The United Methodist Association of Ministers 2018 meeting was held August 1-3, 2018, Gallaudet University, Washington DC. The conference title was “Taking Our Place at the Table in the UMC.”
Funding from GBGM paid for the meeting space, sign language interpreters, meals, and helped provide scholarships for people who might otherwise not have been able to participate.
The conference focused on developing leadership skills both for the caucus and for participants to use in their own churches and conferences. Because ministers with disabilities often feel isolated and alone in their annual conferences, this gathering emphasized opportunities to share stories of success and failure and help participants gain support and encouragement from one another. Like pastors serving in cross-cultural appointments, clergy with disabilities benefit from gathering together to identify effective strategies to serve primarily non-disabled congregations.
Twenty-seven people, both lay and clergy, with a variety of disabilities attended the conference along with personal care attendants. Co-chairs Rev. Janine DeLaunay and Rev Russell Ewell worked with Rev. Nancy Webb and Rev. Leo Yates to plan, organize and lead the conference. Because people with disabilities are often forgotten when it comes to leadership development, the conference was designed to bring us together for training, conversation and strategic thinking with other leaders in the church. We recognized the need to work intersectionally, and specifically invited speakers from the General Board of Church and Society, the General Commission on Religion and Race, a representative from the Baltimore Washington board of ordained ministry, and the Lewis Center for Leadership Development at Wesley Theological Seminary. Taking our place at the table as leaders with disabilities in the local church, in our conferences, jurisdictions, and the global church is a justice issue. Our goal for this meeting was to learn from and work with others who have been marginalized by the church, so that together, we can provide the leadership to affect the change needed to include all people at the table.
As we gathered for the opening dinner and meeting session, UMAMD co-chairs Janine DeLaunay and Russell Ewell called us to order and led us in prayer. On behalf of the school, Rev. Dr. Kirk VanGilder, Professor of History, Philosophy, Religion & Sociology at Gallaudet University greeted us. This school was started in 1864 and currently provides education in ASL and English to over 1,500 students, pre-K through Ph.D.
After dinner, Bishop Johnson rejoiced that the “family” was together again. As of May 2018, she has been assigned as the Bishop of DisAbility Ministries. We were able to gather for this meeting because of grants from a variety of organizations. Special thanks were given to Leo Yates who got the major funding from a General Board of Global Ministries grant.
Introductions of our 29 attendees then took place: Janine DeLaunay, Brian Burch, DeAnne Burch, Russell Ewell, Paul Crikelair, Bishop Peggy Johnson, Dixie Catlett, Randy Williams, Jeanne Maddox, Esther Choi, Beverly Hall, Leo Yates, Bethany Frances, Penny Helmbold, Jonathan Campbell, Nancy Webb, Caroline Bass, Lisa McKee, John McKee, George Simpson, Ruthann Simpson, Jennifer Swindell, Bill Downing, Hank Jenkins, Joy Jenkins, Dave Goss, Jack Day, Greg Edwards and Tim Vermande (joined us by phone on Thursday)
Rev. Nancy Webb led our morning worship. She called us to be strong, wise and faithful. We closed singing the spiritual, “Wade in the Water.”
Rev. Stephanie Remington, research manager for the Lewis Center on Leadership led a workshop on “Taking Our Place at the Table.” Using the metaphor of her grandmother's farmhouse dining room table, she shared insights for leadership. For example, in describing the main course of the meal; do you have a metaphor/example that bears witness to your faith? Does it incorporate your strengths and weaknesses? Perhaps one way you can recall who you are is to pray the following:
Be still and know that I am God
As you prepare the table, you remember that leaders are sent ahead so that all may prepare others for the mission. The centerpiece on the table is not required. It is a gift, that may seem to be unnecessary to others. Leaders recognize that God’s economy does not operate in the same manner as the world’s economy. Also, leaders are willing to utilize resources to honor and to live into the vision.
We furnish the table with our values. What is non-negotiable? For grandma, it was that everyone sat at the table and if you had to create a seat from a step-ladder do it; because no one gets left out. Leaders know that if anyone is missing from the table, it is not complete. Jesus welcomed the lepers, Zacchaeus, the little children, and Samaritans. Remember that in this process leaders can delegate, procrastinate or eliminate. Yes, procrastination if used properly can be a good leadership tool.
As you set the table, you include the flatware. Imagine spoons being those instruments that catch things that slip between the cracks. Organization, calendaring, communication and planning can all function as spoons. Think of knives as those tools that break down tasks into bite-size pieces; or even cut away tasks that need to be eliminated. Of course you need a fork, it is the standard utensil. Use it to determine the sticking point in meetings and make sure others know their assignments. Leaders know that you don’t just do things to say we can do them, we have a purpose.
DisAbility Ministries and GBGM During this session a discussion arose about the actions taken by GBGM to defund DisAbility Ministries. Please note, while this did not directly affect us, it did affect the support provided from our partnership with DisAbility Ministries. The reasons provided by GBGM for this action are that while funding for Deaf ministry is mandated by the Discipline, DisAbility Ministry is not. Also, they are seeking to focus on global needs, not just US needs. Direct services such as providing wheel chairs shows empowerment and direct service. To get funding, we will need to either change the Discipline or show we are effectively making disciples for Christ, or do both.
