logo of the United Methodist Task Force on Disability Ministries
April 2012Vol. 2  No. 4 
Volunteers passing out Task Force info at General Conference
Volunteers passing out Task Force information at General Conference


of the

United Methodist

 Disability Connection


Greetings in Christ! 


We are pleased to introduce the new logo of the United Methodist Disability Connection this month.  You may wonder: who makes up the Connection?  You do, as a reader of this newsletter!  You may be a part of a United

Stylized image of cross, person standing, person using wheelchair in front of church with words Opening Hearts Opening Minds Opening Doors United Methodist DisAbility Connection
Disability Connection Logo

Methodist congregation or agency, and want to ensure that you are doing all you can to welcome people of all abilities to full participation.  You may belong to a different denomination but connect with us in order to learn more about disability and the church within United Methodism. 


The Connection is an historic term within the Methodist movement that describes how we relate to each other.  When we started the newsletter, we realized that many people were engaged in disability ministry, but few were aware of each other.  Our prayer is that the newsletter will serve as a tool to bring about a vital Disability Connection. 


Many thanks to Nancy Bryan for adapting the logo she created for the North Texas Annual Conference for use by the Task Force.  Task Force members and volunteers were highly visible wearing Caribbean blue T-shirts with the logo at General Conference.


Lynn Swedberg, Editor

In This Issue
General Conference News
Functions of the Conference Committee on Disability Concerns
What's Happening in Conference Committees?

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General Conference News 
Two women in Disability Connection T-shirts
St. James volunteers

Members of the Long-range planning committee attended the first week of General Conference as visitors to promote awareness of the Task Force and to speak to legislation the Task Force submitted.  A terrific crew of volunteers and participants from St. James UMC (Tampa) Special Connections program spent two mornings helping to pass out "palm cards" with information on the Task Force and disability resources.  


One reason the newsletter is delayed is that we wanted to share the latest information on our petitions with you. The petition asking that the Task Force become a standing committee  



Task Force members and service dog in front of convention center
Atlas, Eric, Lisa, Al, and Lynn

was adopted (880 to 25) by the plenary session, as was the resolution that each annual conference have a theme around disability at one session in the upcoming quadrennium (870 to 33).  The petition asking that the term "Incapacity Leave" be replaced with "Medical Leave" passed as well, 889 to 20.  The request that Disability Awareness Sunday be an official "Sunday with Offering" was supported in subcommittee but did not make it out of the assigned committee. 


We are so thankful for the delegates who agreed that the church needs more focus on disability  and passed the legislation.  We made many new friends in the process.  We are already preparing for a similar visibility campaign for General Conference 2016 in Portland, OR! 




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Paragraph 653: Functions of the Conference Committee on Disability Concerns 

Past General Conference legislation outlined the role of the Conference Committee on Disability Concerns, reprinted here.  See the next article for examples of how various committees are carrying out their mandates. 


�653. There shall be in each annual conference a committee on disability concerns or other structure to provide for the functions of this ministry and maintain the connectional relationships.

   1.   The basic membership of the committee shall be nominated and elected by the established procedures of the respective annual conference.  Each annual conference shall determine the number and composition of the total membership. Membership shall include persons with physical disabilities and persons with mental disabilities.

   2. It shall be the responsibility of this committee:

 a) To be aware of, and advocate for, the role of persons with disabilities in ministry, including ordained and diaconal ministries and local church and annual conference leadership positions.

St. James volunteers helping at General Conference
St. James volunteers promoting disability awareness

 b) To advocate for and help develop programs within the annual conference that meet the needs of persons with disabilities.

 c) To be informed about current ministries within the annual conference that are related to persons with disabilities.

 d) To develop ways to sensitize persons in leadership positions on issues that affect persons with disabilities and therefore the entire Church.

 e) To foster cooperation among ministries with the annual conference that focus on specific disabilities (deaf, deafened, hard of hearing, developmental disabilities, mental retardation, mental illness, visual impairment, physical disabilities, etc.)

 f) To be a resource for local churches who are attempting to develop ministries that are attitudinally and architecturally accessible.

 g) To promote the full inclusion of persons with disabilities in the life of the local church and the annual conference.

h) To participate in jurisdictional accessibility associations in the sharing of knowledge and resources.

Source: The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2008 (Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House), pp 457-458.


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What's Happening in Conference Disability Concerns Committees? 


Annual Conference Committees on Disability are the backbone of the Disability Connection.  Such committees take on different shapes.  The largest have part time staff and representatives from each District who meet regularly.  The smallest are incorporated into an umbrella committee, with perhaps only one or two individuals specifically representing disability issues. 

Western Jurisdiction Conferences struggle with large territories which makes meeting in person difficult.  These conferences have fewer churches and limited funding and staffing.

Yellowstone - The Conference includes Disability Awareness in the Guiding Values Team.  This team also covers Religion and Race, Status and Role of Women, and Peace with Justice, but takes seriously the charge to promote disability awareness.  Contact Rev. Karen Disney for more information.

California-Pacific - Rev. Sharon McCart is spearheading a grassroots movement to help the conference address issues relating to disability and the church.  She started a Facebook page which is generating a lively dialogue.  This resulted in conversation with the conference about reestablishing a disability work group.

Desert Southwest - Howard Guetherman is working to get a committee established, and hopes to offer the UM Disability Concerns Workshop (the Power point and trainers manual are available online) for lay speaking credit.  He wants to hear from others who share his passion for increasing disability awareness in churches.

