St Mark's Mansfield

Welcoming Disability: Week 2: 2015

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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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