with disabilities, taken as a group, can be conceived of as the largest
multicultural minority group, an open minority group which most people will
likely enter against their will, and it is a group that includes a collection
of people who can be found in every class, race, ethnicity and economic
circumstance. The fact that around eighteen percent of the population has a
disability suggests that nearly every person in the US is touched by
theological institutions have been slow to address the reality of the
experience of disability in any comprehensive way.
A 2014 survey by Naomi
Annandale and Erik Carter, which included correspondence with representatives
from 118 ATS (Association of Theological Schools) accredited theological
schools, concluded: “Perhaps most striking, we found that most academic leaders
felt that their graduates received little or no preparation that would help
them to include people with disabilities into multiple dimensions of
congregational life.” The authors implored, “While we acknowledge the very real
complexities associated with ensuring that theological schools prepare students
for the myriad aspects of ministry they may undertake, we are convinced that
the ubiquity of disability calls for much greater attention than is currently
provided (Annandale, Naomi
and Erik W. Carter. 2014. “Disability and Theological Education: A North
American Study.” Theological Education 48.2, 83-102.)
mission of Western Theological Seminary (WTS) is, “to prepare Christians called
by God to lead the church in mission” and in order to fulfill our mission, we
need to prepare our students to effectively minister to and with this large
segment of the population that has disabilities. This includes not merely being
a seminary that talks about disabilities, but, more importantly, being a
seminary for people with disabilities.
made enormous strides in preparing their graduates to minister to and with
people of all abilities. WTS has raised disability awareness and presence on
its campus by building the first Friendship House, a residence where graduate
students share life with young adults with intellectual and developmental
disabilities. We have had students for whom graduate education is not an option
participate in our Hebrew course.
same spirit of innovative and formative education that inspired Friendship
House, WTS is launching (Fall, 2016) a Graduate
Certificate in Disabilities Ministry
(GCDM) program, the first and only of
its kind. The GCDM, a package of
credit-bearing, transcripted courses, focuses on preparing men and women called
by God to lead the church in mission by giving them the knowledge and skills
that will enable them to lead congregations and ministries to be attuned to and
inclusive of the gifts and perspectives of people with disabilities.
courses will be taught by WTS faculty and by leaders in the field like Bill
Gaventa, Erik Carter, and Barbara Newman. All of the required courses for the
GCDM can be completed on-line in WTS’s successful distance-learning format. As
the Director of the GCDM, I invite you to follow the hyperlinks above to learn
more about the program. And, feel free to contact me directly.
Ben Conner, PhD is Associate Professor of Christian Discipleship and Director of the Graduate Certificate in Disability and Ministry at Western Theological Seminary. He is the author of Amplifying Our Witness: Giving Voice to Adolescents with Developmental Disabilities.