Here I am at Spartanburg Methodist College with Ruthann, Debbie and Laura, United Methodist Women from Latta, SC as we brought to a close the 2015 South Carolina "Mission u" (formerly the School of Christian Missions." For the past couple of years, I have served as Music Director for this event, and as a study leader for the UMW course, "The Church and People With Disabilities."
Every two years, the United Methodist Women feature a new class on the subject of social justice. The study of "The Church and People With Disabilities" was offered as part of the 2014 and 2015 Mission u events. I had no idea what I was getting into when I was contacted in 2013 by the Dean of the South Carolina Conference. It has always been a dream of mine to teach clergy and those in lay leadership on this topic. In my twenty-seven-plus years of music ministry, I have witnessed firsthand those congregations whose inclusion practices empower all of God's people. I have also experienced congregations at the opposite end of the spectrum. So, when the call came in, I enthusiastically accepted the role of Study Leader for this course.
The certification process was both frustrating and fulfilling. Many of us gathered regionally from throughout the United States to be certified as study leaders. Many of us have lived our entire lives with some sort of disability. We were often led by people considered to be more "typical" and we were often faced with the task of teaching our leaders that they themselves still had a lot to learn on the subject of inclusion. We laughed, we cried, we became angry, we forgave, and we left our national/regional training session knowing that the circle of inclusion is far from being complete. Yes, there were times when the "safe haven" of being amongst our brothers and sisters in Christ felt more like a battlefield, but hey, it's job security!
Back on the state level, in our own classrooms, we witnessed God at work. Clergy and laity came to learn more about how they could adopt more inclusive practices. People shared their firsthand experiences with a variety of their own disabilities. Others talked openly about what it was like to walk alongside a loved one or family member having some form of disability. We saw with our hearts the empowerment of the Holy Spirit in our classrooms as all of us grew in the knowledge of the differently able Body of Christ.
In my work as a study leader, I witnessed those in leadership positions become more aware. Those who talked about us during the 2014 event actually talked with us in 2015. That was a huge transformation. Yes, in spite of the frustration and sometimes even humiliation, I am grateful to have been part of Mission u as a representative of "The Church and People With Disabilities." My thanks to the United Methodist Women for growing in the wisdom and knowledge of God on this topic, to my sister in Christ, Audrey for graciously joining with me on this journey when I volunteered her for another study leader position and to those precious Latta ladies in the above picture whose friendship I will always treasure. God is truly good, all of the time!
Stay tuned for more posts like this one. Until next time, God bless you and keep His Song in your heart.
© 2015 by Laurel Jean Walden