15 July, 2014 - Steph Gaut
I’m not sure why I was so taken aback – after all, the conference was labelled ‘Honest Conversations.’ But as I sat and listened, I realised I still have so much to learn about the value of inclusion…
CBM’s Luke14 Honest Conversations conference took place in Melbourne on July 10 and 11. Over two days, more than 100 delegates were propelled into a world of challenging truths and sometimes-confronting situations that encouraged people to share intimate thoughts and feelings about the current state of disability inclusion in Australia’s church communities.
In his opening address, guest speaker Jeff McNair highlighted the ways in which Christian communities often overlooked people with disabilities as valuable and valued participants.
Integration, Jeff championed, was “absolutely critical” to any kind of disability ministry or program – and you “better have a doggone good reason as to why you’re not fully including people if you’re not!”
I could feel people shifting uncomfortably in their seats – I know I was. Our church absolutely includes people with disabilities! I was feeling silently indignant. We have programs for people with disabilities don’t we? And I’m sure other people here have special programs too that cater specially for people with disabilities.
It was almost as if Jeff had read my mind. Because he continued: “Many ministries are designed, to a lesser or greater degree, to be segregated. These ministries range from churches for people with a disability where those without a disability work within the ‘disabled church’ to serve to segregated ministries, and to programs experiencing varying degrees of separation. But for the church to be the Church, we must acknowledge that segregated ministries send the wrong message.”
It was a powerful message: that true inclusion occurs only when people with disabilities receive the same opportunities and experiences as people without disabilities.
The conversations flowed freely over the two-day conference; people were sharing their deepest and most intimate thoughts, sharing experiences of exclusion and how it made them personally feel, and bonding and learning through some incredible panel discussions and workshops designed to enhance your understanding of disability experience in the church.
Among new-found friends and some fabulous food, I realised that inclusion was about more than just ‘ticking the boxes’. People with disabilities have rights to worship, study the Word and serve others in whichever faith community they choose to do so with full access to and support from their wider community.
Here’s looking to more Honest Conversations next year!