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Disability Ministries

Total Inclusion!

Today’s blog post comes from Josiah Benedict, the Program Coordinator for Total Inclusion: 

Total Inclusion was launched in 2020 after some lead up work by the ELCA and Lutheran Outdoor Ministries (LOM). An ELCA program with a deep partnership with LOM, Total Inclusion is completely funded by a grant from the Margaret A Cargill Philanthropy (MACP) organization. The goal of Total Inclusion is to enrich the lives of youth from traditionally marginalized groups by creating a welcoming and safe experience for them at ELCA affiliated camps.

Total Inclusion identified three main groups to focus on: People who identify as LGBTQIA+, People of Color, and People with Disabilities. Total Inclusion has furthered these goals by creating materials to educate and prepare camp staff, hosting symposiums aimed at camp leadership to affect camp programming and culture from the top down, and giving out over a half million dollars in sub grants to camps so that they have the resources to move forward with their goals. To make sure that this program is properly guided, we have included representation from all of our target groups in our advisory committee, speakers/presenters, and in the future will include a diverse team looking over our grant awards.

Total Inclusion has enjoyed a strong partnership with the Disability Ministry advisory team, using members and recommendations from the team as speakers and committee members throughout the life of the program. Our symposiums for camp leadership and board presidents included a workshop lead by members of, or people recommended by, the Disability Ministry team, and brought a voice and perspective to the table that can sometimes be missed. Topics and grant ideas included many suggestions and changes to the physical space of camps, as well as adaptive equipment, sensory aids, and a broader look at the attitude and approach that camps have when including people with diverse abilities and needs.

Even despite the pandemic, many camps have moved forward with Total Inclusion related changes. Around a dozen camps in the LOM system have made adaptations or changes to their camps to make them more accessible for people with mobility challenges. This has included more accessible ramps, bathrooms, and updates to medical centers. Total Inclusion has been thrilled to hear about projects such as Camp Lutherlyn’s Universal Access Trail, a boardwalk style trail that allows more people to experience a larger part of the camp.

As Total Inclusion moves forward with its program we will continue to work on making camp accessible and welcoming for all people, with a key focus on programming and accessibility that allows all campers to be included, rather than separated out.

“Our Wholeness Is In Jesus Christ” by Rev. Peter Heide

I remember a particular Sunday in October 1962. It was the first anniversary of me being blind, and I was pretty proud of myself. I had made the transition from sight to blindness with some degree of competency. I had learned Braille well enough to continue with my class. I had learned how to write with a slate and stylus, a process of writing Braille that requires learning how to write from right to left and backwards. I was adjusting to living in a residential school during the week, only coming home for weekends, and I was learning to live in the world of sound with its many mysteries and delights.

I remember this Sunday so specifically because the sermon text was on the healing of Blind Bartimaeus, and the import of the sermon was, “If you believe strongly enough God can do anything.” After worship, for the first time I remember, but certainly not the last, I remember the man who came up to me and said, “I know that if you believe enough God will heal you.”

The beginning of a life-long consideration by me was suddenly forced on me.  “How much faith is enough?” “Can faith be made a commodity?” and “Is there really anything that we can do to merit God’s favor?”; these were huge questions for me, a ten-year-old. I was so proud of my accomplishments as a blind person, and I felt guilty because I wasn’t being faithful enough to even want to see again. I was having too much fun in my new life adventure.

Later, in 1968, when I was kidnapped, or maybe coercively persuaded, to be healed at an Oral Roberts rally. There I was asked, “Do you believe that Jesus Christ can heal you?” I said, “Yes, if he wants to.” When someone put their hand on my forehead and pushed be back into the arms of the people behind me, the declaration was, “In the name of Jesus, be healed!”

Then, because I wasn’t healed, I was told that I really didn’t have enough faith. On the trip home, I proudly told the people in the car that I wasn’t healed because God had things for me to do as a blind person. When I did get my eyesight back two years later, one of the people came to me and said, “I knew it could happen. It just took longer than we thought. All things are possible for God.” (Ironically, getting my eyesight back initiated the worst time of my life.)

