Monday, June 16, 2014

Thoughts from the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability

This week, I am attending the 5th Annual Summer Institute on Theology and Disability hosted by the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University.  Bethesda Institute and Rev. Bill Gaventa have been instrumental in developing this program over the past several years, bringing together the best scholarship and ministry models from around the world.  (For more background, information, and past presentations, click here)

I've decided to blog daily during this conference.  My goals are to give my friends, colleagues, pastors, and local disability ministers a chance to hear what is going on.  Some might ask, what does this conference have to do with my weekly Sunday School special needs program?  A lot!  Many of the speakers and presenters here "doing theology" have been in this field as a person with a disability, a family relative of a person with a disability, or been doing disability ministry in the trenches ever since Willowbrook was closed 42 years ago. The creation of theology is simultaneously done by the trained academy (professors, clergy) and the local church (people, laity).  On rare occasions the two intersect, sparking rich conversations and ground breaking initiatives. This is one of those places!

I've already met some of the new young faces that are the up and coming face of the movement who are breaking new ground in bioethics and in Spanish speaking communities.  I hope to be introducing them on this blog throughout the week.

This marks my 10th year involved in the theology and disability movement. During the course of that time, I have seen a major surge in the interest of churches, pastors, and theologians in disability issues.  The academic discipline really only appeared in 2004 with the Society of Biblical Literature 's creation of a subgroup of scholars.  Since that time, many of the initiatives I called for in 2005 (see the article here) have come into being in the last decade.  As 35 year disability ministry veteran AG pastor Charlie Chivers of Special Touch told me last month, the sovereign Spirit of God has been moving over his people and disability ministries is moving to the forefront in the US and around the world.

I am attending this year in several roles:  As the Executive Treasurer for Friendship Ministries, I am exhibiting some of the best curriculum developed for adults with intellectual disabilities, used on 4 continents, dozens of countries, and available in both Spanish and English.

I am also attending as a student completing my D.Min from AGTS at Evangel University.  I'm looking forward to hearing my project advisor, AG theologian and now Fuller Seminary missiologist Amos Yong kick off the morning plenary session. I'm scheduled to learn from the authors I've read extensively from over the past decade -- Hans Reinders, John Swinton, Stanley Haeurwas, Ben Conner, Tom Reynolds, Jeremy Schipper, and fellow NACSPED colleague and Friendship Ministries board member Erik Carter.

Finally, I'm attending as friend.  Looking through the list of attendees I see colleagues from past courses and even some 2006 Special Touch Summer Getaway (Minnesota) attendees.  I like how Wichita represents -- Myra Jacobs (my fellow Haysville USD 261 special educator) and Tom Racunas, former principal of HeartSpring and current Director of Ministry for Persons with Disability for the Wichita Catholic Diocese.

It's going to be a great week!

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen!  (Eph. 3.20-21 ESV)