Pacific Northwest/ Oregon-Idaho/ Alaska Missionary - As these conferences will soon share a bishop, it could be effective to establish an Episcopal area task force to share resources and ensure that accessibility and inclusion are addressed. Contact Lynn Swedberg for more information. 

The Southeastern Jurisdiction includes several well-established committees with programs and resources they are eager to share.  Other conferences have not yet made disability a priority. 

Virginia - The Commission on Disabilities website offers a new Disability Awareness Sunday liturgy each year.  The committee provides funding for camps for children who areCover showing steep steps and the word Accessibility deaf or hard of hearing, and for youth and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  They offer accessibility and program grants and fund scholarships and summer internships.  The office has a Braille embosser and transcribes weekly bulletins for churches needing this service.  They help ensure Annual Conference accessibility, which includes ASL interpretation and captioning of sessions.  The conference magazine recently published an issue devoted to disability and the church.  Contact Martha Stokes at the Conference office to learn more.

North Alabama - The Disability Ministries Committee is expanding its Bridge Builder Award program to honor the District that has done the most in terms of accessibility in the past year.  The conference now requests that each church complete an accessibility audit as part of preparation for charge conference, and placed the paperwork on the conference Dashboard for ease of use.  The Committee is a conference Advance Special and provides accessibility grants to local churches.  A 3- hour workshop offered in each district helps pastors fulfill the Discipline requirement for training on disabilities.  Contact Chair Debbie Wade for further information or to receive the committee newsletter.  

The Northeastern Jurisdiction Conferences have many active committees, and collaborate on offering workshops and training sessions.  The presence of Bishop Peggy Johnson, who continually advocates for disability awareness, has strengthened this region.

Western Pennsylvania - The committee will launch an awareness campaign during Annual Conference, with slides, bathroom posters, and T-shirts asking "What do you see?" on the front and "What does God see?" on the back.  Proposed legislation calls for having a representative from each district to serve on the committee.  Chair Rev. Debbie Hills will receive the conference Denman award for her work in disability ministry.

Baltimore-Washington - The Commission on Disability Concerns will show a three minute video during plenary at Annual Conference, and several times a day during breaks.  The video includes disability awareness quotes and pictures of ministries from throughout the conference.  Three 30 second spots will also play daily, per chair Rev. Nancy Webb.

Look for more updates in future issues of The VOICE. 


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Updates: Task Force Website and Social Media 


We've added several features to our on-line presence in the last month.  With the help of

butterfly on flower
image from Easter devotion

Resource Member Gary Dillensnyder we prepared a weekly Lenten devotion using scripture, a short comment, and a photo. We'll continue this, focusing on the church year calendar, so the frequency will vary.

We've added a "Welcome" page to the site. This page tells about the Task Force and its mission, and contains a brief guide to the site. In the future, we will add illustrations, and link pages and articles at the site to a "Frequently Asked Questions" section, such as "How do I start making my church building more accessible?"

We have also reached out beyond the website. We now have a Pinterest page: UMDisability. Pinterest is a growing social media site that allows rapid sharing and re-sharing of a variety of items found on the Internet. We have three boards: News and Concerns, Books, and Events. We're "pinning" selected items, such as feature and human interest stories, new books about disability, and our own events.

We've added a Twitter feed, also UMDisability. "Tweets" are short messages, limited to 160 characters. We're tweeting new books, important stories, and site news. Both Pinterest and Twitter are primarily one-way communication, although followers can re-post an item to share it. They are not intended to replace our Facebook page, where we encourage discussion and comments.

Links to all of these pages are at the website, on the "Get Involved" page. We look forward to seeing your name on our followers list!

Submitted by Tim Vermande, webmaster 


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PRESS RELEASE: New resource available

One Episcopal and 23 United Methodist ordained and lay ministers join Bishop Peggy A. Johnson of the Philadelphia Area in relating their sometimes heartwarming, other times heartbreaking stories told in Speaking Out: Gifts of Ministering Undeterred by Disabilities. 

Edited by Robert L. Walker, the book unveils many facets of coping with incurable injuries, physical or mental illnesses, and genetic disorders.  Blindness, deafness, ambulatory challenges, brain injuries, and specific illnesses are discussed.  Several of the contributors divulge personal experiences of discrimination by church members and leaders.  Above all else, the book tells of the importance of demolishing physical and attitudinal barriers that prevent both a full acceptance of ministers with disabilities and a willingness to make churches, parsonages, and other facilities wholly accessible.  Each of the 25 writers offers a living testimony that all of them have God-given gifts and were spiritually strengthened during their individual life-journeys, while remaining faithful to their respective calls to church ministry. Cover with colorful abstract painting called Circle Dance

Gracing the book's cover is "Circle Dance," a painting by Donna Fado Ivery, one of the 25 authors.   Sponsoring the book is the United Methodist Association of Ministers with Disabilities (UMAMD), and all royalties will go to that organization.  The book comes in paperback and digital form; the latter ideal for people who have low or no eyesight, or who cannot hold a book or turn its pages.   The book is available through Amazon. 

Submitted by Robert L. Walker.

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Let us know if you will be attending your Annual Conference session this summer and are available to help promote awareness of the Disability Connection and resources available.  We want to keeping the momentum going!  We can supply you with palm cards to distribute, a newsletter sign-up sheet , and a T-shirt to wear for visibility. 


The hand of God was so evident to all of us during our time at General Conference.  We know we are not alone in this work, and offer our praises for the people God is bringing alongside us!



United Methodist Task Force on Disability Ministries

Contact us through the Task Force email address.