Academic Stream (Hamilton)
Susan McElcheran (University of Toronto)
Resisting Narratives of Success: Grounding Creative Inclusion in a Trinitarian Approach to the Lived Experience of Intellectual Disability within the Church
Abstract: As we imagine creative ways to respond to intellectual disability in the church, there is a danger of slipping too easily into narratives of success. Such success-oriented creativity sees inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities as a path to spiritual growth for the non-disabled, often ignoring and suppressing the actual lived reality of people with disabilities and their families. Laura MacGregor maintains that there is a resistance within the church to accepting the often chaotic reality of people’s lives and that this insistence on narratives of success often drives people away from their faith communities (MacGregor 2023). Thus, a deeper investigation needs to be made into a helpful model for creative responses to people with intellectual disabilities within the church. Such a model would include ways for welcoming and respecting the actual experience of people with intellectual disabilities without insisting on success. This paper uses Tom Reynold’s method of viewing the imago Dei as creativity, relationality, and availability to suggest ways for grounding creativity in a relational stance
that is truly available to others where they are. Since Reynolds’ method is trinitarian and resembles Bonaventure’s view of the Trinity, the paper will investigate aspects of Bonaventure’s trinitarian thought in conjunction with Reynolds’ work in search of ways to ground creativity in relationality and availability. This grounding will help to prevent our creative efforts from issuing out of our own fears when faced with the chaotic world of people with intellectual disability and our need for narratives of success that ignore their lived reality.
Yoshihiro Takahashi (McMaster Divinity College)
John Swinton’s Notion of the Memory of God and Its Implication to the Dignity of the Disabled Individuals
Abstract: The focal point of this study is the dignity of individuals with disabilities. Christians have traditionally grounded the dignity of humanity on the biblical concept that God created humans in the image of God. This image of God has typically been defined through three perspectives: reason, relationship, and rulership. However, it has been argued that these perspectives do not fully protect the dignity of individuals with disabilities, as these perspectives assume that individuals possess certain human attributes that may be absent in disabled individuals. The purpose of this study is to investigate how we can safeguard the dignity of individuals with disabilities and what grounds we can use to secure their dignity. Specifically, we seek to explore whether fetuses with severe disabilities, such as Down syndrome, have human dignity. John Swinton’s book, Dementia: Living in the Memories of God, argues that our identity is sustained and upheld in the memories of God, and that to be human is to be remembered by God. In this study, we will summarize and apply this aspect of Swinton’s thesis to the issue of fetuses with Down syndrome, thereby promoting and safeguarding their dignity. Swinton’s thesis, which is rooted in the Bible, allows us to establish the foundation for human dignity without diverging from a biblical basis. As a result, we can rationally protect the dignity of fetuses with Down syndrome and individuals with disabilities by grounding the image of God in the memory or foreknowledge of God, rather than traditional aspects of reason, relationship, and rulership.
Rev. Miriam Spies (University of Toronto)
Creative Justice in Methodology: An incarnational crip theology and practice of ministry
Abstract: Methodological questions and decisions are conversations about creative (in)justice. This is true within disabilities theologies’ conversations. My dissertation uses an interdisciplinary method which involves a hermeneutics of retrieval around an incarnational theology that has been obscured by normalcy, a hermeneutic of suspicion of current ministry practices and their theological framing, and constructive practical theological methods. This presentation begins to map out the incarnational crip methodology that the dissertation adopts, in hopes it contributes to how we have conversations around creative justice. First, it briefly investigates how Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Christ [as/in] Community” provides a model for ecclesiology that will aid in developing an incarnational practice and theology of ministry. Second, the presentation describes how disability and crip studies can inform and deepen theological imagination as the dissertation crips an incarnational theology and practice of ministry. Third, it clarifies the purpose of deploying autoethnographic elements to raise questions and illustrate directions throughout the dissertation. By constructing an incarnational crip method, the larger project of the dissertation presents how an incarnational crip theology and practice of ministry through preaching, sacraments, and pastoral care can be re-imagined with this creative methodology.
Abigail Schindler (University of Illinois at Chicago)
Waste Humanity: The Legacy of the Untold History of Intellectual Disability
Abstract: Waste Humanity briefly outlines the history of intellectual disability in the United States and Canada, the unjust legacy of which can be seen in the way people with disabilities, along with others on the margins, continue to be treated. We cannot understand our current social landscape without first considering this history. Recognizing and repenting of this history is the first step in creating a new reality rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We can move beyond an understanding of human thriving based on productivity and recognize instead how God’s creation not only includes but prioritizes those this world deems of little value.
