Christine Guth is Program Director for Anabaptist Disabilities Network. This article first appeared in the newsletter of Wellspring Mental Health Ministries. To subscribe to their newsletter, contact Carole Wills, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our understanding of disability is broad, and includes mental health disorders, the leading cause of disability in the United States and Canada, according to the World Health Organization.
Anabaptist Disabilities Network raises awareness and advocates on behalf of people with any impairment that, in interaction with environmental barriers, may hinder full participation on an equal basis with others. This includes physical, hearing, vision, developmental disabilities, as well as mental health conditions. We are inspired by a vision that faith communities are transformed when individuals with disabilities and their God-given gifts and experiences enjoy full inclusion in the Body of Christ.
As a mental health consumer myself, and a member of a family where many generations have lived with mental illness, my personal experience is as formative in my writing, consulting, and speaking to groups as is my theological training. I make an effort to gently remind churches of their holy calling to be a place of welcome and healing for those who are hurting.
“When we see a sister or brother in our faith community who reminds us of the third servant in the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30)—despondent, suspicious, avoiding risk—the invitation to Christ’s body, the church, is to bear that beloved child of God up before the throne of mercy “Each of us, no matter how strong and independent we are, will encounter times in our lives when we need the faith of our brothers and sisters to carry us. We will need others to carry our hope for us. Even then—especially then—I pray that the Body of Christ will have a place of welcome for us among those hope-bearing ones who have been busy investing and multiplying the love God has entrusted to them.”
Unfortunately, religious groups sometimes create unrecognized barriers which keep people with disabilities from participating as fully as they would like. Attitudinal barriers may cause even more exclusion than physical barriers such as stairways or narrow doorways. Sometimes people in faith communities unwittingly absorb stigma against disability from the surrounding culture. Sometimes bias is present because people of faith simply have not had the chance to see the world through the eyes of someone living with a particular condition.
I often have the privilege to learn from friends with disabilities and their families. I then look for ways to share these valuable perspectives so that we might all continue growing in our faithfulness to embody Jesus’ welcome to everyone.
The strengths of the Anabaptist tradition such as discipleship, peacemaking, and the presence of Christ in the gathered community of faith underlie our work and shape our theological perspectives and practical counsel. Anabaptist groups in our constituency include Mennonite Church USA, the Church of the Brethren, and numerous smaller denominations. Congregations need not belong to one of these groups to reach out to us.
We offer online resources, a newsletter and consulting services to congregations and individuals from all faith traditions. We also offer preaching, workshop presentations and videoconference presentations to groups at a distance. Our mental health resources include book reviews, videos, ideas for planning a mental health education series, tips for setting healthy boundaries and more.
We invite you to browse our website and contact us to explore ways we can support your congregation in opening hearts and doors more widely to people of differing abilities.