Disability Ministries Committee logo using  stylized person standing and another seated in wheelchair whose arms form the horizontal arm of the cross between them.  Logo says Making the Rough Places Smooth - Removing Barriers Is. 40_4
A partner ministry of The General Commission on Religion and Race

Fall 2020         
Vol. 10, #3
Youth stands behind lectern and reads scripture with his mom_s support. Both have brown skin and black hair reflecting their Filipino heritage
Youth Serves as Liturgist for Disability Awareness Sunday


of the

United Methodist

 Disability Connection

Greetings in Christ!
Faced with the uncertainties of the pandemic, many of us feel like we are stuck. It seems impossible to plan and take next steps when there are so many unknowns, yet some of us have done so. This issue introduces you to congregations and people who have moved forward in service and ministry despite or because of restrictions from COVID-19.
  • St. John UMC in Anchorage completed accessibility renovations when they were able to return to their building. During an on-line Disability Awareness Sunday  service they celebrated being the first in Alaska to earn a Gold Disability-friendly and Accessible church badge.
  • Deaconess Monica Bartley of NYC found new ways to bring awareness of ways to meet accessibility needs of voters with disabilities.
  • Rev. Harriet Wilkin of WA used low-tech ways to bring worship to her small town and rural congregants. She  teaches on-line and has shepherded the first BeADisciple.com students to complete certification in Ministry with People with Disabilities.
  • Lovers Lane UMC in Dallas now serves Deaf people around the country and globe who seek to worship in American Sign Language.
We mourn the untimely death of Rev. Jim McIntire. I had already planned to feature his new book Lindsay's Gift in this issue. The book continues his advocacy and gives us a chance to hear his voice in written form.
May reading these stories offer you as much hope as writing them has given me.
Deaconess Lynn Swedberg, Editor
In This Issue
* Accessibility is at the Heart of the Kingdom
* Accessible Voting
* Seeing Needs and Meeting Them
* ASL Service Expands Reach Globally
* In Memoriam: The Rev. James McIntire
Quick Links

Accessibility is at the Heart of the Kingdom of God
When Maria del Rosario came into my office in February of 2019 and asked me to assist her in completing an Accessibility Audit for St. John UMC (Anchorage), I thought, "Sure, this is a good thing, and won't take that long...." We sat down and pored over the list of questions, evaluating how well St. John met ADA requirements and how well we welcomed people with disabilities into our ministry. After discussions with staff, several walks around the building, and a consultation with Trustees, about a month later we stepped back from the list realizing that apparently, we had work to do.

A year and a half later we are finished. Finished... poring over the list, that is. On Sunday, August 9th, 2020 we celebrated our second Disability Awareness Sunday and announced
pastor_s whose stole includes access symbol stands in front of altar and stained glass with waterfall and eagle. Screen shot mage includes captioning and gold badge
Announcing the Gold Badge award
to the congregation the work that had been done. In doing so, we invited them to accept the Disability-Friendly and Accessible Gold Badge and enter into this lifelong work of inclusion of people with disabilities in the life of the church.

The work we did over that year and a half is valuable and important. We removed chairs in the sanctuary and placed wheelchair access stickers on the floor to make space in worship. We installed mirrors and soap and towel dispensers in the bathrooms at accessible heights. We redid the signs around the building for improved way-finding. We posted reminders for people to minimize their use of fragrances. Yet the biggest change as a result of this audit is not related to brick and mortar, is not related to communication, is not related to programming, is not even related to attitudes towards people with disabilities. No, the biggest change has clearly been the depth of relationships that have formed, leading to a centering of accessibility in the life of the church.

When Maria asked for my help that day, I had no idea how much I would come to admire, trust, and love her and her family through this process. I knew Gabe, who has autism, liked to read Scripture on Sunday mornings and pass out bulletins, but I didn't know that
Two youth stand at sanctuary entrance holding bulletins. The elder brother has his arm around his brother.
Gabe and Lorenzo serving as greeters, pre-COVID
he also loved swimming, and that he laughed when he was nervous. I knew his brother Lorenzo often sat quietly to the side with his parents while Gabe danced, but I didn't know that he is an incredibly gifted writer and has a huge heart for service to his community. And I knew Maria was often busy keeping an eye on Gabe and doing advocacy work on the side, but I didn't know how strong, smart, persistent, and driven she is about inclusion, about education, and about witnessing to the Kingdom of God on earth.

The relationships that formed in doing this audit have centered accessibility in the life and ministry of St. John. Our building maintenance team actively seeks to ensure fragrance-free air, clear walkways, and safe structures. Our Trustees prioritize accessibility in their work and ensure that any renovations are done with ADA requirements in mind. Our pastoral staff actively engage people with disabilities in worship, on committees and teams, and in small group discipleship. And we all celebrate the gifts that members with disabilities bring.

This audit has been a starting point. We are finished with the list, yet the work has just begun. We have big goals for next year to continue to make our space and our ministry more inclusive. The celebration of Disability Awareness Sunday reached far and wide as people listened and responded to our member Paula's story about what life is like for her as a person with disabilities, and received the Word of God proclaimed in ASL by Courtney, Christie, and Asher and interpreted by Gabe. In coming to know and love these people and others in our St. John family, the fullness of the Kingdom of God is made known. Praise be to God!

Contributed by the Rev. Emily Carroll, pastor of discipleship and justice at St. John UMC.

Accessible Voting
If your church hosts a polling place, have you checked to see how accessible the space is? Because of COVID-19, advocacy workers like Deaconess Monica Bartley of New York CIty cannot make their usual rounds to inspect polling spaces. Reports from prior surveys (e.g.
Woman with black hair and glasses wearing a grey top smiles at the camera.
Monica Bartley MSW
2019) highlight typical accessibility problems such as poor
Line drawing of ADA symbol_ the word Entrance_ and a directional arrow
Directional signage should be used to show direction to the accessible route, entrance, and voting area.*
signage to help voters locate the accessible entrance, unsafe cables across the access route, and lack of space for voters to use the accessible Ballot Marking Machines. As part of her position as Community Outreach Specialist at the Center for Independence of the Disabled, NY Monica is limited this year to using Zoom and phone calls to help voters with disabilities get registered, understand their rights, and vote.

The ADA has a checklist that includes parking, the access route, and the space where voting takes place to help you prepare. Some suggestions include establishing temporary accessible parking spaces, using temporary ramps to bridge curbs, holding heavy doors open with door stops, and placing orange cones under barriers that protrude into the access pathway. Your church can help by ensuring 
Line drawing of a traffic cone
Traffic cones can be used to mark passenger loading zones and  warn of protruding objects.*
that the space meets the standards and that no new obstacles are 
accidentally created before the polls open. If you find problems, they are likely problematic to your members with disabilities and addressing them will benefit everyone.

Even in the COVID-19 era where voting by mail is easier than ever, some of us with and without disabilities feel we have not voted if we have not done so in person. An accessible voting machine at a polling place may be the only way someone who is blind or has difficulty writing can vote privately, a right and desire that all of us share. While some states offer accessible on-line ballots, they may require special printing not available in most homes. Some churches like Vancouver Heights UMC (Pacific Northwest conference) are reaching out to members to offer COVID-safe transportation or delivery of the ballot to the nearest ballot box, verified by a photo of the act. More information on difficulties voters with disabilities face this year is discussed in this AARP article. The Great Plains ADA center offers a comprehensive Accessible Voting Resource Guide.
                                                                                                        *Source: www.ada.gov
Seeing Needs and Meeting Them During COVID-19
How many of us see a need and say, "someone should do something about that?" Rev. Harriet Wilkin of Castle Rock and Grays River UMCs (Pacific Northwest Conference) does not hesitate to jump in and act when she identifies a need. While many of us are just now embracing
Smiling Caucasian woman with brown collar length hair and blue shirt_ bookshelf is behind her
Rev. Harriet Wilkin
on-line Bible Studies, she began offering them several years ago to accommodate people unable to leave home to participate due to disabilities, caregiving, health, or scheduling reasons. 

When COVID-19 ended in-person worship Harriet was already recording her sermons as podcasts. Knowing that the members of her rural congregations may have Internet access but lack the bandwidth needed for watching livestreamed worship, she expanded the podcasts to include the entire worship service. Other than her pianist, Harriet is the only staff person for two small churches, but volunteers help her record and copy the service to CDs and mail them to members without internet access. She also mails or e-mails a print version of the entire service, including the full sermon, to members of both churches.

Harriet believes in offering multi-sensory worship experiences. She held a few outdoor services this summer. To replace congregational singing, she used recordings of instrumental music during which she read from the Psalms - the songbook of our Hebrew heritage. She includes visual object lessons, not just for the children. To substitute for in-person youth programs, she sends a weekly family-friendly lesson: "Creative Adventures
Against a colored back are the words_ Stories of faith. When did you receive the Word of God_ Why is your community of faith so special to you_ The right side says_ pray daily for each other. Call a friend. Text a friend. Email a friend. Post a positive message on social media. Wording copyright 2020 Harriet Wilkin
Poster from Creative Adventures
Through the Bible" which includes a scripture text with ideas to turn it into a story book, scripture background and discussion questions, and a poster that reflects the message. She adds topical and seasonal song, movie, game, and craft ideas.

