The disabled Christian community is a growing, vibrant movement, challenging exclusion and showing how we can do – and be – Church in more diverse, inclusive ways. I’m always keen to help get the word out about the community’s own events and activities.
In no particular order, here are some of the things that disabled Christians and our groups have been up to, in the past six months or so, and some upcoming events.
The Living Edge Conference on Disability and Church
It’s incredible to think that the Living Edge conference is about to hold its tenth annual event. This disabled-led conference is a partnership between Inclusive Church and St Martin-in-the-Fields Church. I was at the first conference, a decade ago, when the landscape of disability and church looked very different. I was struck by how the conference centred disabled Christians’ voices, and how unusual that was, especially back then. Since that first event, the Living Edge conference has been a space for the conversation about disability and church that I was longing to hear, all those years ago. It has shaped theology, amplified disabled Christian voices, and grown into a community that resources Dangerous Prophets (the informal slogan that came out of last year’s conference!) I’m looking forward to seeing where the conference goes in its next decade. I know it will continue to call for justice and radical inclusion for disabled people in churches, as many more Dangerous Prophets are nurtured and resourced through a growing conference community.
- As a preview for this year’s conference, check out the videos from last year’s conference, all with captions. Highlights include Emily Richardson in conversation with priest and theologian Jane Wallman-Girdlestone, liturgy in BSL by deaf liberation theologian Hannah Lewis, and a wonderful talk from retired Methodist minister Donald Eadie. I was privileged to be a storyteller at the 2020 conference.
- Join us at (Still) Calling From the Edge, the 2021 conference, on 16th October 2021.
Disability and Jesus: ‘Pilgrims in the Dark’
In July, it was three years since the publication of Disability and Jesus’s book ‘Pilgrims in the Dark,’ launched at General Synod 2018. The book, by Katie Tupling, Dave Lucas and Bill Braviner, calls churches to radical hospitality with disabled people, as the authors challenge the inequalities that too many disabled people face in churches today. Theologies of pain and lament are particular highlights, as the authors ask what a non-disabled church can learn from disabled people who may have to confront pain and suffering in our daily lives. For me, the book’s most vital chapter is the exploration of the difference between healing and cure. This is such an important distinction, in a church where many of us are still told that we are disabled because we do not have enough faith. A fantastic, accessible book, in which three disabled Christians tell their own stories and shape disability theology that we can all benefit from.
And check out the Diocese of Oxford’s online conference on 13th October, featuring Katie and Bill of Disability and Jesus – full details in the list of upcoming events below.
- Buy the book at the Disability and Jesus website.
Shut In, Shut Out, Shut Up – Series 3: Ableism, Faith and Church
Series 3 of Fiona Macmillan’s series ‘Shut In, Shut Out, Shut Up’ is now available on the HeartEdge YouTube page. This spring, Fiona was joined by another fantastic line-up of disabled guests to talk about disability, church and society, with a focus on ableism in church and society. Ground-breaking conversations.
You can watch all the episodes on YouTube, with captions.
- 3.1: Context, with Ann Memmott and Naomi Lawson Jacobs
- 3.2: Culture, with Rachel Noel and Krysia Waldock
- 3.3: Practice, with Hannah Lewis and Rachel Holdforth
Krysia Waldock: article presentation and podcast appearance
Back in April, Krysia Waldock presented her excellent recently-published paper on attitudes to autism in churches at the Tizard Autism Journal Club. In the paper – ‘An Exploratory Study of Attitudes toward Autism Amongst Church-Going Christians in the South East of England, United Kingdom’ – Krysia and Rachel Forrester-Jones found different degrees of ableism and vastly different understandings of autism among Christians, with a mix of positive and pejorative attitudes. Since there is very little research into church-based attitudes and practice towards autistic people, this research is a fantastic first step towards understanding the work churches need to do to become places of inclusion and justice for neurodivergent people.
Following Krysia’s presentation, I joined Krysia and Damian Milton for a panel discussion on the paper and its implications for churches and autistic people.
