This is a week of great excitement for many of us, and of new beginnings for many others. It is Annual Conference.
Some Conferences are beginning or reigniting their Disability Ministries, and it is exciting to see that hearts, as well as eyes and ears, are opening to the realities of our differently abled brothers and sisters. They are learning what roadblocks might keep us from attending church, or participating in leadership roles, and what steps we as the church can take to open the literal and figurative doors. I know of one Conference, which has not had an active committee, that is giving a full hour on stage to its new committee this weekend. What an exciting time for this Conference!
The United Methodist Women have focused their Children and Youth Study for 2014 on “The Church and People with Disabilities: Awareness, Accessibility, and Advocacy” with a wonderful study book written by our own Bishop Peggy A. Johnson. Mission U (formerly the School of Christian Mission) has used members of the United Methodist Committee on DisAbility Ministries to serve as faculty for the new study. How wonderful that our United Methodist Women are seeking to understand and promote the cause of inclusiveness within the church. To paraphrase Romans 8:31, if they are for us, who can be against us?
For those Conferences that do not have Disability Committees or Ministries, let this be a time of reflection, consideration, and action. It is estimated that in the United States in 2012 approximately 12% of the populated experienced some form of disability.
Sadly, more than 66% of those people were unemployed, and 28% lived below the poverty line. Only 22% of these people had less than a high school diploma, yet they were unable to apply their education toward meaningful employment.
Many Conferences have adopted the “Areas of Mission Focus” model, including Leadership Development, Congregational Development, Compassion & Justice, and Partners in Ministry, or similarly named working groups. Surely statistics like those I named would justify a Disability Committee or Ministry placed under Partners in Ministry (“ministries that connect with and engage local churches in embracing diversity and inclusiveness”) or Compassion & Justice (“ministries that build and expand capacity in local churches for social justice advocacy and missional commitment in the areas of global health and ministries with the poor and persons who are marginalized”). While the disabled within their congregation or community might not be “global,” they certainly might be considered “poor” and “marginalized.”
This is a day of new beginnings. Let us praise God for renewed commitments to truly open hearts, open minds, and open doors.
Dear Creator God, We thank you that each of us is fearfully and wonderfully made, in your likeness, in our own unique way. We ask that you give us hearts that are strong enough to bear the hurt of rejection, determined enough to carry on the fight for acceptance and inclusion, and joyful enough to radiate the light of your love to a sometimes dark and distracted world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.