Disability Awareness Sunday falls on 16 June this year, and sits alongside Trinity Sunday as this Church’s annual opportunity to promote a better understanding of who we are as Christian communities with diverse gifts and abilities, and to challenge the church as a whole to welcome ministries of people with disabilities.
“In Christ we build a new community where all people are called to serve and to be served." said Rev Vicki Terrell, the Diocese of Auckland’s Disability Community chaplain, as she introduced Disability Awareness Sunday for 2019. "Disabled and non-disabled are called together to build this community where all give and receive.”
At General Synod – Te Hīnota Whānui in 2018, the three-Tikanga social justice network disability group moved that this Church work to increase our awareness of disability issues within and beyond our churches.
“The Gospel calls us to break down barriers between people and enlarge our vision from people being divided into “us” and “them” to all people being part of “us”, they told synod.
“The gospel challenge to love calls the body of Christ to move beyond providing ramps and accessible toilets, to embrace disabled people as sisters and brothers who are called to serve and be served as part of the Body of Christ.”
“As Christians, we recognise that the church is not complete until everyone is present and included fully.”
According to Statistics New Zealand, almost one in four New Zealanders are disabled – due to a physical, intellectual, learning, sight, hearing, or psychological impairment.
The UN Convention the Rights of Persons with Disabilities makes it clear that ‘disability’ is not located in the impairments experienced by individuals, but in the results of how those impairments are responded to by society,
“…disability is an evolving concept and…results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others,” – UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Preamble (e).
Disability Awareness Sunday is the day each year that helps churches to focus attention on welcoming people with disabilities in every aspect of our church life – an area that often fails to catch churches’ and church leaders’ attention.
“The gospel constantly challenges us to see what we perceive as our weaknesses, as well as our strengths, as gifts that can be used in the work of God.” said Vicki Terrell from the Social Justice network’s disability portfolio group.
Below are resources designed to help worship leaders with background material on disability issues including:
– A caution on healing and disability
– Sentences and collects for use in worship
– Guides on making churches more accessible
– US Episcopalian, US United Methodist, Church of England, Anglican Church of Canada and World Council of Churches (Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network) resources.
Resources for planning Disability Awareness Sunday
Disability Awareness Sunday is Trinity Sunday in 2019, so worship planners can choose to look at how the Trinitarian theme relates to disability, inclusion and wholeness, or choose another Sunday to celebrate Disability Awareness Sunday using the alternate themed readings below.
The US United Methodist Church DisAbility Ministries team have prepared a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ guide on Disability Awareness Sunday, which is available adapted for Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia here.
When planning for Disability Awareness Sunday Auckland Disability Community chaplain Rev Vicki Terrell recommends approaching the readings set for the day by asking:
What are these readings saying about disability and about our common humanity?
This approach to the texts requires a certain knowledge and experience of disability as well knowing the congregation. Below are a number of resources that can open up the experience of people with disabilities for abled people in church leadership.
Take care: Christian approaches to ‘healing’ disability
Many disabled people have difficulty with the church because at times the initial response they receive is to pray for healing of impairments.
While acknowledging the importance of healing ministry, it is not helpful to focus on it exclusively as a response to disability. It can lead to misunderstanding and be a barrier for people with disability who need to know that they are loved and accepted by God and the community of faith. People with disability are part of the body of Christ and are to be encouraged to be involved in ministry in whatever ways are possible.
Where there are accounts of healing in the suggested readings look for where the stories demonstrate Jesus’ actions that move people from being ‘outcasts’ to being accepted and able to fully participate in the community again. The emphasis in many healing stories is that Christ came to restore both the person and the community to wholeness.
The following suggested sentences and collects for Disability Awareness Sunday were compiled by Rev Vicki Terrell in 2016.
Sentences for Disability Awareness Sunday
We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 2 Corinthians 4:6-7
But Christ said to me “My grace is sufficient for you for power is made perfect in weakness” … so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 2 Corinthians 12:9
Collects for Disability Awareness Sunday
Loving God, Give us courage to embrace our humanity with its many gifts and struggles. Show us how our weaknesses can become opportunities for Your power to shine through our lives. In the name of Jesus who broke through death and lives with you and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Other suitable Disability Awareness Sunday collects from in A New Zealand Prayer Book / He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa, 1989:
Pentecost 8:1, Page 615
you have made us
not in one mould, but in many:
so deepen our unity in Christ
that we may rejoice in our diversity.