Today, I am blind again. In many ways it was like going home. I am happy with my world of sound. I am pleased to read Braille again. I am somewhat frustrated by the world of technology, but grateful and excited by the possibilities it offers too. In many ways, this is the best time in history to be blind, and I am excited to be part of the blindness movement working to make life better for other blind people and all people living often inconvenient lives.

It is paramount for me to say to you today, “Our wholeness is in Jesus Christ. Whether one is blind, deaf, or otherwise living with a perceived disability, with that wholeness, our lives have wholeness in themselves.” Our faith is not lacking. Faith cannot be a commodity. Faith is something that can only be expressed from the places where we live. In that place of faith and centeredness, we can say, “We are not broken. We are not pitiable accidents. We do not need to be healed. We have gifts to share with the world because of own world understandings.” We have faith enough to forgive the fears of able-bodied people when they see in us their greatest nightmares. We continue to remain strong in faith—strong enough to continue knocking at the door of blessing and equity. We are uniquely created children of God, in God’s own image. Get used to it!

North/West Lower Michigan Synod Task Force for Disability Ministry


My name is Pastor Clay Bates, and I serve as the chair of the North/West Lower Michigan Synod Task Force for Disability Ministry.   

My vision of a synodical task force to promote ministry with people with disabilities began with the conviction that people with disabilities belong in worship and the life of a congregation as full participants, and every person with a disability has a right to access the sacraments, Christian learning, and spiritual guidance. 

My first step was to approach our bishop, Craig Satterlee, with my idea.  He embraced it with enthusiasm and suggested that I contact our synod vice-president for instructions as to how to petition our synod council for the formation of a task force.  After our synod council gave its approval, Bishop Satterlee and I recruited five people to join us on the task force (Bishop Satterlee and Assistant to the Bishop Rosanne Anderson are also on the task force, which is immensely helpful).   

Our first task was to seek training from a non-profit organization based in Wyoming, Michigan called All Belong (  Its Director of Church Services, Victoria White, provided us with the knowledge we needed to get started.  Our relationship with All Belong continues, as it will be available to consult with us as to how to be helpful to congregations with specific issues to be addressed, such as autism or dementia.   

Next, we composed an entry process for accompanying a congregation with whatever issue with which they might be requesting assistance.  We also composed an interview process for meeting with the person with the disability, their caregiver if any, the rostered minister, and anyone in the congregation who would be involved in implementing the plan.   

We composed a PowerPoint presentation for introducing the task force and how we could accompany a congregation on their way from welcoming people with disabilities to belonging to the fellowship of the congregation.  We also composed a brief video to serve as publicity.  We hosted a synod-wide book study on Zoom, also. 

We are currently in the process of developing a Disability Day (October 22nd) to which we are inviting members of our synod, neighboring synods, and ecumenical partners.  Among the activities will be keynote addresses and workshops.  It will be held in Portage, Michigan and you are invited!  Registration materials will be forthcoming.   

Our first consultation with a congregation is an ongoing process.  First, we gave a general introduction to disabilities and the life of the congregation, a description of universal design (being prepared to welcome anyone with a disability) and responsive design (responding to a particular set of needs).  We also helped them begin to discern a vision for their ministry and setting goals.  Next, we will address responsive design in detail. 

I would be delighted to chat with you regarding any questions you might have, and there are a few documents which we created that I could share with you.  The best way to contact me is at (don’t forget the “h”).   

Meet the Advisory Team!


Rev. Lisa Heffernan

Rev. Lisa Heffernan, coordinator

Hi! I’m Rev. Lisa Heffernan, and I serve as the coordinator for Disability Ministries; a position I began just about a year ago! My involvement with the advisory team began in early 2017. Between then and now I have co-facilitated one of our expansion teams, helped to co-author documents and resources on language and disability, contributed to our newsletter, and ventured to Washington D.C. for the Lutheran Services in America conference in the spring of 2017. As a rostered leader in Christ’s Church who lives with a disability, I have long felt a strong call to serve with and for others with disabilities. That call brought me to this advisory team, and now as coordinator, where I strive to lead and serve in such a way that the ELCA can seek to become more open and accessible to disabled followers of Christ– in the pew, at the pulpit, and in all expressions of church life and leadership.

