logo for UM Committee on Disability Ministries
March 2013Vol. 3  No. 2
Three female attendees standing next to male attendee seated in a power wheelchair
Participants in VA Faith Inclusion Network Conference 


of the

United Methodist

 Disability Connection


Greetings in Christ!   


Changing the culture of the church so that people with disabilities and their families are fully included is a daunting task, and it is easy to believe that you are alone in the project.  To counter the isolation, a number of communities have formed interfaith disability coalitions that come together to educate congregations and lead the way to a more inclusive community. 
Could an interfaith disability group work in your region? Joining forces with others in your community could be especially helpful in annual conferences without an active disability committee.  
We find common ground in the need to break down barriers to full participation in society.  We strengthen each other as we face and overcome the challenges. In the process, we, as children of Abraham, eliminate stereotypes and learn from each other.
Lynn Swedberg
In This Issue
National Interfaith Coalitions Advocate for Mental Health Services
Regional Interfaith Disability Inclusion Networks
Upcoming Events
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National Interfaith Coalitions Advocate for Improved Access to Mental Health Services
In the wake of the Newtown shootings, faith-based organizations realize the need for a unified response that will improve access to mental health services. Fear of stigma may keep some persons from seeking assistance. Government agencies are asking the churches to find ways to reduce the perceived stigma. As a part of this effort, the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society and General Board of Global Ministries are creating a bulletin insert that will be available in May. We urge faith community nurses and disability committees to tackle the stigma issue, and hope that pastors will also address mental illness and congregational support from the pulpit. Look for materials under the campaign name "Faith and Mental Health: Caring and Sharing" at the Church and Society and the UM DisAbility Committee websites.  
The American Association of Persons with Disability (AAPD) sponsors the Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition (IDAC). Per Ginny Thornburgh, IDAC Convener, this AAPD logo and initials coalition of 32 national religious organizations is preparing a compendium of resources to be used by congregational leaders, disability advocates and others who wish to ensure that the on-going debate on gun control does not stigmatize people with mental illness or deprive them of their rights and freedoms. This online document, "Grounded in Faith: Resources on Mental Health and Gun Violence," will be available in April. Many know Ginny from her writings and workshops centering on "That All May Worship" and the Accessible Congregations Campaign.  
Congregations, seminaries, denominational boards and church agencies may join the IDAC, which advocates for the rights of persons with disabilities in society as well in the church. With employment of persons with all types of disabilities much lower than in the general population, the IDAC issued a "Statement of Solidarity by the Religious Community Around Employment of People with Disabilities." Organizations are encouraged to sign the statement, and to advocate for employment opportunities in church-based as well as community settings.  
Pathways to Promise is another cooperative effort to equip congregations and graphic of Pathways to Promise Ministry and Mental Illness denominations to more effectively incorporate persons with mental illness. They have new resources on coping with violent events, including a link to a webpage with extensive materials. Rev. Craig Rennebohm, executive director for Pathways, offers his insights about the shootings in an article in the March 2013 newsletter. Other articles touch on suicide, creating a caring congregation, and our January VOICE article about building a comprehensive dementia ministry.

Regional Interfaith Disability Inclusion Networks Provide Community Training and Support
The Faith Inclusion Network of Dallas is just one year old, and recently held the first of three annual symposia on disability inclusion. Funded by a grant from the Texas Council on Developmental Disabilities, and housed in Jewish Family Service of Greater Dallas, the logo for Faith Inclusion Network of Dallas, with stylized people holding hands to form an arch and others inside the building representing different disabilities network is already bringing people together who share the passion for inclusion. The recent symposium, Spreading the Light of Inclusion in Faith Communities, the first of three planned, was a success. 

Teri Kachur, mother of a daughter with multiple disabilities, is the staff person and driving force behind the Dallas coalition. UM Pastor Kenny Dickson is an active member of the planning team, his interest sparked through his daughter who has autism. He is
Kenny Dickson wearing his pieces of the puzzle autism awareness stole
Rev. Kenny DIckson
known for his Autism Awareness stole, which he proudly wears during most worship services. Similarly, Karen Jackson, who founded and is Director of the Faith Inclusion Network (FIN) of Hampton Roads in Virginia, has a
Rosemarie Hughes and Karen Jackson
daughter with autism. New to the FIN board is Dr. Rosemarie Hughes, an active UM lay member with an adult son who has disabilities. All have sought acceptance and inclusive opportunities for
 their children. One unique feature of the Virginia group is a web listing of network churches that welcome people with disabilities.

The Dallas project surveyed parents and self-advocates and discovered that families perceived a lack of training in community organizations, a lack of trained volunteer support, and a lack of understanding of the families' needs. "Parents have made it clear that they are looking for a place where they and their families can sit side by side with others who see the strengths in our children and who develop authentic relationships with us," said Teri. The focus of the symposium was to expose faith community leaders to the resources that are out there, because without leadership buy in and supportive preaching, most programs will flounder. The planners intentionally reach out to leaders because "grass roots efforts only work if you water them strategically."   

The two Faith Inclusion Networks have no connection, although the Dallas organizers were familiar with the Hampton Roads group when they selected their name.  These coalitions would love to see Faith Inclusion Networks available to offer education and resources throughout the country. 
Similar groups are the Interfaith Disabilities Network of Oregon (IDNO), and the New Jersey Coalition for Inclusive Ministries. The ten year old Oregon
Oregon IDNO logo with 2 stylized standing figures leaning over a sun
IDNO logo
group meets monthly for planning and support. They are currently holding a series of "Lunch and Learn" sessions which are held at churches in different counties throughout the state. The lunches bring together panels of people living with various disabilities to tell their stories of connecting with or having difficulty accessing local congregations.  Contact Secretary Corrine Spiegel for more information.   The New Jersey group, active since 1997, keeps New Jersey logo with open door and welcome mat members throughout the state involved and informed through a listserv. The FIN in Virginia maintains a disability resource lending library in one member church. FIN Dallas plans to begin offering webinars and an interactive community calendar. All of the networks are seeking additional volunteers and partner churches.