Lived Experience Stream (Hamilton)
Dr. Cynthia Wallace (St. Thomas Moore College, University of Saskatchewan)
“Making it easier / for us to breathe”: Dreaming Together about Breath as a Common Good
Abstract:In this presentation I propose to tell a story of resonances: In the fall of 2022, I discussed Ross Gay’s moving poem “A Small Needful Fact” with my students in a university course on life writing: we talked about how the poem bore witness to Eric Garner, whose life was robbed by a police chokehold and the refusal of life-giving breath. I was wearing a kn95 mask to protect my immunocompromised body from airborne illness as we spoke about how Gay poetically represents Garner’s work with plants, oxygenating the air for the good of all. In another class on church history, I was talking with my students about climate crisis and its disproportionate effects on vulnerable global populations, alongside the Catholic theological imagination of the common good as a communal project for shared flourishing. The echoes were powerful: all humans need air, but in our world of stacked supremacies—colonialist white supremacy, western supremacy, ableist supremacy—the freedom to breathe safely is unjustly distributed. SARS-CoV-2 has only further illuminated the disparities. I kept thinking about breath at the heart of both Genesis creation story and John’s Pentecost: not a right, but a gift to be shared. The intersections sparked a deep desire in me to imagine with others about how churches might become hubs of what Dacher Keltner calls “moral beauty”: communities that lead the way in addressing the tangled knot of supremacies that render the very air less safe for certain people. Drawing on my lived experience with chronic illness and my study of intersectional justice movements in poetry and theology, in my presentation I will invite further shared dreaming about what it might look like for our churches to welcome all to the holy work of making it easier for everyone to breathe.
James Gould (McHenry County College, Crystal Lake, Illinois), Dr. Beth Nolson (McMaster Divinity College)
Welcoming and Defending the Disabled Stranger: Hospitality Through Personal Relationship and Public Action
Abstract: In this presentation we suggest two ways in which individual parishioners, faith communities and denominational leaders can support people with intellectual disabilities and their caregivers (family and professional)—directly through personal relationships of care and indirectly through public and political action. We interpret the Micah (6:8) Mandate through the lens of hospitality to create two kinds of hospitality: kindness-hospitality (interpersonal relationships) and justice-hospitality (public action). We outline a number of ways in which churches can extend hospitality to people with intellectual disabilities and their caregivers. These range from the personal (relationships, respite, financial support) to the public (worship accommodations, partnerships with disability service agencies, political advocacy). Welcoming the disabled stranger has resonances to Hebrews 13:2; defending the disabled stranger has resonances to Deuteronomy 10:18. Neither kindness-hospitality nor justice-hospitality alone is enough: simply caring for people interpersonally does not address the broader systemic barriers they face in living a quality life—and simply standing at a distance and acting publicly on their behalf does not build the close friendships they need and want. Both personal welcome and public defense are necessary. There is a natural movement from interpersonal relationships (kindness) to public action (justice): proximity to people with intellectual disabilities creates a deep awareness of their needs for personal relationships and public inclusion. Our focus is on intellectual disability, but the lessons extend to all disabilities. Throughout we draw on our experience. Jim is the dad of an intellectually disabled adult son, serves on the board of his service agency and on a government disability advisory council in Illinois, where he lives. He has published numerous academic papers in disability ethics/theology. Co-presenter Beth Nolson lives in Ontario and has close friendships with families and individuals with intellectual disabilities. She just completed her doctorate in hospitality studies at McMaster Divinity College.
Dr. Hithakshi Shinde (City Harvest Assembly of God Church, India)
A Daughter of the Wind
Abstract: This has been my journey of encountering and recognizing my disability as I married my disabled husband. Words can mean so many things to varied people. However, the layers of depth the term `disabled’ can have, became my journey. Understanding my disability (physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental), and getting a glimpse of how the Lord looks at our `sense’ of ability and disability has been a walk worth taking.
Finding God in the Awful Awful
Abstract: What does one need the most during the dark night of the soul? Growing up with Spina Bifida, I lost count how many times I was rushed to the hospital, how many surgeries, how many times I felt alone, afraid, and at the edge of losing hope. I used to think that having a positive attitude is what got me through. After a recent medical emergency, I realized that sometimes staying positive is not an option. But to my surprise, God showed up in unexpected and mysterious ways. God showed up in my supportive family and church community, providing a safe space to ask difficult questions about disability and suffering. God showed up on a canvas I painted, helping me to articulate hidden experiences I had while hospitalized that I could not, at the time, find words to express. He showed up in a song I heard, reminding me that true faith is to acknowledge and embrace the inner tension between God’s power to heal and God’s presence in our suffering. It is a trust that leaves us vulnerable and that calls for the courage to say, “It is well with my soul” when things do not make sense.
Pastoral Stream (Hamilton)
Corey Parish (Tyndale)
I am Corey, and I am Here: Rediscovering ‘Place’ in Disruptive Seasons
Abstract:In the latter half of 2022, I experienced a season of disruption in my life as many of the relationships, routines, and physical environments I was accustomed to suddenly changed amid an unforeseen transition in my career as a pastor. At the same time, I was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and found myself navigating these changes within a new framework of neurodiversity. This season presented me with a unique opportunity to examine my life and discern aspects of spiritual formation pertinent to seasons of disruption through a personal lens of neurodiversity. I conducted research using documentary reviews, journal analyses, and personal interviews to better understand my experience of transition and ASD. I composed an autoethnography describing my discoveries and suggesting pathways for nurturing faith in neurodiverse people, especially as they experience disruption in their lives. Specifically, I explore the role of ‘place’ in my life as the context where relationships, routines, and physical environments intersect and contribute to my development, spiritual formation, and overall sense of identity. I describe how ‘place’ is essential for faith formation in seasons of disruption, especially for neurodiverse people who draw on predictability in their environments as a stabilizing factor in their lives. Finally, I suggest how a renewed appreciation for ‘place’ in our faith communities is a step towards justice and inclusion for neurodiverse people. I will offer an overview of my research with practical suggestions for reimagining the role of ‘place’ in faith communities as a step towards creative justice for neurodiverse individuals.