UMAMD Panel Discussion Three individuals shared about their agencies and our shared passions. Participants were Michelle Ledder from General Commission on Race and Religion (GCORR), Rev. Dr. Anthony Hunt, chair of the Baltimore-Washington Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, Rev. Jackson Day, who is associated with the Board of Church and Society (GBCS). Rev. Cynthia Abrams, Director of Health and Wholeness & Special Assistant to the General Secretary from GBCS attended this presentation as well.
Michelle Ledder shared that our church does not need another “sprinkle-on” program. One of those where we add an “ism” to the mix. Instead we need to work with the heart-set, mind-set and skill-set of all persons to change the foundation of how we tackle racism in the church. Ninety-three percent of UMC's membership in the US is white. Can we use that same model to change how the church responds to the disabled? One successful model is the “Diversity and Inclusion Summit” that Bishop Peggy Johnson helped lead.
She also provided us with new language to help people take the next step toward full inclusion. Instead of allowing people to use “we're not ready” language to resist change, she encouraged us to help people understand that we are all on a journey when it comes to changing our understanding and viewpoints, whether that's about racism or ableism. Our job is to help people move from wherever the entry point is and take the next step forward. She also helped us understand that accommodations are always being made to support the status quo—offices located near freeways, parking provided for drivers, etc. Accommodations for people with disabilities, however, are seen as extras because they disrupt the status quo. These insights will help us talk more effectively with churches and conferences about making the necessary accommodations to achieve full inclusion.
Anthony Hunt shared from his 14 years on a conference Board of Ordained Ministry as member, District Superintendent and now as Chair. As a board they focus on these core values: Inclusivity, Deep Listening, Diversity and Justice (advocating as necessary). As a group, they oversee 1,200 individuals from the moment of call to the moment of death. They see their primary role as being persons of support. They are not the police or the judge.
We were able to share with him some of the areas where boards of ordained ministry could make accommodations that fit these values and, at the same time, better support persons with disabilities throughout the process. Rev. Jackson Day and Rev. Cynthia Abrams from the General Board of Church and Society also provided important feedback to the group. We shared our concerns about the language “differently abled” used in the revised social principles and provided alternative language both in writing and during the conference. These conversations were a good first step in recognizing areas of intersectionality where we can work together.
Jackson Day, in addition to his work with the GBCS is also the past chair of the Baltimore-Washington conference Pensions & Health Benefits board and current chair of that conference's Joint Committee on Medical Leave. He shared the following insights: GBCS represents church to the outside world. Their mandate from the Discipline is inspiring. The words of the Book of Discipline and the Book of Resolutions address many disability issues. The Social Principles are being revised. A key concern in this process is that it appears to be written by those who are able for those who are unable. The UMAMD needs to reinforce the positive responses to the disabled in scripture. In our interactions with the BOM and Cabinets, we need to remember their they are looking for people who will get the job done. What can you offer? A valid area for us to explore are job descriptions. What exactly do our churches want accomplished?
Questions from the Audience:
Dinner After an amazing dinner, which included Maryland crab cakes as a gift from a UMAMD member, Leo Yates led our evening program. Leo shared from 1 Corinthians 5:10. During his high school years he got into drugs and alcohol. He hid this part of his life for years, particularly during his ordination process. Then he began to accept it was a part of who he was. God used those experiences to provide hope for other people. Leo then asked us to share around our tables how God has used you as you are.
Leo then shared the rest of his story. As the Director of Deaf Addictions Clinic, he became involved with a client who lived in a Deaf crack house. Leo shared, “I came to visit, and they all knew that the therapist and the pastor was present. Three signed up for treatment that day.” It was grace based on being faithful.
Rev. Nancy Webb for her years of encouragement was presented with the UMAMD Unsung Hero Award, a crystal plaque with our emblem engraved on it.
Friday Lisa and John McKee led our morning devotions. After opening with the UMAMD hymn, John reminded us of theologically powerful movie quote, “Sometimes the things we did in the past, what we said, the things we should have done, they dig such a deep hole inside us they don’t let us see what we have become.” God wants us to have a future. Deacon Russell Ewell, Elder Janine DeLaunay, and Bishop Peggy Johnson then led our communion service.
Greg Edwards then led a planning session for the UMAMD. He began by reading our mission statement which revolves around advocating, educating, and supporting.
Greg identified the following areas our group can work on today:
Purpose Statement We the people of the United Methodist Association of Ministers with Disabilities (UMAMD) affirm the sacred worth of persons with disabilities as whole persons made in the image of God. For years, people with disabilities have been discouraged, excluded, and denied as we have sought places at the table as equals with full participation in all that the life of the church offers.
Therefore, we now claim our right to take our places at the many tables at all levels of the UMC. To prepare the table that all may be fully included, the UMAMD will provide leadership to: