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
Vol. 7 No. 3 
Eric stands with his guide dog_ Susan knees next to him_ and Lisa looks on from where she is seated in her wheelchair
Bonding at the DMC Annual Meeting


of the

United Methodist

 Disability Connection

Greetings in Christ!   

We received many messages of concern from our readers, asking how they can help as the DisAbility Ministries Committee (DMC) faces loss of funding.  

This newsletter updates you on the current work of the committee, which may lead to identifying potential partners for shared ministry. We  also introduce you to our members, and include photos from the 2017 DMC Annual Meeting in Atlanta. 

One tangible way to help is to make a #Giving Tuesday donation on behalf of the work of the committee, through the Advance/ Project # 3021054.

Other ways to help include:
  • supporting your Annual Conference Disability Concerns Committee
  • spreading the word about our newsletter to help us gain new subscribers
  • letting us know about your ministries 
  • participating in the Resource Person program, which we plan to strengthen because we know one small committee cannot do all that is needed. 
We will continue our work, no matter what!  God's call to this ministry is too strong to ignore.   Thank you for caring!

Lynn Swedberg, Editor  
In This Issue
* Why Does the Church Need the DMC?
* The Work of the DMC
* DMC Members
* Seeing the Problem
* Church Accessibility Designation
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Why Does the Church Need a DisAbility Ministries Committee?
DisAbility Ministries Committee of the United Methodist Church (DMC) member Rev. Lisa McKee offered the following points in a discussion about the theological reasons for the existence of the DMC:

1) The Body of Christ is not complete if persons with disabilities are not present. Approximately twenty percent of Americans have some type of disability, and in aging congregations the number may be higher. Yet many of our buildings and programs are not accessible or equipped to meet the needs of those of us who may learn, perceive, or move differently.

Lisa responds to Stephen during worship skit -
Lisa, Stephen and friend act out scripture during worship at the Annual Meeting
2) The DMC exists to provide resources for welcoming and integrating persons of all abilities. We support Annual Conference disability committees where they are present, but are available to all members and congregations. We provide a safe space to learn about the theological and practical dimensions of disability ministries.

3) We believe that congregational vitality is enhanced when all are present at the table. Being inclusive of people of all abilities opens all of us to experience God through different lenses.

4) Access is also a justice issue - we are called to ensure that those of us who are often forgotten in society are central in our communities of faith. The committee helps congregations find ways whereby everyone, e.g. a child with autism or an adult with mental health needs, can receive the good news of Jesus in a way that is meaningful.

5) As heirs of John Wesley, we want to give each child of God a chance to grow in grace as a disciple of Christ.

Bill Gaventa, a well-known disability ministry leader, speaker, and founder of the interfaith Summer Institute on Disability and Theology, had the following to say about the impending loss of DMC funding:

"That, for sure, is not good news for the wider field of inclusive ministries for any number of reasons. I regularly cite your committee and its work as one of the best examples of denominational work in this area in the United States. Your newsletter is probably the best one around, says this informational junkie who also does newsletters, but not as comprehensively and as focused as yours is for the United Methodists. You all have helped develop materials that others use. Your work in collaboration with the United Methodist Women a few years ago is a model of inner-denominational collaboration. And a number of your network members have made great contributions to the learning and development of others through participation and teaching in the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability.  

"We are all working in a paradox in this area of inclusive ministries. Our vision is to have people with disabilities and their families addressed and included in all areas of ministry within the church rather than it being seen as something 'special' and 'set apart,' but most faith groups are nowhere near the stage that people with disabilities and their families are automatically mentioned and included in discussions about any number of areas, such as religious education, mission and outreach, worship, diversity, pastoral care, seminary education, etc.  For me, that means that a focused disability committee and initiatives related to inclusive ministries with and by people with disabilities and their families are still necessary, for in most arenas, even those that work with other marginalized groups, disability is marginalized within them."

The Work of the DisAbility Ministries Committee
Website and Resource Sharing

We continually update the website. New or revised resources from this past year include: Grants for Accessibility and Disability Ministry Initiatives

We offer small grants - seed money for churches undertaking accessibility projects, including ramps, lifts, and bathroom renovations. Other projects have included an accessible garden, a sensory room, and disability awareness training. See the Grant Reports section on our website for details.


Most questions can be handled by e-mail or phone. For other concerns we may send a committee member or Resource Person to meet with church members and staff to help them consider options. We link churches and agencies with others who are doing similar work. We share resources we have created as well as those developed by congregations and individuals.

We work with Annual Conferences to establish or support Disability Ministries committees per Paragraph 653, the Book of Discipline of the UMC.  For instance, Debbie initiated a major consultation project for the Western Pennsylvania Conference Committee on Disability Concerns, with assistance from Lynn. We visited all the conference campsites to conduct accessibility audits and offer recommendations for making each camp inclusive of all.

Disability Awareness Worship and Education

Led by Stephen, as part of our Annual Meeting we held an inclusive worship service, followed by an educational event at Candler this August. Members have also preached on disability-related topics and contributed to webinars, e.g. Engaging Families and Children with Special Needs During the Summer Months sponsored by Discipleship Resources. Other members gave presentations at Mission u and other events, met with conference staff about disability issues, and organized training for Sunday School teachers. 

How can we help your congregation and Annual Conference move forward?

DMC Members
Members of the DMC in their yellow T-shirts with the committee logo projected behind them
Front row: Lynn, Lisa, Susan (with computer & Tim on Skype ), Eve, and Debby
Back row: Eric, Russell, Shelly, Vince, Dale McCart, Howard, Debbie, Stephen, and Sharon.                                                                               Missing: Leo

Northeastern Jurisdiction:
  • Rev. Debbie Hills,* Western Pennsylvania Conference (DMC vice-chair)
  • Rev. Lisa McKee,* West Virginia Conference
  • Rev. Leo Yates, Baltimore-Washington Conference, liaison with the Committee on Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministries
Southeastern Jurisdiction:
  • Rev. Dr. Eric Pridmore,* Mississippi Conference
  • Stephen Taylor,* North Georgia Conference (DMC treasurer)
North Central Jurisdiction:
  • Debby Newman,* Minnesota Conference
  • Eve Newman, Minnesota Conference, self-advocate
  • Tim Vermande, Indiana Conference, webmaster
South Central Jurisdiction:
  • Deaconess Shelly Owen,* Oklahoma Conference (DMC secretary)
  • Vince Gonzales,* Northwest Texas Conference
  • Rev. Russell Ewell, Missouri Conference, liaison and co-chairperson of the United Methodist Association of Ministers with Disabilities
Western Jurisdiction:
  • Sharon McCart,* California-Pacific Conference (DMC chairperson)
  • Howard Guetherman,* Desert Southwest Conference
  • Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder, California-Pacific Conference, Mental Health Ministries liaison
  • Lynn Swedberg, Pacific Northwest Conference, consultant
The asterisk (*) identifies jurisdictional representatives.  Contact any of us through the DMC e-mail address.

Seeing the Problem
A report about long-time DMC member Rev. Russell Ewell, reprinted with permission from the  Missouri Conference News , October 27, 2017.

Every church in the Missouri Conference has issues with accessibility, whether they realize it or not. There is someone who is willing to help.

Rev. Russell Ewell participates in the Summer Institute on Theology and Disabilities each year. He's usually a presenter and attends workshops that are theological in nature. This year he wasn't presenting, so he had time to attend some more practical application workshops. He went straight from there to the Missouri Annual Conference Session in Springfield, where he heard Rev. Tina Harris announce that as the new director of Mission, Service and Justice Ministries, she wanted to encourage people to follow their call.

"When I heard her, I felt the Holy Spirit calling me to implement some of the things I've learned in the Missouri Conference," Ewell said. For years he has been speaking and conducting disability awareness seminars at various locations around the country. "It's time to do work in my own backyard." Russell at the podium speaking

According to the Book of Discipline, all United Methodist Conferences are required to have a Disability Concerns Committee. Recently this role has just been assigned to the Values Team. Ewell would like to develop a conference-wide group that is specifically focused on disability concerns, with someone from each district participating.

Ewell has conducted Disability Awareness Forums in other Conferences and thinks they would be helpful to have in Missouri as well.

When Ewell was at Annual Conference in 2011, he was approached by several people who were crying. The delegates to attend General Conference had just been elected. Ewell said some people told him they had been attending Annual Conference all of their life and had never seen anyone representing the disability community elected to the delegation. He has heard from pastors who hide their disability because they are afraid if it is known it will effect where they are appointed or that they will be forced to go on disability leave.  "A disability may mean someone needs to do ministry differently but not that they can't do ministry," Ewell said.

It's not just pastors who Ewell is concerned about. Church members are often reluctant to share their needs with their church because if the church isn't meeting their needs, they feel like they would be telling God that God is failing them.

Ewell has organized disability awareness worship services, in which everyone who is part of conducting the service has a disability. He had a liturgist who had been part of two presidential administrations and worked at a prestigious private university, but he had never been asked to be part of the worship team.  "To the church he was just a guy in a wheelchair," he said. A blind woman serving communion said she had been part of the church for 30 years, and this was the first time she had been asked to participate.

The church and people with disabilities have a strained history. When the Americans With Disabilities Act was being proposed, churches hired lobbyists to fight against it, fearing that making their facilities accessible would be too expensive.  "We (the church) lost a lot of people then," Ewell said. "I'm trying to bring them back, and show them that we do care."

Ewell said when churches are worried about church growth, they should recognize that there is a population of people in their community who want to be in church but can only go a few times a year because of accessibility issues.  "We often call them the sick and shut-ins, but they are really the shut-outs," he said.

To connect with Ewell as he continues to form plans regarding providing assistance with disability awareness, email him.

Church Accessibility Designation
Coming soon...

...a way to easily locate and identify churches that have the accommodations we need in order to participate in a meaningful way. The DisAbility Ministries Committee (DMC) is working to make this dream a reality! Efforts are underway to have a designation on the Find-A-Church web profile that will indicate just how accessible a church building and  congregation are. 
Automatic door and wheelchairs available at church entrance
An accessible church in OK

The Annual Accessibility Audit developed by the DMC and available to all churches has been fine-tuned, and this newer version is currently being field-tested in churches across the connection. Churches with accessible features will soon be able to earn a bronze, silver, or gold badge, based on the guidelines. Stay tuned!

Rev. Debbie Hills and Lynn Swedberg are co-authors of the Annual Accessibility Audit used by many annual conferences in charge conference packets, and posted on the CGFA website. 

As Advent approaches, we try to focus on what really matters - ensuring that all God's children understand that the Prince of Peace came so that they might experience the love of God that knows no barriers or limits. 

May all our communities of faith be places where that Good News is accessible to people of all abilities. And may believers with and without disabilities be conduits of that love to a hurting world!
DisAbility Ministries Committee of The United Methodist Church