St Mark's Mansfield

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Welcoming Disability: Week 2: 2015

This blog entry was originally posted by Fr Keith Hebden when he was our Associate Priest

This week we saw new people joining 2 of our 3 groups. Word has spread! It’s week 2 of a four-week course called “Welcoming Disability” based on the book by Inclusive Church called “Disability”. We met in 3 different groups, locations and times with a total of 22 people involved.

This week, each group began with a question ‘in the round’: “Have you ever been frustrated by your own limitations compared with those of other people?”. The answers showed that we all experience this – unsurprisingly but also gave us a chance to share a bit of ourselves. We also heard how people had limitations imposed on them by others – parents, teachers, or other adults with power – when they were children; not a universal experience but noted.

Our big story this week was that of Revd Rachel Wilson who felt God’s call to ordination was “called because I am disabled, not in spite of it”. Rachel had been very angry with the Church because of Christians trying to heal her of her cerebral palsy and blaming Rachel’s “lack of faith” for it not happening. The miracle was that she ever returned, however haltingly, to get her children christened and eventually to believe that God loves her and wants to make her a channel of God’s peace.

She writes:

It is important to say at this point that I used to have a debilitating stammer and my Cerebral Palsy means that co-ordination, balance and decent posture are never things I’ve got the hang of.  Hardly surprising then that when I first thought that I heard the call to ordination, a feeling which simply wouldn’t go away, I said to God something like “Look God, I don’t want to tell you what to do but I have to point out to you that I can’t walk and can’t speak properly – you can’t be calling me into public ministry”.

In one of the groups a teenager talked about a vision of the serving party (those who carry the candles, cross, gospel and incense into and around church) being more diverse in terms of disability and in other ways too. The idea that Rachel, in a wheelchair and with a stammer, could be a priest opened up this possibility to us. In another group we talked about how difficulty it was to even talk about disability and that we had very little “God talk” to help us do this. Hopefully these small group sessions are step in the right direction for that.

We then went on to look at a story about Moses and the people of God fighting against the Amelkites in Exodus chapter 17:

Moses said to Joshua, “Select some of the able-bodied to go out and fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill holding the staff of God.”

So Joshua did as Moses ordered and fought the Amalekites while Moses, Aaron, and Hur climbed to the top of the hill. So long as Moses kept his hands raised, Israel held the advantage, but whenever he lowered them, the Amalekites took the advantage. When Moses’ hands grew weary they set up a stone for him to sit on. Aaron and Hur held his hands up on each side, so that they remained upright until dusk. And Joshua prevailed against the Amalekites by the sword.

There were the usual reactions to the idea of God’s violence or that God takes sides in this magical sort of way but beneath that was a look at the relationship between God and Moses in the story and between Moses and Aaron.

Moses was called by God (despite his troubles with speaking) and at this point in the story found himself to tired to raise his hands. I suppose they could have drawn up a rota and taken it in turns. But it was a role that only Moses had been commissioned by God to undertake. But God didn’t just ordain Moses in his fallibility with encouraging words or magic hands. The calling on one person is the responsibility of the whole community. Perhaps God doesn’t call us either because of disability or despite it but rather God calls each of us to a special task knowing that no one is called to act alone: we all must practice interdependence.

In a couple of the groups I felt like it would be good to share this short film produced fairly recently. It features the voiced recordings of my former tutor Professor John Hull. An absolute inspiration. You cannot watch (or listen to) this video without being changed by it.

Keith Hebden is the author of “Seeking Justice: The Radical Compassion of Jesus”

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Archbishop Emeritus Rowan Williams in Southwell: 2015


This blog entry was originally posted by Fr Keith Hebden when he was our Associate Priest

We had the incredible Archbishop Emeritus Rowan Williams to speak at the Bishop’s Study Day at the Minster, in Southwell recently.

He spoke on Prayer and Action and was as inspiring, and a challenge and encouragement in equal amounts. But don’t take my word for it: the link to his talk is just here.

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Welcoming Disability: Week 1: 2015

This blog entry was originally posted by Fr Keith Hebden when he was our Associate Priest

This week we started a four-week course called “Welcoming Disability” based on the book by Inclusive Church called “Disability”. We met in 3 different groups, locations and times with a total of 22 people involved. Each week we hear a story about a disabled Christian and reflect on what we hear and then we read something from the bible and see if we can connect up the two in a way that leads to real change.

Generally our habit is to go around the group with a question. In the first week it was, “Why does disability matter to you, personally?” Among the stories of experiences of personal frustrations or failings one of the themes that emerged from that question was one of accidental exclusion of a disabled person by an individual or group: The “Does she take sugar?” syndrome.

In our first week we heard about Susan who has epilepsy. She writes:

My biggest problem with epilepsy is other people.  I don’t lose consciousness.  I don’t need medical attention when having a seizure.  My arms jerk and my head jerks and my voice gets louder and sometimes I bark like a seal.  I look weird.

People seem to think I can control what is happening to me.  They often shout in my face or make fun of me.  I’ve been dragged out of a building and thrown onto the street by the security guard to whom I went for help in finding a quiet place to sit.  I didn’t fit the only type of seizure he knew about.

She goes on to tell about how a well-meaning person excluded her from helping out at an event because they decided that her disability meant she couldn’t join in. The person may or may not have been correct but the feeling of powerlessness that Susan felt when that decision was taken off her came across strongly to our groups.

The bible reading we used for this was from Matthew’s Gospel. A gospel being a (sort of) biography of Jesus’ mission. It’s short so here it is in full:

Jesus heals the epileptic (Matthew 17: 14-21)

One of the crowed came up to Jesus, knelt before him and said, “Teacher, have pity on my child, who has seizures and is very ill. The child will often fall into the fire or the water. Even your disciples have failed to effect a cure.”

In reply Jesus said, “What an unbelieving and perverse generation you are! How long must I endure you? Bring the child to me.” Then Jesus rebuked the demon and it came out, and the child was healed from that moment.

The disciples then came to Jesus and asked, “Why couldn’t we expel the demon?”

Jesus answered, “Because you have so little faith. The truth is, if you have even as much faith as the tiny mustard seed, you can be able to say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

The participants were asked how they felt about the story. Many of us felt angry at the idea of a disability being labelled as “demon possession”. But then we looked closer and noticed that Jesus’ challenge wasn’t to the child but rather to the disciples and the crowd: he rebuked them and then he cast out the demon.

We wondered if our ‘able-meant’ had led us to assume that the epileptic was the one who was exorcised. Couldn’t it more obviously be the others, who had failed to include and understand the child, who need exorcising of their fear and misapprehension.

How often was Jesus cure about social reintegration? How often did others exclude only for Jesus by affirmation of faith or by touch or both seek to re-include those who are on the edges?

Each week we challenge each other to some small action or research to help us respond to the stories we’ve heard and talked about.

We were left with other questions: Is there a published disabled reading of this scripture somewhere? How do other cultures interpret epilepsy, perhaps it’s not always negative? Some of us went away to research websites like The Kairos Forum or Open Ears; others to listen to “In Touch” on BBC Radio 4; others to simply be more aware or to meet with someone they knew who had a disability and ask them about their experiences.

Keith Hebden is the author of “Seeking Justice: The Radical Compassion of Jesus”