In future monthly blog posts we will feature stories from different disability ministries, leaders with disabilities, allies, and ELCA families who are part of the disability community. We are here to share those stories, to learn from one another, and to work toward a full, just and equitable church and society where people with disabilities are prepared for leadership, congregations are equipped for accessible ministries, and God’s people are connected to one another in our life together as followers of Christ.

In this first post for our blog, you’ll get to meet the wonderful group of colleagues who serve on the ELCA Disability Ministries advisory team. Every day I am thankful for their knowledge, dedication to, and love of this ministry and of God and God’s people. They volunteer so much of themselves and their time; my heart is full when I reflect on all we’ve done together, and it excites me for all that is to come. You can contact Disability Ministries at: or


Chris Ludwig

Chris Ludwig

My name is Chris Ludwig, and I’ve served on the Disability Ministries Advisory Team since 2015. My contributions to the Advisory Team include starting, editing, and writing for the Disability Ministries newsletter, which raises awareness of the Ministries’ success in exemplifying the All Are Welcome creed of the church by continuously highlighting numerous leadership, education, and advocacy opportunities by and for individuals with disabilities within the church. I also facilitate the Ministries’ Grant Review Team, which to date has cumulatively awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in support of programming and services meant to prepare leaders with disabilities to serve within the church, equip synods and congregations with information and resources relevant and specific to a population of individuals who have disabilities, and connect and gather individuals with disabilities throughout various expressions of the church to promote and support inclusion, participation, and diversity. This work is so important to me, and I’m thankful and proud that the ELCA substantiates its ethos by offering Disability Ministries as a part of the mission of the church. My entire career has focused on including and improving opportunities for individuals with disabilities personally, professionally, and culturally, and I look forward to continuing that legacy with my ongoing contributions to Disability Ministries, as we enrich and expand upon the work we do as a team.


Rev. Peter Heide

Rev. Peter Heide

Hello, my name is Peter Heide, an ordained minister of the ELCA. I have been both sighted and totally blind four times in my life, and I have experienced many levels of impaired vision throughout. Recognizing that Jesus gathers the marginalized to be the new center (Matt. 4:23-5:1), the ELCA strives to acknowledge the blessed giftedness of all people living with disabilities, enabling them to speak from the margins to the center of our Gospel witness. We are more than prayer concerns—we have a message of hope for the Church. This liberating Gospel work is at the heart of Christianity. As a life-long Lutheran, when I heard “The ELCA: There is a place for you here”, I wondered where that was. I found my answer as the newest member of the Disability Ministries Advisory Team (2017). I am committed to working for full inclusion for all with particular concern for the provision of economical, fully accessible resources for people with low vision, blindness, or a physical, perceptual, or reading disability, whether temporary or permanent. I give thanks for current technology that makes this more possible now, and I pray for the day when “a place for you” is more than an aspiration.


Rev. Brian Krause

Rev. Brian Krause

My name is Pastor Brian Krause and I been ordained since 2009. I have served congregations in Nebraska and Ohio. I currently serve as a Chaplain at Sanford Health in Bismarck, North Dakota. I have Cerebral Palsy. I have been active with disability ministries for nearly a decade. I have presented on disability ministry topics around the country. I served as a Bible Study leader for several camp programs for campers with disabilities at Joy Ranch in South Dakota. I have advocated for more resources for Mental Health ministries. Recently I have been working with the Total Inclusion project to make our camps more welcoming of people with disabilities.


Anita Smallin

Anita Smallin

Hello Friends! My name is Anita Smallin (she/her), and I have served on the Disability Ministry Advisory team since 2015. My core belief is that the Body of Christ is not complete unless everyone is welcome and has access to the church.

I have led workshops on Disability Ministry at various conferences, have started curating lists of resources, and I have co-authored a few resources for the team.

When I am not working for the team, I am the Director of Youth & Family Ministry at Trinity Lutheran Church, in North Bethesda, MD. On any given day, I can be found singing really loud, cross-stitching, or walking 3 collies.