The FIN Virginia group held a recent "That All May Worship" conference that was well attended. Rosemarie Hughes, reflecting on the event, wrote: "When we come together in the Faith Inclusion Network (FIN) it is more than information-it is celebration. We celebrate the gifts inherent in every individual who is created by a FIN Virginia logo showing hands holding a heart with the international access symbol superimposed mysterious, numinous, powerful God who yet knows the number of the hairs on our head. There is caring in FIN, there is loving in FIN, there is rejoicing in FIN, and there is humility in FIN. We recognize the value of each of us, no matter our ability or disability. There is no social status in FIN-we are all equally precious in God's sight."

Upcoming Events 

Local Church Leadership Training for Including Persons                   April 20, 2013     with disABILITIES in the Life of Your Congregation (UMC)                                     Cinnaminson, NJ             

Keynote Speaker is the Rev. William Gaventa.  Workshop options: Christian education, technology, pastoral care, and Deaf ministries.  See the flyer for registration information, or contact Jackie Burgess (GNJ), Barbara Skarbowkski (EPA), and Rebecca Kelly (PDC). 


Before and Beyond the Benediction                                                April 26 - 28, 2013

Birmingham, MI 

Subtitle: Inclusion of People with Disabilities in the Community, with speakers Dr. Eric Carter and the Rev. Sue Montgomery, the conference is for organizations, agencies, caregivers, and faith communities who want to partner to make inclusion a reality.  Check the flyer or contact Cindy Merton for information, 


Disability Ministries Role in the Church (UMC)                                      April 28, 2013     

Anniston, AL

This course for pastors and church leaders aims to help participants understand common disabilities and learn ways for their churches to be involved in disability ministries. For more information see the committee website or contact Deb Wade, North Alabama Conference disABILITY Ministries convener and course instructor.                


Through the Roof Disability Summit                                                         May 18, 2013

Westlake Village, CA

Sponsored by Joni and Friends, the summit subtitle is "The Irresistible Church: Go, Compel, and Fill."  For information check the website or contact Cynthia Berry


Disability Awareness (UMC)                        On line                   June 4 - June 28, 2013

This course covers the nature of disabilities through the lifespan. It includes the history of disability, theories, laws, policies, attitudes, and resources.  The class (MC591-DA-o-D(2) meets one of the requirements for Certification in Ministry with People with Disabilities. Taught by Rev. Naomi Annandale of Vanderbilt University.  Check the United Theological Seminary website for more information.  


Welcoming People with Disabilities in Faith Communities            June 10 -15, 2013

Shawnee, KS, and Kansas City, MO

This week-long intensive course is a cooperative initiative between Central Baptist Theological Seminary and University of Missouri-Kansas City Institute for Human Development.  For more information download the flyer or contact Steven Guinn.


Widening the Welcome Conference 2013                                              June 27, 2013

Long Beach, CA

"Inclusion for All," with UM pastors Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder from Mental Health Ministries and Rev. Kathy Reeves, Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (EDAN) as keynote speakers.  Sponsored by the UCC Disabilities Ministries and UCC Mental Illness Network but planned by an ecumenical group  for an interfaith audience. For registration information see Widening the Welcome.


4th Annual Summer Institute on Theology and Disability                  July 15-19, 2013 

Toronto, Ontario, Canada
ncludes options for attending one day or the full week.  Sponsored by The Elizabeth M. Boggs Center on Developmental Disabilities and the Bethesda Institute.   

More information is on-line at the Bethesda Institute


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The Elizabeth M. Boggs Center on Developmental Disabilities, the parent organization for the New Jersey Coalition for Inclusive Ministries, offers a number of publications on faith community inclusion, many of which can be downloaded from the website.  Among the resources are Autism and Faith: A Journey into Community, Dimensions of Faith and Congregational Ministries with Persons with Developmental Disabilities, and Pastoral Care with People with Disabilities and Their Families. 

Believing, Becoming, Belonging: Stories of Faith Inclusion (2002) is a 10 minute DVD by inclusion DVD image the Wisconsin Council on Developmental Disabilities that shares four stories of persons with disabilities participating as full members of their congregations.  Captioned in English and Spanish, the DVD and companion booklet may be requested through the Boggs Center.

Joni and Friends, sponsor for the "Through the Roof Summit: The Irresistible Church," retains many MP3 audio files and pdf handouts from past workshops on their website. Topics include creating a safe environment, ways to grow your ministry, disability etiquette, children with autism, and conducting a disability ministry survey.  An extensive handout on "Developing a Disability Ministry" guides churches through a step by step process.  


The North Alabama Conference Disability Ministries Committee posted a new article on "Mental Illness - A Brief Look: Help for Churches" written by UM DisAbility Committee chair Deb Wade. 


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Thanks to our readers for helping us receive a 2012 All Star Award winner designation, which places us in the top 10% of newsletters published through Constant Contact. 


May you have a blessed Easter, and may you find allies in your community so that you know you aren't alone in the struggle to achieve full inclusion in your faith communities.  Please tell us about disability coalitions that we may not have heard about!



United Methodist Committee on DisAbility Ministries

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Contact us through the Committee email address.