After Harriet became an instructor through BeADisciple.com, the program lifted up the need for an affordable on-line certification process for people engaged in disability ministries. Harriet agreed to develop the program and teach some of the courses. The first cohort of students is completing their fourth and final term, and a new cohort will begin in January. The certification focus is on practical application of disability theology. Students assess the current situation in their church, learn ways to adapt ministries, and develop a plan for change suited to their context. When Harriet could not find resources she needed, she compiled a book about faith community accommodations for people with learning disabilities and varying learning styles. Harriet has added courses on "Dementia-friendly Worship Ministry" and "Caring for Yourself: The Caregiver" and is developing more. Because disability ministry is Harriet's calling, all classes touch on accommodations and disability. For enrollment information, check the BeADisciple.com website.
ASL Worship Service Expands its Reach Globally
The Rev. Dr. Tom Hudspeth, consultant to the United Methodist Committee on Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministries (DHM), reported exciting news from Dallas:

Lovers Lane UMC has seen a dramatic increase in their Deaf ministry's outreach. No longer do they make contact with only the 18 to 20 people who worship live, but they now
Screenshot shows worship leader Naomi in blue scarf and while blouse smiling while Pastor Tom in clerical garb and face mask with transparent mouth piece hitting a drum
Worship leader Naomi Rapp with Pastor Tom Hudspeth who is wearing a mask with transparent window for ease of lip-reading
have a weekly outreach of 500 or so viewers each week after the livestream worship has been recorded. 

Tom notes that COVID-19 has dramatically shifted the way they do ministry, in that he has pastoral contacts with people in several states and countries.  Their weekly Zoom Deaf prayer chat has also expanded to include people in other states. Recently they prayed for a Deaf mother in Florida whose son was murdered.  Though the mother was not able to join the on-line prayer group, Tom had a pastoral meeting with her several days later using Face Time. 

The livestream Deaf worship services have featured signed songs in video from Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Waxahatchie, Texas and been watched from Greece, the Bahamas, Sri Lanka, and Australia. A recent UM News report described Lovers Lane and other Deaf ministries in more detail.  For a list linking other United Methodist on-line services that are captioned or interpreted, see the DHM website.
In Memoriam: The Rev. James F. McIntire
The DisAbility Ministries Committee (DMC) lost a great ally when the Rev. Jim McIntire passed away on September 23, 2020. As son of a father with war-related disabilities and
Sitting on a bench in front of a brick building Jim has a neat gray beard_ wears a white shirt with yellow tie. Lindsay has shoulder length dark brown hair and the top of her black formal has white polka dots.
Jim and Lindsay
as father of a daughter with severe developmental and intellectual disabilities, Jim had the passion to improve access within the UMC. Twice a member of the DMC, he wrote or edited much of the committee's successful General Conference legislation over the years. A lawyer before he became a pastor, Jim had the expertise to write succinct disability-related legislation that crossed boundaries and was readily adopted. He was quick to speak out on behalf of justice in a variety of contexts, but we remember him mostly as a wise, supportive friend.

Jim served ten churches in the Eastern Pennsylvania annual conference, which helpfully appointed him to locations where Lindsay could receive the social and educational services she needed. He is survived by his wife, the Rev. Lydia Munoz, and four children who appreciate your prayers in their time of grief.

Jim recently published Lindsay's Gift: Faith Learnings from a Girl with No Words, a book
Book cover of Lindsay_s gift with stylized eagle feathers radiating from a photo of dressed up Jim looking up at Lindsay who is embracing him. Jim_ Timothy J_ McIntire and Lacey Elizabeth McIlwee are listed as authors
Book Cover
about life with his daughter. Not just a memoir, the book shares Jim's faith journey as he grew and learned what it meant to be Lindsay's father. Lindsay accepts everyone for who they are, and her presence has increased each congregation's disability awareness. Scripture references and stories interweave seamlessly. Jim's text is supplemented by essays from Lindsay's older brother and younger sister.

Paragraphs on many pages in the book jump out as quoteworthy. Reflecting on Moses' burning bush encounter with God, Jim wrote:
        Recognizing in each other, whatever our ability, the reality of that description - I AM WHO I AM - is as critical for people with disabilities as is adding ramps and elevators and bathrooms to make our buildings more physically accessible. To be truly accepting of each other we need to come to the realization that each one of us had been created in the image of God and that we are who we are simply because God is one who knows what it is like to simply be, "nothing more" as Martin Buber says.

Lindsay's Gift: An Access Fund is a non-profit organization that will continue to provide funds for accessibility projects and ministries. All proceeds from the book go into this fund. Memorial contributions are gladly accepted. Learn more at the Lindsay's Gift website.
Giving Tuesday
The DisAbility Ministries Committee has just awarded Church Accessibility Grants to three congregations from across the US, each working to be more accessible to members and the community. 

As denominational resources are stretched, our Advance fund (#3021054) becomes our primary way to assist churches and offer support to conferences. Please consider a generous gift on Giving Tuesday - December 1st - to help keep our legacy of disability awareness education and accessibility moving into the future so that all may worship, serve, and find a place of belonging.  
               Cross and flame logo. Words state The Advance_ advancing hope in Christ_s name                             
As fall turns to winter and we continue to face so many unknowns, we know that God travels the path with us and we do not journey alone.  Thanks for being a part of our world-wide community and supporting us with your prayers, gifts, and by spreading the word about us. 

DisAbility Ministries Committee of The United Methodist Church