A partner ministry of The General Commission on Religion and Race
Volume 11, No. 3
2021: The Way We Meet!
Greetings in Christ!
The Disability Ministries Committee (DMC) has been busy while staying home during COVID-19 precautions. An example of our work is the information sheet Virtual Worship is Here to Stay - Let's Make it Accessible written by Lisa, Eric, Tim, Leo, and Sharon. A number of us, led by Debbie and Hank, are collaborating on resources to help make the clergy candicacy process more accessible by offering accommodations to all participants.
We have welcomed new members while meeting regularly via Zoom. We are excited to introduce them to you and reintroduce those who are continuing for the new quadrennium. Each person brings amazing gifts, skills, and passion to this work! We invite you to reach out to members from your jurisdiction and to others who may offer skills and resources you want to access. Please use the Committee email address and we will forward your message.
New models of ministry are emerging. For instance, the formerly separate disability ministries committees of the West Ohio and East Ohio annual conferences are now working together, partly due to the influence of new member Mimi. The disability ministries committees of the Western Jurisdiction are meeting monthly and advocating for changes in their jurisdiction. Sharon, Melinda, and Lynn are all part of this coalition that has infused new energy into our separate committees. We would love to help the committees from your jurisdiction connect in the same way!
You may have noticed a small change to the DMC name. We voted to discontinue using the capital A in DisAbility, and instead to use Disability as a positive word that makes up an important facet of the identity of many persons in the disability community. Cute phrases like “handicapable” or “differently abled” convey a message that there is something wrong with having a disability. Our message embraces disability as one aspect of diversity in the rich spectrum of humanity created in God’s image. The message is that all are equally welcome at God’s table.
NEW MEMBER!Josephine Akambo from the West CongoConference joins us as our first ever Central Conference Committee member! She works in her Conference office and teaches churches in the Congo Central Episcopal Areaabout including children with disabilities. She has a passion for teaching Bible stories to all children, and wants to help the DMC develop resources for people with disabilities to let them know that they are created in the image of God and, as such, should be embraced and offered hope by churches. She will help guide the DMC as we begin translating core resources into French after they have been reviewed and modified to fit the African context.
Josephine's story: Myself being a person with disabilities, I know how the situation of people with disabilities is very alarming in our country. We are confronted with several problems including discrimination, marginalization and exclusion in all its forms. This committee allows me to break the silence with people with disabilities by showing them that our disabilities cannot limit our participation in all domains of life. The idea that I conceived that could help this committee is the Role of the Church in the promotion and the fight against discrimination against people with disabilities.
North Central Jurisdiction
NEW MEMBER!Mimi Luebbers, West Ohio Conference
I believe that God is calling me to help the church integrate people living with disabilities, including mental illness, and those who accompany them. I recently graduated from Methodist Theological School in Ohio with a MA in Practical Theology and specialization in disability and ministry, and I am thrilled to be a part of the DMC! My background equips me to do this work. My occupational therapy training gives me a clinical perspective, my seminary education gives me a theological perspective, and my lived experience as the mother of an adult son with an intellectual/developmental disability gives me a personal perspective.
I hope to organize an online round table of Resource Persons to help and encourage each other in our efforts to build a more accessible and inclusive church. I enjoy connecting with other people to raise awareness of disability and ministry matters, examine our attitudes, and plan action steps together. I offer a distinctively Wesleyan introductory "crash course" presentation to "Disability and Ministry" through the lenses of Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience.
Resources: The West Ohio disability ministries team has a new resource bank to make it easy for a church to celebrate Disability Awareness Sunday.
Eve Newman, Self-Advocate, Minnesota Conference (shown with Sarah, her ministry puppet)
Being on the DMC, it makes me feel proud and helpful to be able to speak for other people who have intellectual disabilities so helpful changes can be made. I am really excited about the puppet project and singing for my church’s Flames group.We plan for our puppets that we make to sing for our church and other churches. I like learning about God in various churches and cultures like Native American.
Resources: My church and I offer monthly faith studies on Zoom meetings. Also my mom (former DMC member Debby Newman) and I speak about intellectual disabilities to groups like UMW. I paint angels and send them to people who may need them and also to DMC donors. See some of my art at my website. Here is a recent post about how the Flames stayed activeand grew through outreach during COVID-19.
