This is the fourth issue of a new e-newsletter offering Disability Ministry happenings, support, and inspiration. Subscribe to keep receiving this newsletter .
Volume IV | Autumn 2017
Able ,
        Disability Ministry happenings, support, and inspiration, from around the SEPA Synod
Welcome to Autumn's Able, Together!
Welcome to our fourth issue! Kathleen Murphy (Trinity, Lansdale) and I are delighted to have you as readers of this newsletter, and hope you are finding it a source of both information and inspiration.

In this autumn edition of “Able, Together,” we look at church websites that are disability friendly. What about your church’s website? Does it send a message of inclusivity and welcome to all? We also have a youth report on the PALS program at Upper Dublin Lutheran, as well as a piece from a local poet describing her experiences with O.C.D.
Our hope is that those who live with physical or mental disabilities, and those who care for them, come away from this and every issue of “Able, Together” feeling supported, valued, and loved.
Elise Seyfried
Christ’s Oreland

Is Your Church Website Disability-friendly?

Did you know that the front door of your church has changed? Rather than entering your actual building, first-time visitors get to know you through your web and social media presence. If your church has any kind of disability ministry, prospective new worshipers need to be able to find out about it on the web.

Often, families on the disability path will not have oodles of time to search for information, and may mistakenly assume your church is not a healthy option if they can not quickly learn about your offerings. Follow these easy pointers for a more disability-friendly web presence:

-- If you do it, show it . Have a Rejoicing Spirits ministry? Buddy program? Sensory Break Room? Ramps? Elevators? Depression Support Group? Allergen-free snacks? Get visual and textual information about these on your web page.

- -Be specific. Devote tabs on your website that directly link to a clear description of your disability ministry philosophy, options, and contact person. Do not bury this information in sub-tabs.

-- A picture is worth a thousand words. Strive to ensure that you web images feature people with disabilities, either by selecting inclusive stock images or by securing permission to include photos of your own differently-abled congregants in action.

-- Use icons . Add a wheelchair icon to your home page. Many Lutheran houses of worship are indeed wheelchair accessible, but prospective church members may believe that we are not. 

-- If your church offers American Sign Language (A.S.L.) interpretation, share when and where interpretation is available at worship. If you offer hearing assistive devices, please make that known.

--Consider including subtitles on any videos you feature on your website.

--Write out a description of any links , such as “ click here to learn more about A.S.L. interpreting ” rather than “for more information, click here .” For those who are colorblind, be sure these links are in a contrasting color to the surrounding text.  

--Make sure all abbreviations which are pronounced as letters are written with periods between letters (A.S.L., not ASL) to help those who use screen readers understand what is being said.

--Be encouraged to add to your website and social media any information about your disability ministry. Sometimes churches may hesitate to publicly talk about their offerings, for fear they are not quite perfect. Perfection is for God. As churches, we should strive instead to serve our siblings in Christ, trusting that we are able to lovingly offer our ministries, even if we are small, humble, or new to the task.

--Kathleen Murphy, with special thanks to Candy Nixon of Joni and Friends
People Assisting Little Souls: Upper Dublin's
Ministry" Shines

Are you looking to strengthen the faith formation experience at your congregation? We have a great model for you! Read more to learn about Upper Dublin Lutheran Church's successful ministry, People Assisting Little Souls (PALS).

PALS is a shining example of one-on-one ministry, one of two major disability ministry umbrellas: special programs, and one-on-one support ministry. The latter is often called "buddy ministry," and pairs a special helper with a person with a disability for Sunday School, church events, and to become a faith formation partner.

At Upper Dublin, it all starts with a uniquely thorough Sunday School registration process, identifying needs from the very start of Faith Formation ministry. According to Director of Christian Education Livvy Steffens, "These families need lots of time and love," including a smooth transition into religious education. So, a few extra hours are invested: families talk with the staff, and children visit the classrooms ahead of time, perhaps with a professional educator from the congregation. Next, the family and church decide together if the PALS program would be of benefit. If so, the search is on for the right Pal, who will meet with the child prior to the start of the Sunday School experience.

