The United Methodist Task Force on Disability Ministries met August 8-11 at the University of Denver in Colorado. The University is historically related to the United Methodist Church. As with previous years, members came from all of the jurisdictions within the United States. The meeting also included representatives from the Committee on Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministries and the Association of Ministers with Disabilities.
As has been typical, the meeting opened with a time of fellowship, where new members could become acquainted and all could renew our acquaintance with each other. This also included a time of explanation of arrangements and logistics, as we were sharing the facilities with other groups. We also renewed our membership covenant, which calls for personal involvement in the committee and concern for each other. We also shared some events and developments in our conferences and areas. Deb Wade led Vespers, using I Samuel 16.1-13 to talk about our devotional theme, how God sees individuals with gifts, while humans often focus on limitations, and thereby fail to understand God's will.
On Thursday, we began our work as Tim Vermande offered Lauds, based on John 5.5-9, the healing at Bethsaida. Again, focusing on God's vision, we considered how Jesus spoke to one man whom so many had ignored over the years. The text indicates that more that just healing, Jesus also restored the man to wellness and thus made him a part of the community.
We continued with a conversation with Bishop Peggy Johnson and then set to committee work. We began by breaking into cross-committee groups to discuss the work ahead. Later, we met as committees, and then considered plans for the next quadrennium, beginning with becoming a standing committee in 2013.
As part of this process, we celebrated the passage of four of the five petitions we and the UM Association of Ministers with Disabilities presented to General Conference 2012. The petition to provide for a Disability Awareness Sunday as a special Sunday was approved by a sub-committee but did not move out of committee.
That evening, we went to University Park UMC, which is across the street from the campus, for "Beyond Accessibility 2012," a community program organized by our vice-chair, Russell Ewell. Rev. Thomas Hudspeth delivered the opening prayer:
Let us pray.
O God of Bethesda, by your waters of healing, came the living water, who restores and fulfills 30 years of hope.
O God of the Jordan, by the waters of healing, as adversaries of Israel received restoration and faith.
Gracious God, in your divine community, made flesh though the cross-scarred hands, feet, and side, all people are restored, may hope, and given a place at your table.
We, your sons and daughters, ask for your forgiveness for allowing your churches to become places of estrangement and separation for people with disabilities.
Send forth your spirit and touch the waters of your church so that all may receive healing, hope, and restoration in the image of your Son.
We ask for your blessing upon us gathered here that we might become your bearers of good news, your angels of hope to the millions of people who await the command to rise up and enter your communities of work, family, education, and faith.
This we pray in the divine triune community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and let the people say Amen.
Panel members Dr. Debbie Creamer, Yvette Plummer, Dr. Eric Pridmore, Debbie Wade, and Patricia Zigler, moderated by Jackie Burgess, discussed the relationship of church and the disability community. The program also included information tables staffed by several local organizations.
On Friday, we began with devotions presented by Debby Newman, who talked about the "hills" that often seem to be barriers, but not if we approach them. During the day, we heard from Lynn Swedberg, disability consultant to UMCOR, Tom Hudspeth, Deaf consultant to UMCOR, and Eric Pridmore, co-chair of the Association of Ministers with Disabilities.
Later in the day, we conducted our business meeting, which included adopting by-laws in preparation for becoming a standing committee.
On Saturday, we began with devotions from Sharon McCart, who told a story about four students whom no one else wanted, but who formed a bond of friendship with the others. She linked this to Mark 2.1-12, speaking of the value of friends and determination. We heard presentations about disability culture, as we considered our role in newly-mandated cultural competency training for annual conference members. We also heard from Bob Carlisle about the new certification program in Disability Ministry.
As we have usually done, the meeting concluded with a service of Communion, led by Eric Pridmore. This conclusion to our time together serves to remind us of our mission, and after that, we then began to return to our homes.