- Krysia has shared a summary of the panel discussion at the Participatory Autism Research Collective blog. PARC was set up to bring autistic people and researchers together, aiming for more involvement of autistic people in autism research.
- Or watch the video of Krysia’s presentation here, together with the panel discussion.
Speaking of Krysia, she was brilliant on the Mad and Crip Theology podcast last week, where she spoke about another paper she published recently. I loved Krysia’s reflections on the way that structural and systemic oppression is the cause of her pain, as a neurodivergent person, and what that means for her theology. Radical and thought-provoking. I enjoyed her fellow guest Mike Walker, too, who spoke about both loving and hating his body, as a disabled Christian, and the theologies that have helped him navigate this paradox. I’m hoping for big things from the Mad and Crip Theology podcast and its linked journal in the future – it’s an exciting space for disabled theologians’ own voices, which are too rarely heard in theology of disability.
- You can listen to Krysia’s episode of the Mad and Crip Theology podcast here, or you can watch it on YouTube here (with captions).
Stephanie Tait: podcast appearance
And if you enjoy podcasts, you’ll love Stephanie Tait on ‘The Bible for Normal People,’ talking about how disability theology is for everyone. She speaks about the way our cultural lens of ableism too often shapes the way we think about God and people, and how disability theology can transform that outlook. Stephanie’s fantastic book, ‘The View from Rock Bottom,’ is essential reading for disabled Christians and anyone who wants to grapple with a theology of suffering.
- Find Stephanie’s episode of ‘The Bible for Normal People’ podcast here.
YouBelong and Worshipping Together Safely
Finally, back in July, YouBelong’s Laura Neale and Emma Major released ‘Worshipping Together Safely’ – guidance for going back to church together in a safe, inclusive way for everyone. Covid has not gone away – many of us are more aware of it than ever, as ‘opening up’ has left us feeling more unsafe than ever. If you’re a church leader, this document will help you to keep your church building hospitable to all during the pandemic. And if you’ve been struggling to help your church leaders understand safe reopening, this document would be very useful to show them. Check out Emma and Laura’s digital retreat, on 14th October, in the events list below.
- Diocese of Oxford Disability Conference
This free online event is open to all, with sessions led by people working in different areas of disability and church life from across the diocese. Speakers include the Rt Revd Richard Atkinson, lead Bishop for Deaf and disability issues; Revd Bill Braviner, co-founder of Disability and Jesus; Revd Susan Myatt, Deaf Ministry Task Group; and Ann Memmott, autistic adults and children in Church. With on-screen BSL interpreters and live captioning.
- Come As You Are – Online, 14th October 2021
A digital retreat led by Laura Neale and Emma Major from YouBelong and hosted by Cliff College. “The retreat will explore what it means to belong – to God, as you are, and in community through rest, prayer and creativity.” Find out more and sign up at https://cliffcollege.ac.uk/news-events/digital-retreat-october21.
- (Still) Calling From the Edge – Online, Saturday 16 October, 10am
The tenth annual conference on disability and church, a partnership between St Martin in the Fields and Inclusive Church, hosted by HeartEdge. “A space for disabled people to gather to resource each other and the church. In this year’s conference we explore call as challenge, lament and vocation. Through art, music, story and theology, in plenary talks, small groups, workshops and liturgy. It’s a cry for justice that marks a milestone: 10 years of calling from the edge.” Sign up at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/still-calling-from-the-edge-tickets-164001249151, or find out more at https://www.heartedge.org/main/news/post/553-still-calling-from-the-edge.
And that’s a wrap! This list is limited to the groups and events I’m aware of, so I’m bound to miss things. But do comment and let me know if you know of more (disabled-led*) events or writing, and I might be able to cover it in a future post.
*There are always a few events every year about disability and church that are not led by disabled people. They get lots of publicity. This (hopefully recurring) blog series is just to highlight the work and community of disabled Christians, which doesn’t get shared as much.