The Gathering Place is an interactive website for Anabaptist youth leaders to find connection, resourcing, networking, mentoring, and spiritual formation.
As a first-year youth pastor, I remember one evening being with the Junior Youth group who were eagerly talking about and planning to attend a popular Christian rock band concert playing at a local congregation. Included in this conversation was also one 8th grader (“Jay”) who has used a wheel-chair since birth due to spina bifida. As the excitement grew, logistical questions also gained traction. How would we transport Jay to the event? What accessibility did the concert location have? What about seating in pews? Accessible parking? With the help of J’s family and the congregation hosting the event, we eventually figured out all of these details and had an amazing time singing our hearts out, and deepening our friendships with each other at the event. But it made me, as a new youth pastor pause and consider how am I creating space for equal access and inclusion for everyone in our congregation? Keep reading the Introduction.
A podcast video conversation with Kathy Nofziger Yeakey, Executive Director and Christine Guth, Program Director of Anabaptist Disabilities Network whose work links congregations, families, and persons touched by disabilities with resources and support services within the community of faith. Their work and the work of ADN is expansive and incredible–and their website is bar none, packed with resources galore.
An Interview with ADN Staff
Cindy Warner Baker
Each human being is unique, created in God’s image, a mixture of strengths and needs, abilities and disabilities. Youth with obvious differences (“disabilities”) offer a gift to their youth group and to the church. Their presence is a constant, visible reminder that each of our youth is unique and has unique needs and strengths.
At the same time, it is hard to be different, to feel apart from others. It is especially challenging during the pre-teen and teen years, when fitting in and belonging to the social group mean so much. How can youth leaders support and nurture youth who live with physical, cognitive and/or emotional disabilities? Keep reading "Youth Ministry and Disabilities."
Janeen Bertsche Johnson
In this 52-minute archived webinar, Janeen Bertsche Johnson, campus pastor at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary and parent to a young adult daughter who is on the autism spectrum, names common characteristics of autism, addresses how these factors might affect a youth group, and suggests ways leaders can try to address them.
Autism in Our Youth Group
One of the curious parts of life in a L’Arche community is the way we talk about each other. Joni and Marilyn are not clients or customers. These two women, adults with intellectual disabilities, are “core members” in L’Arche Portland, OR. For a while I shared daily life with them as their Assistant. We ate together, took walks to the corner for boba tea, went to doctor’s appointments, and celebrated each other’s birthdays. I’d help them get dressed in the morning before we made breakfast together. Through the sharing of daily life, they taught me to be gentle and patient.
The terms we use to talk about life in the L’Arche community are significant. Core members make up the center of our life. We form life around them, around those whom the world has called the weakest. Life adjusts to them, it forms around their needs, their desires, their hopes.
What I find happens “out there”—as Marilyn would call the world beyond L’Arche–is that we make accommodations when we can. We ask people with physical or intellectual disabilities to submit to the majority. This happens in churches and youth groups, at summer camps and schools.
I wonder what it would look like to live in a church where the weakest made up the center of our life, a church where we started with those whose needs fall outside the norm. It’s a strange premise. Keep reading "What I Learned..."
“But they have nothing to contribute!” Those words, spoken years ago, still haunt me. They weren’t meant for me, but were directed toward the four special needs adults who frequented a small Mennonite Church I formerly attended. “They have nothing to contribute.”
This professed Christian could not have been more wrong.
I confess that I knew little about interacting with those with developmental and intellectual disabilities. When I saw these four individuals with special needs sitting together in a church pew, I wondered if they were mentally ill. I also was curious what led them to our church. Seeing them hold hymnbooks upside down, and turned to the wrong page, yet happy as all get out, I knew I needed to dare to get to know them better. Keep reading "So Much to Contribute."
On a recent trip to Washington DC I had the opportunity to attend an event at a foreign embassy. It was an exciting opportunity, but it also posed a question: beyond being a cultural tourist, why would I be interested in learning about a foreign country? I found the answer in my identity as a Mennonite. Part of being a peace-loving people means understanding conflict locally as well as globally. In other words, being a Mennonite informs my identity as an American.
It’s in the same way that I recently thought about what it means to have a physical disability (I’ve used a wheelchair for the last 13 years because of neurological issues). If I consider my identity to be “in Jesus Christ,” then surely being a Mennonite will not only inform my national identity, but also my physical identity. What does it mean then, for a person with a disability to be a peacemaker?
I think answering this question begins by broadening our definition of “violence,” “conflict,” and “brokenness.” What if we were to expand these terms beyond the way we traditionally think of them as things such as gun violence, war, or poverty? Brokenness in the world has a unique meaning to those with disabilities: it may mean that it’s hard to get into a friend’s house; that people find you to be scary before you get to know them; that physical impairment makes you a great friend, but puts you off limits as a romantic partner; or that having a disability can make you an inspiration when you’d really rather not be one. Keep reading "Disability and Peacemaking."
“It’s Sunday!” Darryl jubilantly exclaimed proudly wearing his favorite suit and tie. “I’m on my way to church to be an usher!” Mary-Ann, his housemate, was also excited, but for a different reason: “Time to go to church so I can pray for everyone!” she beamed. I lived with Darryl and Mary-Ann in an intentional community called L’Arche when I was 22. They were my first experience of adults with developmental disabilities and truly taught me the need for the church to become more accessible for all people.
I grew up in the church, yet sadly, I had limited opportunities to interact with those who have a disability. I only remember one young man with autism in his early twenties who attended my Sunday school class although I was 12 at the time. He did not say much, so he was relatively left alone by the other classmates. Years later, I now find myself surveying all the churches I visit and asking myself, “Are there people here who have a disability and if not, why not?” Keep reading "An Inclusive Embrace."