Written by Dr Rod ThompsonPrincipal of Laidlaw College, NZ 

Originally posted at the Laidlaw College site here. Thank you to the college for permission to re-post.

You can find more information about the Theology, Disability, and the People of God conference that was held at Carey Baptist College here.

Swinton-DementiaOne of the best conferences I have been to in my life took place at Carey Baptist College from 1-3 July. It was the Theology, Disability and the People of God Conference, co-hosted by Laidlaw and Carey Baptist Colleges, with special guests Professor John Swinton (from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland) and Professor Amos Yong (from Regent University in the USA) as key-note speakers. About 120 people attended each day.

Most conferences are stimulating intellectually, however this gathering was also moving emotionally and deeply challenging as we asked questions about the practices of churches and other communities – including Colleges – that cause people to sense that they belong within that community. What does it mean to belong in a community? John Swinton argued that we know we belong in a community if, when we are absent, we are missed. To be missed. To have a place in the minds and hearts of others in the community. This is more than inclusion. This is belonging.

A number of us from the Laidlaw College community participated in the conference. Papers were presented by myself and other members of Laidlaw’s community. And we were privileged to mingle and speak with many working within the disability sector throughout the conference.

John Swinton has recently written a book entitled Dementia: Living in the Memories of God, in which he explores what it means to be human, particularly in light of debilitating loss of memory and identity, such as seems to occur for those who have dementia. Swinton’s book is wonderful and I highly recommend it to you.

To see what John has to say about dementia, ageing, identity and friendship click on the video below.

Church

Our church has done many things right in creating a safe and accommodating place for children, including a Plan to Protect® policy, offering to provide workers and they have even offered seminars on children with disabilities. Outside of the children’s programming, though, I know of nothing specifically in place for adults with disabilities except general acceptance. Read More →

This is the fourth in a series of posts written by a mother of a son with autism, reflecting on her experience with her church community. Some of her observations serve as challenges to the way we do church, while others should be encouraging to the people who have made a difference in the lives of her and her family.  The names in this story are fictional, but their experiences are not.


joni1On the Joni and Friends Web Site I listened to an MP3 by Will and Arlyn Kantz and they really understand our needs. Our family can relate to almost every behavioral situation they spoke about, the challenges families face and even the fears of future challenges like puberty, programming, the workers, the sensory issues, congregational reactions, etc.

I would love to have a local church like the ones the Kantz’s help with inclusion programming.
Even one church like this in the area would be great.

I realize this particular couple (Will and Arlyn) not only have an autistic son but have great qualifications.  They have done the work required and have put immense energy into the transformation. Their staged strategies for inclusion are thought through in a professional way.

Would a church body ever rise to this challenge on their own?

Most parents of children with disabilities do not have the qualifications, experience, energy, time or resources to instigate or even help implement something like this. Even as I write this, feelings of guilt resurface about not trying harder and doing more to figure something out for Michael. To be honest, though, we have so many things in his daily life that we have not figured out. It’s overwhelming to think of the energy and time required to figure out programming for Church as well.

There have always been people who have invested the energy and time to work out the programming for Nursery School, ABA and school.  If a church really wants to work for inclusion or foster belonging for people with disabilities and their families a great first step would be listening to the Kantz’s MP3.  Really, they have it right.  Everyone in the congregation needs to be educated and not just immediate workers or teachers.

To the rest of the congregation this may look like an immense undertaking and adjustment, but think of how many more members would be able to join in fellowship and be ministered to!