Monumentally Mixed Day

Well, yesterday, was an interesting day! I wonder what the Holy Spirit thought of it? I wonder what the Holy Spirit did to relax at after such a day. A day of monumental gender justice equality. A day of monumental ecclesiastical politics mixed with hatred, fear, power plays, denial of justice, and human inequality. Yeah, what would any of us do after a day like that!

I had finished my day of chaplaincy and started the car for the ride home from the skilled nursing facility I had been visiting. That’s when I heard the news on the car radio that made me want to jump up and down. The Anglican Synod had approved a new rule to allow women to serve as Bishops!! It still has to be ratified but…Yes! That is wonderful! The first person to see the risen Christ, and thus become an apostle, was Mary…and now the church has decided that woman can hold ecclesiastical seats of power. Imagine that! Honestly I thought the news was so wonderful, despite my snarky inner dialogue, that I cried.

Later in the evening I sat down to check the news on Facebook, oddly there was no chatter about women being approved to serve as Bishops in the Anglican church. There was the news, however, that the Methodist Church in Pennsylvania had convicted one of their own Bishops for presiding at the marriage ceremony of his own son; the Bishop was convicted of showing the love of God in presiding over a religious ceremony because the two people being married to one another were men, and that is against Methodist law. It was an ugly act to convict a Bishop for celebrating love, particularly the love of his own child. It was an act of homophobia and hate to convict a man who had faithfully served the church for over twenty years for celebrating a marriage. It was an act of clergy abuse for the ecclesiastical structure to expect any individual clergy to choose the law of church over the needs of the clergy’s family. It was a power play to make an example of one clergyman and further the continuation injustice perpetrated towards an entire segment of humanity, a whole segment of the Christian church. I read this news in disbelief, how could the “powerful” and “influential” Methodist church do such a unloving thing?  I wanted to cry. I wanted to repent for having been confirmed in a Methodist church as a youth. I was ashamed for having been formed by a Methodist seminary. I was thankful to be ordained in the United Church of Christ where “no matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome”. I thought of Jesus and was sure that as throngs of people gathered to him, no one was ever asked about their sexual orientation before being invited in to the Master’s presence.

So there it was a monumentally mixed day–more liberation for women within the church and more discrimination against allies of GLBT Christians, let alone GLBT Christians themselves. So I sat there looking at the computer screen wondering how to react to it all. Because, really after a day of church news like that what does one do? Cheer? Mourn? Celebrate? Cry? I hope at the end of yesterday that the Holy Spirit had a glass of wine, or whatever spiritual energetic equivalent is available to her! Perhaps we should just all pray, pray that the Holy Spirit continues to guide the churches to justice and to peace for all people.


Why Widen the Welcome?

Have you heard? There is a banquet planned before Synod, and I have been asked to bid you come.

I hope that sounds familiar to most of you. Most of all, I really hope that you will accept the invitation. Yes, I know Synod is coming and there is lots for us to do to prepare! But, then there is that biblical mandate that we all live with to be welcoming and to enter into the community of God, while ever widening the welcome to include all whom God has invited to the banquet.

This is a goal of most congregations. Yet despite the advertisements of a radical welcome, there are some people who wonder if that welcome really includes them. I have from time to time found myself wondering if I really were invited. You see as a child, I had a pronounced speech impediment and I learned early that even when I was invited to be somewhere that I had to do some extra work to find out if I were really welcome or if I was there to entertain others as I spoke. And yes I learned to wonder this even at church. Last year, at Widening the Welcome 3 in Columbus Rev. Lynda Bigler asked in her sermon “Have you ever been faced with revealing your disability or keeping silent to keep the status quo?” and waves of remembering being told I was either not qualified or could not be qualified to serve as a chaplain because I am a woman with disability flooded over me. This time, however, those waves did not knock me down. This time I had learned I was indeed welcome not only at the table but welcomed into the community of God.

I have been questioned by people within the disability community about why I would want to be involved in the church. Its not as shocking as it seems. Many persons using wheelchairs find it difficult to get into church buildings and they feel excluded. Many persons with mental health issues find that people in the church are no more compassionate than people outside the church even as the gospel is preached each Sunday. And, yet, this is not the church I have always known or the understanding of the gospel I have learned from church. As Jason Hayes said in his speech at the last Widening the Welcome, “‘Failure to conform to social norms’ sounds like Jesus the Christ to me.”