Pentecost 12:2, Page 620
Servant God, grant us opportunity,
give us willingness
to serve you day by day;
that what we do
and how we bear each other’s burdens,
may be our sacrifice to you.
Pentecost 23:2, Page 635
Save us, Jesus, from hurrying away,
because we do not wish to help,
because we know not how to help,
because we dare not.
Inspire us to use our lives
serving one another.
Disability Awareness Sunday alternate readings by theme
Theme: Being made in the image of God
Genesis 1: 26-27 We are created in God's image
or Samuel 9: 1-13 Mephibosheth sits at the King's table
2 Cor 4:5-12 Treasure in Earthen Vessels
John 9:1-4 Being blind not result of sin or
Luke 22:14-20 Through brokenness there is redemption
Theme: We all have a part to play in Ministry
Psalm 103:1-13 The Lord knows our frame
Exodus 3:1-6; 9-12; 4:10-17
Romans 12:1-8(9-13) Different gifts or
I Corinthians 12:12-26 The body of Christ
Mark 2:1-4 His friends lowered him down through the roof
Further Aotearoa New Zealand-based resources
The Disability, Spirituality and Faith Network of Aotearoa New Zealand has published a booklet guide for churches ‘Creating Welcoming Churches: Information, Attitude, Action.’ To purchase the booklet ($15), go to Creating Welcoming Churches. This resource will soon be available online.
The Disability, Spirituality and faith network also has a valuable section on Aotearoa New Zealand church peoples’ experience of disability in their church lives under Telling our stories.
Elevate Christian Disabilities Trust has resources for Disability Awareness Sunday from a New Zealand non-denominational perspective here.
The New Zealand Human Rights Commission has published an extensive resource on recommendations for how public building owners can provide physical access for people with disabilities. You can download the 27-page Word document here.
Other churches and Christian Disability resources
The Episcopal Church USA marks Disability Awareness Sunday as “Inclusion Awareness Day” and remembers their 19th century missionary US Episcopal Bishop Joseph Schereschewsky as a disabled saint. Bishop Samuel spent the last 25 years of his ministry working to translate the Bible into ancient Chinese script, while living with paralysis in most of his body. The Episcopal Church USA’s liturgical resources focus on Bishop Samuel and include prayers for use in worship.
The Church of England resource ‘A Place to Belong’ is a general guide for churches on issues of access, inclusion and welcome for people with disabilities, mental health challenges or on the autism spectrum. You can download ‘A Place to Belong’ here.
Background resources from Christian leaders and theologians with disabilities
WCC Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network theological overview
In 2016 the international Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (EDAN), an ecumenical group including theologians with disabilities, published ‘The Gift of Being’ a wide-ranging analysis of the many theological understandings of disability. The comprehensive EDAN document emphasises the approach of Jesus’ welcome for the disabled ‘outsiders’ of first century society, when he destigmatised people with disabilities and brought them back into the heart of their communities.
EDAN’s 24-page theological overview ‘Called to be A Church of All and for All’ aims to make a theological shift of perspective that recognises people with disabilities as equally made in the image of God, and critiques the theological pitfalls that have led Christians to falsely judge people with disabilities as having insufficient faith, or being in a state of sin, or not as unique individuals but as passive recipients of Christian charity. You can view Called to be a Church of all and for All here or download the PDF here.
Anglican Church of Canada: Anglicans with disabilities research
In 2017 two Canadian clergy with disabilities, the Reverend Karen Pitt and her research collaborator, the Reverend Canon Dennis Dolloff, prepared a paper on the experience of people with disabilities in the Anglican Church of Canada.
The paper contains telling stories of times when their and others’ disabilities were cited by church members and church leaders to justify their exclusion, not only from community leadership, but from basic participation in the life and worship of the church. The research is a backgrounder on some disabled Anglicans’ perspectives, and calls for a broadened theological understanding of ‘diversity’ to include people with disabilities. You can download the paper here.