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Today was the last day of the theology and disability course I’ve been teaching this semester at Calvin Seminary. (I know I’m behind in my posting on Clifton’s book, which my students and I walked through. We finished the book, but I’ve been swamped and thus haven’t gotten stuff posted here as quickly as I’d like. But I’ll catch up.)

Today’s discussion was largely a circling back to all the previous material that we’ve discussed. Much of our material has been theoretical in nature: academic theology, philosophy, or disability studies. But today we circled back to the practical concerns that lead my students to sign up for this course since it was an elective.

One of the readings for today was this excellent paper by John Swinton on “From Inclusion to Belonging: A Practical Theology of Community, Disability, and Humanness.” Unfortunately, like much academic work, it’s behind a pay wall. If you’re interested in a copy, send me an email and I’ll make sure you get one.

The other reading was this really valuable resource from Erik Carter and his team: “Welcoming People with Developmental Disability and Their Families: A Practical Guide for Congregations.” Fortunately this one is fully free! So you can make sure to get a copy to the leadership at your church if you think it would benefit your congregation.

The team asked 500+ families to reflect on 14 different potential supports that congregations could provide. For each support, in addition to a brief discussion and practical strategies for implementing it, they indicate both the percentage of respondents that indicated that support would be helpful (the first number), and the percentage of respondents that said their current congregations provide that particular support (the second number).

As you’ll see, the percentages whose congregations provide each particular resource is significantly less than the percentages who think it would be good for their congregation to provide each resource. Given that a lower percentage individuals and families with disabilities regularly attend church than the general population, I suspect that if anything these numbers are likely artificially high. If I’m right about that, then the situation is actually worse than these numbers suggest. And the numbers are already stark:

  • congregation wide disability awareness: 70% / 10%
  • resources and information: 69% / 4%
  • support group: 71% / 12%
  • congregational advocate: 68% / 6%
  • respite care: 61% / 8%
  • spiritual counseling: 65% / 33%
  • modified religious education: 59% / 12%
  • individualized religious education plan: 59% / 11%
  • personal supports: 56% / 18%
  • inclusive worship services: 47% / 7%
  • support during worship services: 48% / 16%
  • financial support of families: 43% / 14%
  • transportation assistance: 34% / 15%
  • greater physical accessibility: 32% / 23%

As they write in the article, “faith communities are incomplete without the presence and participation of people with disabilities and their families” (3).

The central question is how to get local congregations to realize this, to catch the vision of inclusion, and be willing to do the hard work to become more welcoming?

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