Why am I telling you all of this? Because, I want you, my brothers and sisters in the church, to understand why I am bidding you to come to Widening the Welcome. God calls all people to God’s community. God sometimes calls people to us we do not yet understand or people whom we are not sure how or if to welcome. God, it seems does not share in all our human stigmas. So I bid you come to the banquet where we can met one another and learn what disability and mental illness are, and what they are not. Come so we can equip the leaders and laity of our congregations to extend with confidence that radical welcome to persons whose body may not be like other bodies and persons whose brains may not be like other brains. Come let us talk to one another about how to move beyond stigma and welcome all people into the full participation of the life of our churches.

Come to the Widening the Welcome, Pre-Synod Event on Thursday, June 27, 2013 at the Renaissance Long Beach Hotel. Keynote speakers will include The Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroder, Founder, Mental Health Ministries, and The Rev. Kathy Reeves, Coordinator of Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network-North America, a program of the World Council of Churches. Workshops will provide information about becoming an “Accessible to ALL” (A2A) church, starting mental health ministries, caring for adolescents and the aged, as well as creating inclusion and transformation. Registration is now open and the registration brochure is available here Widening the Welcome Registration Brochure. Please follow registration instructions in the brochure. Limited scholarships funds are available. For more information about Widening the Welcome or for a scholarship form please email Rev. Kelli Parrish Lucas at [email protected]

Widening the Welcome Registration Begins!

UCC Disabilities Ministries and UCC Mental Illness Network
Coordinator: Rev. Kelli Parrish Lucas, UCCDM Secretary
email: [email protected]

Widening the Welcome Pre-Synod Event Location and Details Announced: Developing Congregations to Include People with Disabilities and Mental Illnesses/Brain Disorders to be held in Long Beach, CA June 27.

The United Church of Christ Disabilities Ministries (UCCDM) and the United Church of Christ Mental Illness Network (UCC MIN) is happy to announce that the Fourth Annual Widening the Welcome: Inclusion for All Conference will be held at the Renaissance Long Beach Hotel, CA. Widening the Welcome 2013 will commence at 7:30 am and conclude at 7:30 pm on Thursday, June 27th, 2013. Registration information, including link to on-line registration is available now , and here:  Widening the Welcome Registration Brochure!!

Widening the Welcome: Inclusion for All will celebrate the theme “God’s Vision: The Great Dinner is Open to All” (Luke 14:15 ff) with speakers and workshops designed to assist congregations in welcoming and ministering with people with disabilities and/or mental illness/brain disorders. Keynote speakers include The Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroder, Founder, Mental Health Ministries, and The Rev. Kathy Reeves, Coordinator of Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network-North America, a program of the World Council of Churches.

Workshops will include “Becoming A2A (Accessible to All): From Theory to Practice”, “Mental Illness and Families of Faith: How Congregations Can Respond”, “Mental Illness in Prison: Understanding the Facts”, “Spiritual Care for People with Disabilities & Brain Disorders of Aging”, “Centers of Hope and Transformation: People with Disabilities Creating a Consciousness of Inclusion”, “Cherish the Parents, Care for the Child: Supporting the Emotional Well Being of Families from Birth to Young Adulthood,” and “Developing and Sustaining a Spiritual Support Group for Mental Health and Wellness”.

“Widening the Welcome: Inclusion for All” was termed “a movement within the movement” of the UCC by General Minister Geoffrey Black. UCCDM and UCC MIN welcome all UCC churches and conferences as well as our ecumenical partners seeking to do ministry with persons with disabilities including mental illnesses to send representatives to join us on June 27, 2013 for this fourth historic gathering. This Widening the Welcome Conference is offered prior to General Synod so as to make this educative, informative and engaging Conference available to Synod delegates. This is also the first of the three prior national conferences that will be held in the west so as to make it available to people in this region of our country.  ###

Widening the Welcome Press Release

UCC Disabilities Ministries and UCC Mental Illness Network


Coordinator: Rev. Kelli Parrish Lucas, UCCDM Secretary
email: [email protected]

Widening the Welcome: Inclusion for All Pre-Synod Event,  To Be Held June 27, 2013

Movement for Inclusion Hopes to Welcome Synod Attendees

The United Church of Christ Disabilities Ministries (UCCDM) and the United Church of Christ Mental Illness Network (MIN) will offer a fourth Widening the Welcome (WtW) experience. The Fourth Widening the Welcome Conference will be held as a one-day Pre-Synod Event on Thursday, June 27th, 2013. This event is scheduled to be held in Long Beach, exact location TBD.

