Monday, July 15, 2013

Conversations with ministers with disabilities: some learnings for BOOMS, DCOMs, DS's, and bishops

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Ministers with disabilities are often underestimated.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.


  1. Thank you David for your teaching and leadership in this often neglected and misunderstood area. Conversations such as these will continue to give the church wisdom to empower and release all God's children for ministry.

    - Rev. Peter Bellini Ph.D.

  2. I've been on oxygen for 10 years, but always had a breathing problem. Four years ago I took incapacity/disability because I couldn't continue to serve as I had been serving. I am so grateful to the United Methodist Church for the disability insurance. Now, I continue to serve God but not in an official church capacity, but mostly outside the church in ways I always wanted to but didn't have the time. I can't physically do many things but I can share with people wisdom and experience from my life. I have to pace myself to have enough energy, but people are understanding and respectful. I even, occasionally, preach but usually from a stool. God is good, all the time.

  3. Thank you for sharing your experiences, bobbyc. It helps to see how people approach such difficult matters.