I recently spent three days with the United Methodist Association of Ministers with Disabilities and the United Methodist Committee on Disability Ministries. It was an enriching experience, to say the least. While I was the one speaking and facilitating discussion, I’m sure I learned at least as much as anyone else. The participants spoke meaningfully and passionately about their experiences as ministers with disabilities, and about the struggles they experienced not only within congregations but in dialogue with boards of ordained ministry, district superintendents, and bishops. As a member of the Miami Valley District Committee on Ordained Ministry and the West Ohio Board of Ordained Ministry, I was listening carefully. Here are some of the insights I gleaned:
- It is undeniable that God calls people with disabilities into ordained ministry. They are not called in spite of their disability. They are called, like all of us who are called, simply to come as they are, seeking the guidance and empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
- Ministers with disabilities are often underestimated.
- If a minister has a disability, it does not mean that he or she is only called to minister with people with a similar disability. For example, a deaf minister may not be called specifically into deaf ministry. Rather, he or she may be called to parish life in a local congregation.
- Ministers with disabilities shouldn't be defined by their disability. They should not be seen first and foremost as disabled ministers, but simply as ministers, congregational leaders called by God and empowered by the Holy Spirit to lead people into life-giving relationship with Christ.
- The Church must model proper attitudes toward people with disabilities. Unfortunately, especially since the passage of the ADA, the secular culture has gotten out in front of us on this. The main concern some churches have with regard to the ADA is the extent to which they are exempt from it. If we are to be the Body of Christ, however, we should be the ones showing the world what justice looks like, and not the other way around.
There’s much more to be shared on this, but I would invite you to engage in such conversations on your own. I’m not a spokesperson for ministers with disabilities. Rather, I’m simply sharing some of what I learned from conversations I have had. If the Church is to make progress in this area, there need to be many more such conversations.