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Summer 2013Vol. 3  No. 4
Tizzy leading a signed prayer
Prayer during Birmingham joint meeting


of the

United Methodist

 Disability Connection


Greetings in Christ!  


I hope it has been a fruitful, regenerative summer for you! The highlight of our summer was a joint meeting of the United Methodist Committee on DisAbility Ministries and the United Methodist Association of Ministers With Disabilities. Graciously hosted by the United Methodist Center and several North Alabama churches, we met in Birmingham, Alabama.  In the shadow of many great civil rights monuments and events we met to form new friendships and to discuss ways to impact one of the remaining civil rights issues of our times.  We found strength and support in sharing our stories and joining our voices.  We worked to plan measures which will help achieve full participation of persons living with disabilities in the life of the church.  We know we cannot reach this without the efforts of all of us: those in leadership and those readers who play an equally important role in helping shape attitudes and practices in their local churches, simply by being themselves.


In late July and early August a smaller group of us visited Kenya on a mission trip of the United Methodist Congress of the Deaf.  We made some exciting global connections there, which we will share in the next issue of the VOICE.  


Lynn Swedberg, Editor

In This Issue
Updates from the UM Committee on DisAbility Meeting
UM Association of Ministers with Disabilities Meeting
UMAMWD Member Profile: Jinwook Oh
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Updates from the UM Committee on DisAbility       Annual Meeting
Why does the Committee on DisAbility Ministries meet once a year? While members strive to be good stewards of limited resources by doing most of the work via phone meetings and e-mail, nothing can replace face to face contact. Being an advocate for inclusion of people with disabilities within the life of the church can be lonely, and we are at times dismissed as unrealistic nags!  Many of our members have responsibility for the disability committee in their annual conference in addition to serving on the Committee. Coming together enables us to share ideas and resources so that we don't need to start from scratch. Learning more about the theology of disability helps ground us in Biblical principles and remember why we do what we do. We return refreshed, ready once again to carry out the work to which God has called us. 

Group photo of committee in their blue T-shirts
Meeting in person also helps us assign projects to the appropriate teams. The Long-Range team is working on legislation for General Conference 2016 and looking for sources of funding as well as how to best distribute grants. The Communications team is putting together Disability Awareness Sunday materials and gathering information on appropriate curriculum for persons with intellectual disabilities. The Capacity-Building team is collecting names of Disability contacts in each conference which will be used to build a searchable data base. 

Several new members attended the meeting. Barb Skarbowski of the
Barb, Howard, Allyssa
Barb, Howard, and Allyssa.
Eastern PA conference is a Deaconess in the UMC and works with at-risk youth in addition to chairing her conference committee on disability. Howard Guetherman is attempting to revive a committee in the Desert Southwest conference, and is active in United Methodist Men.  Allyssa Green of North Georgia will start on the committee in October, representing the Southeastern Jurisdiction.

Rev. Sharon McCart of the California-Pacific conference was elected as chairperson, replacing Deb Wade who resigned to better focus on her increasingly busy work as convener of the North Alabama Conference Disability Ministries Team. Barb Skarbowksi will take over the secretary position that Sharon has held. Rev. Tizzy Von Trapp Walker of Virginia was elected as financial secretary, replacing Mike Dyson who represented SEMAR, an organization which is disbanding. Terry McDorman of Northern Illinois agreed to chair the Long-range team. Contact any of these members through the Committee e-mail address.

For more detailed information about the meeting proceedings, please refer to the Summary on our website. Group members meeting in the Bishop's Suite


         UM Association of Ministers with Disabilities            Holds Quadrennial Meeting in Birmingham 

Supported in part by the General Boards of Global Ministries, Church and Society, Pensions, and Higher Education and Ministry, and the office of the Bishop of the Eastern PA Annual Conference, more than twenty members of the UM Association of Ministers with Disabilities (UMAMWD) convened in Birmingham for the first meeting in four years. Some of the ministers are in active ministry while others are retired or on medical leave. Most are ordained, but one seminary student and several lay pastors were present. Many drove or flew across the country in order to be at the meeting. Others badly wanted to attend but were stymied by broken van ramps and inflexible airlines that discriminated in booking tickets when a guide dog needed to be accommodated. Dr. Watson in front of screen with discussion questions

Dr. David Watson of United Theological Seminary was the meeting facilitator. He introduced different aspects of thinking theologically about disability and the Bible, then posed questions for discussion. He covered the historical background for present day attitudes before introducing topics of dealing with assumptions and being a minister with a disability.  
Rev. Jackson Day of General Board of Church and Society led a session where he helped participants define the benefit of being together. He then moved to discerning how best to connect for bringing about needed Jackson Day leading discussion changes. Jackson presented model legislation to be introduced in conferences in 2014, calling for full utilization of the joint committee on clergy medical leave process to support clergy on this status. A separate petition requests that conferences study the potential discrepancies between the UM Social Principles regarding elimination of stigma surrounding mental illness and the 2012 General Conference decision to single out and apply benefit limits for clergy on leave for mental health issues. 
All participants agreed that there is strength in combining efforts for support and advocacy. One suggestion was to form conference-level UMAMWD chapters. Another idea was to come together periodically on a jurisdictional level to decrease travel distances. 
  Eric Pridmore with microphone
The Rev. Dr. Eric Pridmore convened the meetings in the absence of co-chair Rev. Dr. Evy McDonald. Both were re-elected. Rev. Brian Burch was elected secretary, and Rev. Greg Edwards will continue as treasurer. Members volunteered to reestablish and serve on committees on nominations, promotion and publicity, program, legislative action, and continuing education and seminary relations. Volunteers who did not attend the meeting are also welcome to get involved! 
For more information about the meeting and presentations, visit the website of the UMAMWD.  If you are interested in becoming a member, you will also find information on joining the caucus
Members sharing a laugh  
Profile of an UMAMWD Member: Jinwook Oh

