connections Roger can identify programs, families and individuals needing assistance. He would love to see this carried out on a conference-wide or connection-wide basis and become a powerful Disability Awareness Sunday observation.


Jody Clingenpeel, an occupational therapist in Anchorage AK, applies her skills to teaching a Sunday School class for high school youth with significant disabilities.  The class at St. John UMC started when a church secretary, who has son with Down syndrome, approached the Special Needs Task Force about a class where her son could participate.  The class has grown through word of mouth advertising.  It takes place Sunday evenings prior to the contemporary worship service.  As an OT, Jody modifies activities for students' short attention spans and need for consistency.  She also adapts the environment and finds the right tools and equipment to help her students succeed. 

Through the Special Needs Task Force Jody addresses church accessibility issues, for instance identifying drinking fountain options for persons who use wheelchairs.  She demonstrated adaptive equipment and provided a home safety check list at a "Falls Prevention" table.  Jody participated in a church mission trip to Cameroon where she fit children and adults with PET � (Personal Energy Transportation) mobility devices.  These

African man with both legs amputed in his new PET wooden hand crank cart
new PET owner

are wooden carts with large wheels that are operated by hand cranks attached to bicycle gears.  PET devices are effective in many terrains where standard wheelchairs won't work.  (The program was started by UM Rev. Mel West of Columbia, MO.) Jody adjusted the seats and trained recipients to get into and out of the carts.  She used her OT knowledge to teach other persons with disabilities, for instance a woman with back pain made worse by leaning forward to do most of her household chores on the ground.  Others had been paralyzed by strokes.  Jody found people receptive to simple ideas that made their lives easier.   


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Parish Nurses are Valuable Partners in Disability Ministry      

From the onset of a disability, a parish nurse can accompany families and individuals through the health care maze.   Parish nurse Pat Thorlton of North UMC in Indianapolis is often present at bedside as soon as she hears of the hospitalization.  She helps the family ask questions to better understand the diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment options.  She serves as an advocate to ensure that individuals receive appropriate medical care. As a church staff member, she also works closely with the pastors to make sure spiritual needs are met. 

Parish nurse Barb Williamson of Ohio plays an active part of the Scioto Ridge UMC Health and Wellness Team which offers health screenings, CPR training, immunizations, blood drives, and other services.  She is also central to her church's loan network precisely because she visits people in the hospital after surgery and finds that equipment is needed.  She may deliver the equipment when she makes a home visit after discharge. 

Per the United Methodist Parish-Faith Community Nurse website: " Parish-Faith Community nurses are specially trained Registered Nurses with active licensure who direct and coordinate health and wellness ministry programs within a congregation in partnership with the pastor and other church staff. These health ministry programs are developed to meet the unique needs of each congregation across the life span of its members. The parish-faith community nurse acts as an integrator of faith and health as an educator, counselor, coordinator of volunteers, resource and referral agent, and advocate."

Health ministry services, such as meal delivery, rides to medical appointments, and visitation of persons who are unable to get out, are an important ongoing source of support for individuals with a new or chronic disability and their families.  


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United Methodist Parish-Faith Community Nurse Program is offered through the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) as part of UMCOR/Health.  Parish nurses and health advocates may join a listserv to connect with others who share their interest.  General information on health ministry and faith-community nursing is available, along with links to related organizations.

Health Ministries Association is an ecumenical membership organization of parish nurses and others who carry out ministries of health and wellness in faith communites.  An annual conference provides inspiration, education, and networking. 

Church Health Center is the new home of the International Parish Nurse Resource Center. The site offers a wide range of resources about wellness and parish nursing. Site editors publish a health ministry magazine entitled Church Health Reader.

Books The Essential Parish Nurse book cover 

The Essential Parish Nurse: ABCs for Congregational Health Ministry (2003) by Deborah L. Patterson.  Cleveland: Pilgrim Press.   

cover of Health, Healing, & WholenessHealth, Healing & Wholeness: Engaging Congregations in Ministries of Health (2005) by Mary Chase-Ziolek.  Cleveland: Pilgrim Press. 

Both books are available through Northwest Parish Nurse Ministries and other sources.


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As you enter this season of Lent may your daily disciplines and devotions bring you closer to the One who welcomed all persons, especially those on the margins of society.  May Christ call you into ever deeper partnership in reordering our communities so that all are persons are valued and supported.


We pray that you will join us in carrying out the mission of the Task Force: Through advocacy, education and empowerment, the United Methodist Task Force on Disability Ministries will lead the UMC in creating a culture where people with disabilities are fully included in all aspects of worship, leadership and ministry. 



United Methodist Task Force on Disability Ministries

Contact us through the Task Force email address