Dr. Michael Morelli (North West Seminary, B.C.)
Stillness and knowing, fear and trembling, groans too deep for words, and tongues of fire: re-imagining discipleship with help from people called ‘disabled’
Abstract: It is wonderful the scripture verses alluded to in the title of this essay are familiar to and cherished by many Christians, but it is problematic that such texts tend to be interpreted, preached, and performed in ableist ways. Captivity to ableism causes people to miss the ways in which reading texts like these with the phenomenon of ‘disability’ in view can reveal potent truths for the Christian life, the Body of Christ, and the practices of discipleship integral to the health of both. In this essay I combine stories of relationship with people called ‘disabled’ with a ‘dis-ableist’ reading of these scriptures passages to inspire a re-imagining of discipleship that articulates a truth worth interpreting, preaching, and performing in the church. People called ‘disabled’ can de/reconstruct the ways in which most Christians and churches think about and practice discipleship—and for the better. As this essay unfolds, the de/reconstruction to which I am referring here is described as a con/inversion that happens over time as people who are ‘not disabled’ live in relationship with people who ‘are disabled.’ Over time, and with eyes to see and ears to hear given by a present, active, and loving God, the person who is ‘not disabled’ discovers that the care and discipleship they are offering to the person who ‘is disabled’ is being returned. Life-, church-, and world-changing conversions happen whenever this kind of inversion is experienced because they provoke a dismantling of ableist hierarchies that place one individual in the position of caring and discipling subject and the ‘other’ individual in the position of cared for and discipled object. Here, new, better ways of discipleship and care emerge as people in and outside the church discover what disciple really looks like: constantly being the recipient and giver of care, not only from and to other people, but from and to God.
Rev. Steve Dykstra (New Hope Church, Hamilton)
Liturgies of Inclusion — Structuring Worship to Welcome the Marginalized
Abstract: I pastor New Hope Church in Hamilton, a small congregation made up of rich and poor members, all living and working in East Hamilton. Our church has sought to include those living on the margins, and have made some intentional adaptations to the structure of our Sunday gatherings in order to be as welcoming as possible. Over the last ten years, a few non-traditional elements of have taken a particular liturgical significance in our worship services. These include: coffee service, seating arrangements, and passing a microphone to take prayer requests. Each of them are an essential part of our liturgy, and speak to a rich theological truth in a correlate way to, for example, the positioning of the Lord’s Supper Table or the role of the narthex in a more traditional service. Without downplaying other elements, the ‘pinnacle’ of a typical New Hope church service is the passing of a microphone to take prayer requests. The symbolism of this act is rich; it proclaims our equality in Christ, and our commitment to give voice to those in our community who are marginalized. It strengthens our resolve to ‘weep with those who are weeping and rejoice with those who are rejoicing’, and builds unity in the body of Christ.
Becky Jones (Christian Reformed Church of North America)
Imago Dei Belongs in Community
Abstract: As I listened and learned from friends within the disability community about their connection to church, often noting their feelings of being rejected or less than, what I heard repeated over and over was the fact that Bible narratives, read through the lens of ableism, have perpetuated harm for them. When Bible stories are told, often the focus is on how a disability has been cured – thus leading to a negative narrative for a person with a disability that their body needs fixing. Is this actually what the Bible is saying? Have we as a society, seeped in ableist perspectives, simplified stories in a negative way? Can we re-vision Bible stories to focus on the holistic healing that took place through Jesus rather than focus only on the curative narrative that we often focus on instead? What about the concept of Imago Dei – can re-visioning the scene from each of the four healing narratives allow us to expand our understanding of the term from a disability justice lens so that, as disability advocate and author Amy Kenny suggests, we “recognize the Imago Dei in every body-mind, regardless of the ability, aptitude, and appearance” (p. 62). How do we come together as a community to recognize the Imago Dei in each other? Along with a paper written on the topic, 4 art panels have been created, re-visioning the typical imagery of healing natatives to re-vision these stories for the reader, focusing on building community and supporting each other, recognizing the beauty of Imago Dei in each one of us.
Practical Stream (Calgary)
Corinne Thomas (Centre Street Church, Calgary)
Discipleship for Adults with Developmental Disabilities
Synopsis: The Great Commission is for everyone. We are called to go and make disciples and that includes those with disabilities. Join Corinne as she speaks to the spiritual direction around this as well and provides some practical ways that we can disciple people with developmental disabilities and help them understand the love of Jesus and help them grow in their relationship with Him.