Disability is part of God’s divine plan

On Wednesday 13 October, the Diocese of Oxford hosted a Disability Conference with over 60 people attending the online sessions.

A range of guests, working for Christian organisations and the Church, presented powerful and inspiring stories raising awareness of disabilities and the importance of support for and the inclusion of people with disabilities in the church.

We’ll be posting a transcript of the sessions, together with video clips from the day on the disability page soon.

The Revd Katie Tupling, Diocesan Disability Adviser, led the conference with a special introductory message from Archbishop Justin Welby and excellent guest speakers all with BSL interpreters:

  •  Kay and Matthew, The Additional Needs Alliance
  •  Ann Memmott
  •  Emma Major, LLM Diocese of Oxford
  •  Matthew Horspool, The Torch Trust
  •  The Rt Revd Richard Atkinson, Bishop of Bedford, lead Bishop for Deaf and disability issues.
  •  Revd Susan Myatt, Deaf Ministry Task Group
  •  Revd Val Plumb, Diocese of Oxford
  •  Marylin Kilsby, Open Ears
  •  Pete and Christine Winmill, Count Everyone In
  •  Revd Canon Dr Joanna Collicutt
  •  Revd Bill Braviner, Co-founder of Disability and Jesus

The conference was an opportunity for all people to learn more about disability and church life and provide support and advice for everyone seeking to make their church more accessible. Attendees had the opportunity to ask each of the guest speakers questions and share their thoughts and experiences.

Kay Morgan-Gurr and Mark Arnold from the Additional Needs Alliance shared about the importance of supporting children and young people with additional needs in the Church:

“Don’t put limit on what a child or young person with additional needs can achieve, especially in relation to their faith.

“God can and does work in the lives of everyone, whatever disabilities or differences they may or may not have.”

Ann Memmott, spoke to the conference about her experiences of the inclusion of autistic adults and children in church: “Lots of churches say ‘we are accessible’. But it is about belonging, and this is not the same as access. Every human is asked to God’s banquet and has a place at the table.

Sharing her moving story about her experience of ordained ministry, her faith, and her disability, Revd Val Plumb said: “I never expected my disabilities would play such an integral part of my ministry…Disability is part of God’s divine plan.”

Reflecting on their experience of disability and church, one of the conference attendees said:

“I have learnt so much about God by spending time with friends with learning disabilities.

“Adults with learning disabilities have as much to teach the rest of us as we have to team them! They come with little prejudice, sometimes few words, but a profound awareness of creation, and often God as they understand him.”

Revd Bill Braviner, co-founder of Disability and Jesus, focused his talk on disability theology and where Jesus can be found in our disabilities not in spite of them. Revd Bill shared about Jesus’ living his early life being on the edges of acceptability and his choice to never be on the oin-crowd but be with people on the edge. Revd Bill had this advice for the Christians in the Church:

“We must locate ourselves at the margins between the world and God’s Kingdom. We must remain a church on the edge, that’s where we find ourselves because its where Jesus locates his ministry and where the blessing is to be found.”

In the Diocese of Oxford we celebrate the inclusion, contribution and ministry of disabled people, recognising that the church community is only complete when all are welcome, and the partnership that should exist between disabled people and those who are non-disabled. You can find out more about the work of the diocese in supporting those with disabilities to be part of the church on the diocese disability webpage.