Some of these volunteer PALS are familiar with disabilities through their work or family life, and some are teens interested in pursuing special education and related fields. Others simply have a heart to serve. Almost all become more than a Sunday morning assistant. Lifelong relationships have been known to form between PALS and the little souls they assist. As for the lines between who is served and who is being served? Well...those lines inevitably disappear. Livvy says, " I believe God has called me to be an advocate for these children. Each and every time I connect with them and/or their parents I am so thankful and feel so privileged and blessed that they are willing to share their stories with me and are willing to entrust us with their precious children ."

Additionally, Livvy and her team are aware of the gift the PALS program is to the other children in the classroom. "We try to help all our children and youth recognize, celebrate, and share the special gifts God has given them," she says, an effort that is strengthened when all kinds of kids are included in faith formation.

The special needs families also are served through buddy ministry. "We recognize our special needs parents also have the need to just have a break... if we can provide them with one hour a week to worship, or even to just chill, knowing their children are in a safe and loving place," Livvy continues, "...that is a gift, and a very important part of our PALS ministry."

If your church is considering a buddy ministry, you can contact Kathleen Murphy for more information at

--Kathleen Murphy

Autumn Leaves Sensory Prayer Activity

For any age, prayer can become more vivid when it is a sensory experience. Why not head outside on a crisp autumn day to engage your senses of vision, hearing, and touch, and use your whole body to collect colorful leaves?
Once your have a few leaves collected, notice how each one is unique in its coloring, size, shape and texture. Each is like the others, but each is also unique. Each is beautiful.
Leaves are somewhat like people--each is similar but different, and God sees us each as beautiful. God loves us all, no matter our color, shape, or size.
Once you head back indoors, you can coat your leaves in oil or lotion to keep them fresh for a few days.
Think about how a certain leaf reminds you of something or someone special in your life: a blessing. At prayer time, hold each leaf as you give thanks for those special blessings.

In what other ways do autumn leaves help you converse with God? Feel free to be creative with this prayer activity.

--Kathleen Murphy

Disability Ministry Devotion

As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”   Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.--John 9:1-3
As expectant parents, we pray that our child will be born in perfect health, mentally and physically. When, as is sometimes the case, our precious child is born with, or develops, a disability, it is easy to blame ourselves, to look back at pregnancy and wonder if we did anything that caused this to happen. We look at our family history and try to find this issue in our family’s genetic makeup. If the disability is the result of an accident, we ask ourselves what we could have done to prevent it.
Jesus’ disciples, products of their time, believed that someone’s sin must have been responsible for a man’s blindness. To us, today, that idea seems irrational. Yet even now, in 2017, we still are looking for answers, for someone or something to be responsible when we—or someone we love—has a disability. We can spend our lives this way. But Jesus’ clear message in this passage to his friends—and to us—is that disability is not a punishment, for the person or for those who love him or her. 
All of God’s children, whatever our circumstances, are loved unconditionally by God, and each of our lives is gifted with unique purpose and great meaning. We may not all have the use of our arms or legs; we may not see or hear clearly. Our brains or our bodies may function differently than others. Yet, as Jesus said, God’s works are revealed in us—in ALL of us.
So let us be kind to one another, and to ourselves. Let us live lives of love and support for our brother and sisters. Let us recognize the divine spark in everyone, and nurture it. Some roads in life seem to have more challenges, it is true—but when we are travel companions, we can help light those roads for each other.
--Elise Seyfried

Lutheran Study Bible Available in Large Print, Electronic Editions

For those who wish to experience the Bible with background material, notes, and helpful articles from leading Lutheran thinkers, more options are now available.

Augsburg Fortress offers electronic versions of the Lutheran Study Bible, which can be an ideal version for anyone seeking to study on a lightweight reader or bright, adjustable laptop.

For anyone preferring a paper Bible, an Enlarged Print version, featuring 12 and 10 point text, is also offered. While not as large as many Large Print novels, this particular option does help with readability.

Check out these vision-friendly options online, at Augsburg Fortress.

Did You Know?

Almost 1/3 (32.3%) of special needs families said they had left at least one church because their child was not included or welcomed.

Poetry Corner

Childhood memories recalled
Unwanted, buried, painful, sad
Remains lifetime battle
Exhausting, frustrating, paralyzing

Not easily understood
Try to hide and mask symptoms
No one can know the reality
Unless suffering similarly

Anguish can never be fully lifted
Praying for peace and understanding
Invisible illness, embarrassing
More acceptance needed desperately

Robbed of time
Senseless but real
Need to conquer
God, please give me strength

Photo and Poem, based on experiences of living with O.C.D., by local artist Nancy L
A Place For You Here

Please visit our church-wide website for more information at ELCA Disability Ministry.