When the Rev. Jinwook Oh arrived in the US from Korea for college thirteen years ago, she hoped she would leave issues of disability behind her. Instead she has found her calling serving in a Korean disability ministry called Milal. The ministry, which has received some funding from the Virginia Annual Conference in the past, offers a weekly Korean language Logo of MilAl Mission worship service and fellowship to immigrant Koreans with disabilities in the Richmond, VA, area. Other Milal Mission branches are found throughout the US, Korea, and all over the world.  "MilAl" means grain or seed of wheat.  


One of six children, Jinwook was raised in South Korea. Her father was a teacher, but her mother stayed home to take care of the family, especially after Jinwook contracted polio at 18 months. The family valued education, and since a wheelchair was not affordable, Jinwook's mother carried her on her back to and from school every day. 


After finishing high school, Jinwook realized that no colleges in Korea were accessible. She formed a plan to attend college in the US, tutoring for seven years to raise the supplemental funds needed to come to the US on a scholarship. She found that US campuses were not fully accessible, and that the colleges did not anticipate serving international students who had disabilities. During her undergraduate and graduate seminary and social work studies she encountered discrimination, which has made her a strong self-advocate as well as a powerful advocate for those she serves. Jinwook also discovered that aspects of traditional Korean culture, such as the authority of men, do not necessarily disappear once immigrants are in a new country. Finding acceptance as a female pastor who also has a disability has been challenging at times.  Jinwook Oh seated in wheelchair in front of John Wesley statue

Jinwook's initial contacts were with the Korean Presbyterian Church, but she found herself drawn to the teaching of Wesley that "God's grace is for all" and joined the United Methodist Church. She wants to share that grace with persons who are in care facilities and group homes, away from the supports of their culture. She reaches out to Richmond area facilities, aware that the people who need the services of Milal are isolated and will not be able to find the program. "We have to bring love to them so they can realize that God loves them and their lives are important."

Milal in Richmond especially serves Korean young adults with disabilities who have no family. Jinwook is able to use her skills as pastor and social worker in her work. For instance, she found several individuals isolated in homes where no one else spoke Korean, and has been trying to arrange for them to live together in a group home or other program.  Resources are limited for immigrants.  
Besides worship, a traditional meal is served each week. Other activities include dancing and singing Korean songs. The program is volunteer-intensive, as she is the only staff member. Recruiting and training volunteers, many of them students, is an important part of her job. She also counsels families of persons with disabilities, and does fund raising. For more information contact Jinwook by e-mail.   


Amy Fenton Lee is a Christian educator and Special Needs Consultant who finds herself called to learn everything she can about including children with disabilities in faith communities.  She is the author of a blog called The Inclusive Church, and writes frequent posts.  Many of the posts are based Profile of Amy Fenton Lee on visits to churches with disability ministries, during which she collects information on best practices.  The blogsite is well organized, and contains many practical articles such as "Special Needs and Safety: Elopement" and "Gluten-Free Info Sheets."

Based on her findings, Amy recently created a DVD and compiled and published a book to help local churches expand their ministries.  Her approach helps programs start small with steps they can manage, and grow as skills and resources increase to match the needs encountered.

Leading a Special Needs Ministry: A Practical Guide to Including Children and Loving Families (2013, Cunning, GA: Orange).  The book begins with an entire section on loving Book cover with pinwheel and Leading Special Needs title families and learning to listen to their hopes and needs. From there she provides information for leaders and volunteers, including strategies for adapting programs and managing behaviors.  An appendix provides sample forms and policies.

The companion DVD Surviving to Thriving: Successfully Including the Child with Special Needs (2012, Cunning, GA: Orange) is designed to help train volunteers.  The content includes forms to print, such as a visual schedule.  Amy teaches a variety of concepts based on a case of a young boy who needed significant supports in order to participate in a typical classroom.  If supplemented by hands-on practice the format would lend itself well to a one-day training event for church school teachers.  

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We realize that you, too, need support to help make changes within the church.  The theme of our meeting devotions was Unity, a topic on which we all need to reflect.  We trust that you are with us in spirit, and hope that you know that we hold you in prayer as you hold the Committee and Association and our work in your prayers.  Together in ministry, we can and do make a difference! 



United Methodist Committee on DisAbility Ministries


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Contact us through the Committee email address.