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NCC Disability Committee Leads Worship at Chicago Seminary
Chicago, September 28, 2007 – A recent chapel service at North Park Seminary planned and led by members of the National Council of Churches Committee on Disabilities was deemed unique by planners and participants.
The Committee on Disabilities, a unit in the Education and Leadership Ministry, led an ecumenical service that included a responsive reading of the Psalm by a Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) lay worker who has lupus, a disease of the immune system that causes chronic inflammation and pain.
The Hebrew scripture was read by an Evangelical Lutheran lay worker who has mobility limitations caused by polio.
The Gospel lesson was read from a Braille Bible by a blind minister in the United Church of Christ (UCC), her service dog beside her in the lectern.
One Communion officiant was a United Methodist minister whose speech and body movement are limited because of cerebral palsy. The other officiant, a minister in the Evangelical Covenant Church, is the father of an adult daughter with intellectual disabilities.
The communion servers included a Presbyterian lay worker with a hearing impediment whose adult son has intellectual disabilities caused by brain injury; a lay worker in the Christian Reformed Church whose son has intellectual disabilities; and an Episcopalian lay worker with a history of psychiatric disabilities.
The Committee on Disabilities holds its annual meeting at seminaries to encourage them to accommodate persons with disabilities who feel called to ministry but face obstacles to seminary education, ordination, and job placement.
Other recent meetings have been held at the Washington, D.C., Theological Union, Union Seminary in New York, and Calvin Seminary, Grand Rapids, Mich.
North Park is the seminary of the Evangelical Covenant Church, which traces its roots to Swedish immigrants. North Park does more than many seminaries to accommodate persons with disabilities, and offers a course on disability. The course explores the spiritual issues faced by the individual, family, congregations, and communities living with chronic illness and disability.
Many Students and faculty who attended the chapel service attended a lunch time panel discussion by members of the Committee.
Another feature of the Committee’s annual meetings is a disability-related arts event organized with a local art organization. This year the North Park University Art Department sponsored a gallery talk by art professor Tim Lowly, and a lecture by artist Riva Lehrer.
Lowly talked about a work in progress, “Culture of Adoration,” that was suggested by paintings of the Adoration of the Magi. Lowly’s version shows students in his art class drawing his adult daughter, who has profound disabilities.
Chicago artist Riva Lehrer talked about her Jewish spirituality and her portraits of persons with disabilities who are successful artists, including her self-portraits. She told the Jewish folk tale of the Golem as a metaphor for her aesthetic of disability.
The Committee spent most of its two-day meeting hearing reports on disability ministry by communions and organizations represented on the Committee, worshipping together, and planning future activities. Many positive developments were reported, such as the creation of a new paid staff position for disability ministry in the United Church of Christ, and the opening of a housing facility at Western Theological Seminary (Hope, Mich.) in which students and persons with disabilities live together.
Not all of the news was good: a frequent theme in reports was the low and declining level financial support for disability ministries in the communions represented.
The Committee formed a new task group to investigate the efforts being made by churches to meet the needs of war-injured military personnel and their families.
Many returning men and women have physical, mental, or psychological disabilities that churches need to be aware of and adjust to. If the Committee finds gaps in the resources available to help churches meet this need, it plans to use its expertise and networks to fill the gaps.
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