NEW MEMBER!Rev. Rebecca L. Holland, Susquehanna Conference
I am an ordained elder with a MDiv and a member of the Order of St. Lukes. I am a visually impaired Filipino-American pastor serving in Pennsylvania who is passionate about making the church and the world more inclusive for other people with disabilities. I have a BS in English Education and blog about faith, books, and disability awareness at BeckieWrites.com. My work has appeared in Keys for Kids, Sacramental Life, United Methodist Insight, and Bold Blind Beauty, among others.
Rev. Debbie Hills, Western Pennsylvania Conference, Chair
God called me into full time vocational ministry specifically to work in the area of disability ministry. As part of that call I developed a UMC-connected nonprofit - All God's Children Ministries - that leads churches into ministry with people with disabilities by building ramps and more. I also chaired the WPA conference committee. Prior to this I was a pediatric physical therapist and learned from families who had a child with a disabililty how hard it is to find a place to fit in the community and the church. God’s call on my life is to work toward helping our churches not only welcome people with disabilities but also help everyone find a place to belong and be loved for who they are, fully engaging in the life of the church!
As Chair for the DMC I'm working to integrate our work with the policies and philosophy of GCORR and to inspire us to begin needed fund-raising.
Resources: I offer consultative services to churches and entities to improve attitudinal and architectural accessibility. I am available to speak/preach for church groups to improve awareness around disability issues and to decrease the pervasive ableism that exists in our churches and communities.
I am leading the project mentioned above on improving how persons with disabilities who are called to ordained or licensed ministry in the UMC are able to show their gifts and graces for ministry within the candidacy, credentialing and ordination process. Stay tuned for training resources that will be available for all conferences.
Rev. Lisa McKee, West Virginia Conference
I was called to ministry at age four. Having lived with cerebral palsy, disability advocacy has always been a passion and it was a natural direction for my ministry. The connections and the talent on the DMC have made being a committee member rewarding as we work to bring equity to our churches.
I’m in a DMin (Doctor of Ministry) practical theology program at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, MI, part of a cohort on Disability and Ministry: Imagining More Faithful and Inclusive Congregational Ministries. My thesis project will either relate to spiritual formation and people with disabilities, or the effects on clergy of being placed on what used to be called “incapacity leave.” Now called clergy medical leave, the consequences are still that many pastors feel abandoned by the system and are no longer invited to use their gifts and calling.
I plan to create a vid-cast series and do more writing around my interests in developing community in new contexts and missional living. I would love to be part of an inclusive living community. Another goal is becoming certified as a spiritual director. I am available for consultation on workplace accommodations, church accessibility, and spiritual direction for people with disabilities as well as any of the topics above.
Rev. Dr. Eric Pridmore, Mississippi Conference
I am an ordained elder who happens to be blind and use a Seeing Eye guide dog. My experience growing up and serving in the United Methodist Church as a person with a disability has inspired me to work toward access and inclusion for people with disabilities in our denomination.
I am excited about the possibility of an online worship community aimed especially at the disability community. I have a background in the sociology of religion with an emphasis on religion and disability. My research has focused on the history of disability within the UMC.
I am chair of the Disability Ministries Committee for the Mississippi Annual conference. This committee is included in our conference Advocacy Team.
NEW MEMBER!Rev. Melinda Baber, Mountain Sky Conference
I have been passionate about diversity and justice ever since I was a little kid - before I knew any words for God. Disability ministry is important to me because at its core it is about doing justice and appreciating bio-diversity. As a disciple of Jesus and as a pastor my callings are to be the change God wants to see in the church and in the world. That change is about all people being valued, seen, discipled, and equipped for the divine purposes and ministries for which their gifts and limitations qualify them.
I am autistic, and am excited about the perspectives and gifts that come with my particular set of disabilities and experiences, living as I do from the margins of the dominant ableist culture. I am an immigrant’s daughter, a former foster child, a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, bi-racial, an ordained elder, a certified Benedictine spiritual director with a special emphasis in trauma-informed spiritual care, a former hospice and law enforcement chaplain, and a mother of adult children with their own complex personhoods and disabilities.
I am a Bible nerd and a stickler for grammar. I have a love for old souls, old people, and babies, a love for the outdoors, and a gift for numbers, patterns, communication in the written word, and in the poetry of silence. During the pandemic, I taught myself how to engage with social media as a tool for making disciples, and I learned how to design and then built my church their new website.
Deaconess Sharon McCart, California-Pacific Annual Conference, Mental Health Task Force chair
I am in disability ministry because I believe that everyone needs to know God and too many congregations are not accessible and not prepared for people with disabilities to belong and fully participate.
I have begun work on a DMin. degree focused on Creative Writing and Public Theology. My goals for this additional education are to polish and broaden my writing skills and to be better able to articulate what I believe so that my writing about disability and the church will reach more people. I expect to complete this degree in 2024. I am also engaged with the Philippines Bridge Project to educate U.S. and Philippine deaconesses and home missioners about each other and facilitate new relationships.
Resources: I present on many topics, from autism to inclusive emergency preparation and response to accessibility for people with many types of disabilities. I am available to preach for Disability Awareness Sunday services. I am most proud of a Disability Ministries PanelI put together for the California-Pacific Annual Conference in 2014.
NEW MEMBER!Rev. Jonathan Campbell, Greater New Jersey Conference, co-chair and incoming liaison from the United Methodist Association of Ministers with Disabilities (UMAMD)
Rev. Hank Jenkins, Missouri Conf-erence, co-chair of and outgoing liaison from the UMAMD
Resources: The UMAMD caucus has used the COVID-19 stay-home period effectively to host a major Zoom webinar featuring Rev. Dr. Kathy Black, to launch The Accessible God podcast, and more. Podcast episodes, webinars, videos from their annual meeting and other media can be found at the UMAMD YouTube channel. Find other resources at the UMAMD website.
Hank is developing and piloting training for Board of Ordained Ministry members regarding accommodations for candidates with disabilities, as noted above. Monthly Zoom Check-ins provide mutual support and keep members in touch. Anyone who meets the membership criteria is welcome to join these sessions. Contact the UMAMD email address for more information.
Rev. Leo Yates, Jr., Baltimore-Washington Conference, Liaison from the United Methodist Committee on Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministries
Persons with disabilities have gifts and graces to share with their church and the wider church. My passion stems from supporting this and bringing light to their place in the church. With my own parents being Deaf and having multiple invisible disabilities, I see the need to support this effort and to add my voice to the collective.
I am in a DMin Program in pastoral counseling, so it has a mental health focus. I will be finished in March, 2022. Part of the work addresses the need for improved pastoral care support and accessibility for persons with hearing and/or vision loss.
I am excited to serve as a partner with the DMC through the ministry of GCORR to continue to address the inequities that within the church exclude/marginalize people with disabilities. I bring to the table my programmatic and strategic thinking to continue the expansion of this work across the denomination world-wide.
Bishop Peggy Johnson, liaison to the Council of Bishops
My calling into disability work has much to do with being born blind in one eye (micropthalmia) and feeling a little disabled growing up with a prosthesis. Later I answered a call to ordained ministry with a specific clarion call to engage in Deaf ministry, particularly with people who are culturally Deaf. Through my ministry with this community I interacted with many disability communities and increasingly became involved in the advocacy part of the ministry. I am most interested in the margins of the margins in disability work: the Deaf inmate in a state prison, the Deaf-Blind community, people on the autism spectrum, Deaf people caught in the immigration system, etc.
After a nearly-10 year process I've completed the steps to become certified by GBHEM in Ministry with People with Disabilities. I'm amazed at all that God has called me to be a part of. A new direction is honing my accessibility and universal design skills as adjunct faculty in the Accessibility Studies Program at Central Washington University.
I'm excited with the momentum of the DMC church Hospitality and Accessibility Badge project - stay tuned!
We have much work ahead of us as we continue to live out our Mission Statement: Through advocacy, education and empowerment, the Disability Ministries Committee of the United Methodist Church will lead the denomination in creating a culture where people with disabilities are fully included in all aspects of worship, leadership, ministry, and mission. We need your partnership, and covet your prayers.
Disability Ministries Committee of The United Methodist Church