The theme for Widening the Welcome 2013 is “God’s Vision: The Great Dinner is Open to All” (Luke 14:15 ff). Two keynote speakers are expected. The Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroder, Founder Mental Health Ministries, will speak on “Mental Health as a Spiritual Journey” and offer a workshop on “Mental Illness and Families of Faith: How Congregations Can Respond.”  The Rev. Kathy Reeves, Coordinator for the Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network-North America, a program of the World Council of Churches will also offer a keynote address/workshop. Both keynote speakers have self-identified as persons with disability and/or a persons in recovery.

Workshops focusing on how congregations can become Accessible to All (A2A), how congregations can develop mental health ministries will be available. Workshops such as “Prison Ministry and Mental Health as a Justice Issue,” “Cherish the Parents, Care for the Child: Supporting the Emotional Well Being of Families from Birth to Young Adulthood,” “Pastoral Care with People with Disabilities & Brain Disorders of Aging”, and topics not previously presented at WtW conferences are planned for this conference.

“Widening the Welcome” was termed “a movement within the movement” of the UCC by General Minister Geoffrey Black. WtW continues with its vision/mission:

  • to educate about mental illnesses/brain disorders and disabilities;
  • to teach how to develop Mental Health Ministries and A2A (Accessible to All) Covenants in your congregation;
  • to share best practices by telling stories, learning from each other, and networking;
  • to equip pastoral leaders to understand and provide quality pastoral care to men and women addressing these concerns;  and
  • to offer spiritual support group experiences and worship together.###

Widening the Welcome is Coming!

Widening the Welcome 2013 Postcard

The Fourth Widening the Welcome: Inclusion for All Conference sponsored by UCC Disabilities Ministries and the UCC Mental Health Network. A Pre-Synod event will be held Thursday, June 27, 2013 in Long Beach, CA. 8am-8pm. Exact location to be announced.

Speakers will include Rev. Susan Gregg Schroeder, Founder of Mental Health Ministries and Rev. Kathy Reeves, Coordinator of the Ecumenical Disabilities Advocacy Network–North America, a program of the World Council of Churches.

Save the date, more details to come!

I am coordinating this event. I will also be offering the following workshop at the event:

Spiritual Care for Persons with Disabilities and Those Affected by Serious Brain Disorders Associated with Aging

This workshop is a multifaceted look at providing pastoral care to people with disabilities (PWD). This workshop will provide disability culture and awareness information that all professional pastoral care providers should be aware of in providing pastoral care to PWD. This workshop will touch on some historical ecumenical responses to disability, particularly the shift in ethical responses to disability that affect care provided. Finally this workshop will address providing pastoral care to persons affected with dementia, relying on first and second hand accounts as available. (Developed for professional pastoral care providers, and accessible to lay people.)

Stigma 2012

votive candles in the foreground with christ on the cross on the wall in the background; taken at historical basilaca

Today is World AIDS Day. A day the world focuses on the need to address this worldwide health issue. Its not an easy topic to address because so many people would rather not talk about it. Ignoring something does not make it go away; it only makes it dark and secret and that much more scary. HIV/AIDS remains perhaps one the greatest social taboos we have to address. And perhaps this year that is what we must focus on in our fight against HIV/AIDS. Continue the struggle to find a scientific medical cure, yes. Continue to foster the prevention of HIV infections. Continue to pray for peace from the social, financial, emotional, and other impacts that this disease brings to so many–whether they experience the illness themselves or are in relationship with someone who does.

