Disability Ministries

Disability Ministries fosters awareness by educating individuals and congregations about the various needs of those with disabilities and promote inclusion within the church. In addition, we resource for local churches attempting to develop ministries that are attitudinally and architecturally accessible.The following links are online resources for a variety of disability concerns and needs:

Disability Related News
Disabilities 101
Disability-Related United Methodist Organizations
Media and Other Resources

For additional resources in support of deaf ministries visit: https://www.umdeaf.org

Materials to guide your church in celebrating Disability Awareness in the local church. 

Celebrating Disability Awareness Sunday in your Local Church

In October, 2017 I was privileged to attend the Bishop’s Summit on Diversity and Inclusion.  This summit focused on ministering to persons with disabilities.  We heard Rev. Giovanni Arroyo, Bishop Peggy Johnson, Rev. Leo Yates and Rev. Dr. Felicia Williams speak about their personal experience as they helped us explore how to “build holy relationships across disabilities.”

The UMC Social Principles implore us to recognize and affirm the personhood and humanity of all individuals and to recognize all individuals as full members of the family of God.  We are also urged to take responsibility to be in ministry to as well as advocate for the rights of all persons with all types and kinds of disabilities. We are to affirm and help all persons with disabilities achieve their rightful place in both church and society.

During the summit Rev. Arroyo asked us to engage each other in conversations that focused on our next steps and action planning.  As I listened to groups, around me I was heartened to hear the deep concern and care reflected in the conversations about this issue.  I noticed that many discussions centered on preparing our church buildings to receive persons with disabilities, practical things like handicapped parking, ramps and other means of accessibility.  While these next steps are needful and should be addressed, I believe we need to take the conversation further.

As a retired teacher with 36 years of experience working with children with various types of disabilities and as a grandmother to a two year old grandson with special needs, I believe we need to recognize that the term disabilities is a very large umbrella. Under this umbrella reside many unique individuals with varied needs.  Persons with disabilities may be any age.  Their particular disability may be physical, developmental, intellectual, emotional, psychological, or any combination thereof.  And each individual comes with a family that also has needs. I also recognize that each congregation of UMC also has a unique set of circumstances including their facilities, their members’ gifts, talents and abilities as well as finances.  So I ask myself, where do we begin?

Making our churches, large and small, as accessible as possible is good to do, but it is not enough.  What, should the real next steps be?   To answer this question I turn to scripture thinking, “What did Jesus do?”  Jesus is our example in all things, and I know the Bible has many accounts of Jesus’ interactions with persons with various disabilities. Jesus encountered persons who had physical limitations such as blindness, being lame or crippled.  Others had intellectual limitations and could not understand.  Still others had emotional or psychological disabilities such as being possessed with evil spirits or demons.  What did Jesus do to minister to these individuals, and can His ministry be a model for our own? 

First, while Jesus did teach in the temple, we know persons with disabilities were considered unclean and excluded from the temple.  Jesus went out into the community to preach and teach and this is where he encountered persons with disabilities.

Secondly, Jesus saw them.  Jesus did not walk by and shun persons with disabilities, he noticed these persons.  Jesus stopped and spoke to the very people others ignored, despised and marginalized.

Third, Jesus asked them what they wanted.  The Son of God had no need to ask, but He did.  He asked and He listened and let each person tell Him their deepest desire.

Fourth, Jesus gave each person what they asked for.  If they wanted to walk, He healed them.  If they wanted to see, He healed them.  If they wanted to touch the hem of His garment, He let them.

Fifth, Jesus also gave them what they really needed.  Their sins were forgiven and they walked away from Him with a wholly new relationship with God.

Sixth, and finally, Jesus restored each person to their community, with the same rights and privileges the rest of the community enjoyed.  They were no longer outcasts.

No matter what term we use; disabled, handicapped, mentally ill, differently abled, special needs, they all imply that these persons are somehow “other” than us.  But Jesus, and therefore the UM Social Principles, say differently.  Every person, while unique, is the same in the essential ways that matter.  We are all children of God, who in our humanity, need to know the grace and love of God through Jesus Christ.  Therefore, I propose we model our ministry after Jesus’. I urge each UM church to go out into their community and notice those individuals who are marginalized due to their disability.  Ask them what they need and seek to serve them.  Give them the love and grace of God and teach them about Jesus.  Through the advocacy of our voice and with our vote, help restore persons with disabilities to the full privileges of both church and society.

Jesus gave us the action plan we need.  It’s up to each of us to help discern how our church, whether large or small, urban or rural, will respond.  None of us are exempt from this important ministry.  Whether or not our local community has persons with disabilities that we can directly minister to, we each have a part in advocating justice and mercy for all persons with disabilities.  As God’s word tells us in Micah 6:8 “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”   Amen and Amen.

 Kriss Bodnar

Serving with the Justice and Advocacy Committee

Member First United Methodist Church Williamstown