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 (allbelong.org). 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 firstname.lastname@example.org (don’t forget the “h”).