All people are subject to stigma, in a whole variety of ways. What we often forget is that stigma and the negative impact it carries is one of the most damaging experiences an individual can encounter, but it is also the one experience that we as human beings have the most control over. Stigma is our attitude nothing more and nothing less. We can decide to change it and it is done–and it costs no money, only human will.

As a hospice chaplain, I have come to learn where many of the public restrooms in my community are. I sometimes have to stop there as I move through my day. I have even learned which public bathrooms supply soap and where I need to bring my soap in with me. Many of us maybe surprised to find how clean our park restrooms really are.  A month or so ago I stopped at a small park to use the restroom. I noticed on the wall of the stall scratched into the paint the words “Kim has AIDS”. I have no idea who Kim is, if this is true, or a just a kid’s prank. But it made me think. First I thought eww is this bathroom clean enough to use? Then I thought who are the people who come in here to who would need to graffiti this?  In just a few moments I recalled that World AIDS Day was soon approaching and wondered how I would mark it. I wondered about “Kim” if she were ok an getting the help she needed. And I realized anew how strong the power of stigma is.

Stigma can move you from no emotion on a topic to so much emotion on a topic that you want to flee, and this can happen in an instant. Because of the power of stigma, we have a choice: to embrace the HIV+/AIDS community and seek solutions with them or we can jerk away, leaving them to find solutions on their own. Jesus calls us to reach out to persons effected by stigma, he does so countless times in the gospels bringing stigmatized persons back into the fold of society, and that is the radical message of love. Jesus subverted stigma and so can we. Stigma can be not only subverted but reversed by the simple act of human will.

We are all affected by stigma. I am not perfect–on some level wondering if the bathroom was clean enough to use after seeing the graffiti on the bathroom wall was a reaction of my own internalized stigma. So this year I join the world in prayer and reflection on this World AIDS Day. I join in praying for friends who have died from the effects of AIDS, those who have been isolated by the stigma of AIDS and who die alone as a result, systems that marginalize people with HIV/AIDS, as well as friends and colleagues who live with HIV or AIDS. I pray for Kim. But this year I also pray for myself. I pray that God might grant me the grace to see stigma when I see it, to face it, and somehow turn it around. And I pray for the humanity of the world, that we might learn to change the things that we can and that we might turn our attitudes and stigmas about HIV/AIDS around so we might reach out to our brother and sisters and learn to all be one.

Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network – Day 2

Today was the second and final meeting day of EDAN North America. There is so much to think and process that there is surely more to this day than what will be included in this blog. I would have to say that key words for today were pioneers, power, process, and voice.

As we sat around the conference table today brainstorming about how to assist the churches and religious institutions be more inclusive of people with disabilities (PWD) there was much said and much felt that was not voiced in the space given our limited time together and the need to complete task oriented goals. Nonetheless this was a very fruitful day and I believe our work done today will multiply in the time ahead.

There was recognition today that the work that we do as professionals with disabilities, and all that goes on behind the scenes in relation to our professional development and even our  professional being is in so many ways pioneering. We may not always have the accommodations we like, we may not find the world as kind or welcoming as we would like but in some ways just by being who we are by advocating for change where we find the need to do so we are pioneering a way for PWD who come behind us. How can we institutionalize our work so it becomes a legacy rather than a path that gets grown over when we move on professionally?

In all institutions, but particularly in the church, there is also the issue of power. Who holds power, who grants access to power, and how to get invited to the table. That’s a big issue, these are big questions. Questions that I think may Christians do not like to think come into play in the structures of the church. But we are not so nieve. There are church and ecumenical power structures to work with, and around. I found the need to mention the fact today that even Jesus, at times challenged the status quo in unexpected ways–if someone takes your cloak as collateral for a debt, give them your shirt also  so you are naked…for in Jesus’ context it was not shameful to be naked but to see another naked. So yes there are processes and power structures to gain access to, to share our stories and unique lens of the gospel with, but neither are PIONEERS WITH DISABILITY willing to sit passively by in the churches forever, having our human right to inclusion within the Body of Christ continually ignored. We are educated, articulate, armed with the gospel and we expect a seat at the table, along with an Aaron-like interpreters when needed. We are a part of the body and we have the agency that we need to make our part known.