One of the primary goals we believe we can reach together as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is to "Welcome all people warmly and without hesitation."

Further, our denomination states that "We are a church that belongs to Christ. There is a place for you here."

There can be no doubt that these statements are in line with the faith we live as Lutherans. So, let's live into full inclusion together. Let's go deeper into the joys of disability ministry!
Our Own Experiences:
Mental and Physical Health Concerns Should Be Treated Equally

Elise Seyfried (Christ’s Lutheran, Oreland) interviewed Christ’s member Kim Righter. Kim is a member of Christ’s mental health support group. She is the single mom of Kelsie, who struggles with mental illness. Kim also lives with Multiple Sclerosis. Elise sat down with Kim to talk about her life in recent years.
Elise: When did Kelsie begin showing signs of mental illness? In what ways has this impacted her life?
Kim: When Kelsie was 13 it became obvious there were problems. Going into high school her problems were noticed by her teachers. As a freshman at Cabrini College, it was recommended by her counselor that she leave school. Then Kelsie was inpatient in a Maryland psychiatric hospital for months. Over the years she has had 12 hospitalizations, one nine months long. After the last one she did well for a year, but was then hospitalized twice this summer. After numerous psychiatrists and many meds I’m still not sure she has the correct diagnosis. Her current diagnosis is borderline personality disorder with schizo-affective disorder, PTSD and eating disorder. She now takes some classes at Montgomery County Community College, but she feels she has let everyone down. Kelsie often lashes out at me. I never know what’s coming next. Our relationship right now is difficult.
E: When were you diagnosed with MS? What kind of impact has that had on you?
K: I was diagnosed in 1999 at age 35. As my symptoms progressed, I had to change jobs. I am a nurse, but am now unable to meet the physical demands of bedside nursing (which I love). I’ve had to take a more sedentary position. I’ve been depressed and feel stuck doing a job that isn’t what I want to do, but we need the insurance.
E: How does Kelsie's situation affect your physical health? Your own mental well-being?
K: It’s been hard on me both ways. The constant stress has contributed to a worsening of my MS symptoms.
E: As a single mom of a child who is hurting, do you feel supported by your church?
K: I do feel supported, but it’s still hard to talk about my illness (I limp now, and use a cane, so I get lots of questions). I still don’t feel very comfortable talking about Kelsie.
E: Kelsie was very active in church (going on mission trips, leading music for VBS etc.) when she was younger. Are there things her church could be doing to make her feel more like she's still an important part of things? 
K: Kelsie feels God has let her down. She keeps asking: Why her? Has God forgotten her? Right now she doesn’t want to hear from church. She wants to be in a bubble without talking to people, and is very self-conscious now that more people know.
E: How have these two difficult struggles affected your faith?
K: I pray more than ever. My faith has gotten me through, and given me some peace waiting for Kelsie to come back around. I pray for uneventful days for both of us. We just found a good therapist, but I’m very worried about upcoming insurance changes. It’s always a struggle, but I try to hand everything to God.
E: The stigma around mental illness is still quite real. It's still something many people avoid talking about. Are there actions people in faith communities could take to make things better? 
K: It’s hard. Church doesn’t always feel like a safe place. She doesn’t look sick, but Kelsie hurts as much as I do. Church people only partially get it (but because they are good people they do try).
E: What are your hopes and dreams for Kelsie's future? For yours?
K: For Kelsie—I hope she can finish school, and get a good job with her own health insurance in two years (when she’s 26). She wants so much to finish school. I want her to function normally, and be in control of her disease. For me—I hope I can keep working. I want to support myself in my own home, but I may not be able to handle the stairs at some point, drive, etc. I’m on a new medication to try and stop the progression of the MS.
E: Any final thoughts?
K: Physical and mental illnesses need to be treated the same—mental anguish is the same as physical pain. Kelsie’s brain is battling itself. There need to be more advocates with the courage to speak out. I need more courage to speak out myself.
E: I think you’ve shown great courage today, Kim. Thank you for sharing.

Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, ELCA