Access for All God’s Children — An Advocacy Ministry for The Diocese of West Missouri
Seen and unseen. All manner of human disability is present in our communities. For those living with disabilities, barriers are everywhere. This Fall Bishop Bruce convened a group of persons living with disabilities to address the need we all have for making our churches accessible and accommodating. Our work is to assist the church in doing just that.
Bishop Bruce’s vision is fruit of her prayer, presence, and listening throughout the diocese. She writes,
“On my first visitation to St. James in Springfield, I met a young man named David Britt. David uses a wheelchair. It is difficult for him to speak. He is one of the most articulate and thoughtful people I have ever met.
I thought about David navigating the St. James building itself. I started being more and more aware of the lack of access to not only enter, but to navigate within, our beautiful West Missouri churches for David and for so many others.
I thought and prayed about it, understanding too, that not all access issues that people face are visible to the eye. Through prayer I invited the Very Rev. Peter DeVeau to work with me to convene a group of people including David to work on a plan to educate and address the needs for access for all God’s children here in the diocese.”
1014Let the little children come to me, and do not stop themMark 10:14
Each member of our committee has a story to tell. So do you. We hope that our work will inspire you to talk about disabilities as they affect you and your congregation. And, with God’s help, inspire you to action.
The Access for All God’s Children team in their own words:
The Very Rev. Dean Peter DeVeau, Chairperson
An ischemic stroke in October 2016 affected my left side landing me in the disabled population suddenly and by surprise. Things changed. Retirement from my calling as Dean of the Cathedral would be five years sooner than planned. Active, athletic, and able-bodied self-descriptors would take on entirely altered meanings.
When Bishop Bruce invited me to join others with disabilities in the diocese to build awareness and dignified regard for the “differently abled” among us, I wondered how this might take shape. Several conversations and meetings later with the others the Bishop gathered have convinced me that each of us has a role in providing access for all God’s children. Broken, challenged, and flawed as we are, each has a voice — a calling to serve and include the least among Christ’s own.
I suffered brain damage at birth which led me to have Cerebral Palsy. I’ve been a fighter and thriver for all of my life. I grew up Baptist, but in the winter of 2017, I joined the Episcopal church because of its inclusivity of all of God’s children. I am an active member of St, James in Springfield with a passion for outreach. When Bishop Bruce approached me this last Summer with her idea of creating a new Diocesan committee focused on the inclusion of disabled people she asked me if I would be interested in joining. I told her that I was very much interested. We have a lot of work to do when it comes to the full inclusion of disabled people into our churches. I believe that this committee will make great strides in helping disabled people feel like they’re not just welcomed in our Diocese, they’re wanted.
When my daughter was born prematurely, her diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy steered our family on a new journey. Although I had experience teaching students with “special needs,” living the life is a different challenge. I was involved with her therapies, education and social experiences and along the way have met others with a variety of disabilities. Many of them have become good friends. I am grateful for the chance to continue to learn, grow and help make the church a place of comfort and connection for all of us.
The Rev. Meg Rhodes
Meg Rhodes has served as rector of St. Anne’s, Lee’s Summit since 2012. She also serves as a middle school counselor in Pleasant Hill. In 2009, during her final semester of seminary, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. In her “copious” amounts of spare time, she enjoys being with her family: Eric, Weslee, and Caroline.
The Rev. Deacon Brittany Sparrow Savage
As someone who was born with a learning disability that was diagnosed at an early age, I was very aware of my otherness. The name of my “otherness” was non-verbal perceptual disorder. The disorder lies in how the brain perceives space, distance, and mass. My disability affects my ability to read, write, and grasp abstract concepts. It prevented me from driving. Throughout adolescence and young adulthood, I struggled with my identity as a person with a disability and strove to assimilate into “ableist” cultural norms, but I strove in vain. My mourning was turned into joy when a friend introduced me to disability activists and theologians, who helped me to own my identity as a woman with a disability, identify with the disability community, and then claim my identity as a reflection of the imago Dei. I long to see the church explore postures of hospitality that understand people with disabilities as being an essential part of the gathered church, not despite their disability but because of their disability.
The Rev. Deacon David Wilcox
Growing up with a disability, I was a self-conscious kid and often did my own thing instead of trying to fit in with my peers. One place I always felt at home and able to be myself, however, was the church. The sense of acceptance and safety I found at church helped me accept myself as a disabled person and to grow in self-confidence. Sadly, I know not everyone with a disability has the same experience with the church that I did. My hope for this committee is that we will be able to assist every community of faith in The Diocese of West Missouri in becoming a safe, accessible, welcoming, and accepting place for all God’s people to encounter Jesus and grow in faith.
A Book Study for Lent? We recommend,
My Body is Not a Prayer Request: Disability Justice in the Church, Amy Kenny
If you would like to build awareness for ministering among the disabled in your church and community, here’s a good start. This book lends itself to lively discussion, spiritual reflection, and insightful and incisive thought leading to action and awareness. We invite congregations, clergy, leaders, Bishop’s Committees, Vestries and ministry groups to read Amy Kenny’s book.
With humorous prose and wry wit, Kenny makes a convincing case for all Christians to do more to meet access needs and embrace disabilities as part of God’s kingdom. Inclusivity-minded Christians will cheer the lessons laid out here.”Publishers Weekly
This book is easily obtained through your local bookstore or online. The Bishop is willing to fund 50% of book costs for you or your group. You may submit your requests to the Bishop’s Assistant, Emily Davenport.
An amplified Lenten discussion/reflection guide for My Body is Not a Prayer Request: Disability Justice in the Church, has been prepared by the Rev. Brittany Sparrow Savage and can be accessed via the button bellow.
From the Amazon website
Much of the church has forgotten that we worship a disabled God whose wounds survived resurrection, says Amy Kenny. It is time for the church to start treating disabled people as full members of the body of Christ who have much more to offer than a miraculous cure narrative and to learn from their embodied experiences.
Written by a disabled Christian, this book shows that the church is missing out on the prophetic witness and blessing of disability. Kenny reflects on her experiences inside the church to expose unintentional ableism and cast a new vision for Christian communities to engage disability justice. She shows that until we cultivate church spaces where people with disabilities can fully belong, flourish, and lead, we are not valuing the diverse members of the body of Christ.
Offering a unique blend of personal storytelling, fresh and compelling writing, biblical exegesis, and practical application, this book invites readers to participate in disability justice and create a more inclusive community in church and parachurch spaces. Engaging content, such as reflection questions, and top-ten lists are included.