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This site is designed and maintained by the UCC DM web team to help members and friends of the UCC explore what it means for our churches (and our hearts) to be “accessible to all” (A2A Study Guide).

  • How Do We Become A2A?
  • Why A2A? The mission of the United Church of Christ is to be Multiracial, Multicultural, Open and Affirming, and Accessible to All – A Church where everyone is welcome.
  • What is the A2A mandate?

UCC Disabilities Ministries Seeks Nominations for Board of Directors-2015

UCC Disabilities Ministries FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (April 17, 2015)

Contact: Rev. Kelli Parrish Lucas, UCCDM Secretary kelli@womenwhospeakinchurch.com

The UCC Disabilities Ministries Board’s Nominations Committee is seeking people who are passionate about disability ministry who would like to serve on our Board.  Our Board is made up of people with disabilities, professionals who work in the disability field, and family members of people with disabilities.  Our mission is to encourage our denomination to create worship and meeting places, programs and leadership, classes, and activities that are accessible to all (A2A) and welcoming and inclusive of all persons with disabilities.

Some of our short term goals include increasing our voice and presence from the pews to the national planning boards; development of curriculum and programs for people with intellectual disabilities; building the Kreyer Scholarship Fund for students with disabilities who wish to pursue theological education; and increasing our web and social media presence.

Someone interested in serving with us should be someone who is a member of a UCC church; regularly reads, responds to, and is comfortable with using email; can devote a minimum of ten (10) hours a month to this work, which includes a monthly conference call meeting of about 90 minutes to two hours. Being a Board Director includes a willingness to make a financial commitment to our disability ministry each year and  serve on at least one Board subcommittee. At this time we are looking to fill a term that will end in September 2017, should any other seat come open between now and the end of September 2015 the pool of applicants replying to this call shall be considered. Applications must be received by May 15, 2015 or contact should be made with the UCCDM Secretary to explain why that deadline can not be met.

We encourage interested candidates to visit our website at http://www.uccdm.org to learn more about us. Located there are Board updates, our blog, and the application. We welcome all those with a great passion for disability ministry above all. In exchange, we offer you an opportunity to learn new skills and experience personal growth and knowledge of the workings of our denomination.

Rev. Lynda Bigler, Chair UCC Disabilities Ministries Board

Click the link to go to the UCCDM Board Director Application

A Devotion for Easter Sunday

This is the seventh entry in the UCCDM Lenten Devotional 2015. This reflection for Easter Sunday comes to us from Rev.Craig Modahl who is  the current Treasurer of UCCDM. His bio can be found on the Board of Directors page

Mark 16:1-8

16:1 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.

16:2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.

16:3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”

16:4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.

16:5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.

16:6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.

16:7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

16:8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.

My best friend Kevin had been placed in a large state institution at the age of eight. He had a developmental disability. He didn’t speak and would sometimes become aggressive when he was frustrated. He was heavily medicated to control his behaviors. He needed help with all of his personal care. He had no connections to his biological family. For 16 years he lived in a place set aside from meaningful relationships, from family, from friends, and from a home he could call his own.

As a result of some strong advocacy, in the early 1980’s the state began to reduce the number of people living in institutions. At 24 years old, Kevin was relocated to a small group home near where he was born. There, he shared a home with three other men in a residential neighborhood. He made connections with people who became committed to helping him find his place in life. He was welcomed back into the community.

It was as if a stone had been rolled away. A barrier to life had been removed. He was able to leave the darkness, the separateness, the isolation of an institution and begin a new life in community.

On Easter morning we rejoice at the sight of the empty tomb. This is the morning that we have anticipated. It is the morning that we have longed for. It is a time to celebrate as our hearts are lifted from the dark depths of the tomb to the light of a new day. It is the day that the stone had been rolled away and the tomb had been emptied.

For many people with disabilities there is a heavy stone that must be pushed aside more than one time. It is an encounter that is experienced each and everyday. It is a stubborn, rigid barrier that separates, excludes, divides and isolates. It seems impossible to move at times. It saps energy, stifles meaning, shades light, and prevents connection.

But the stone is not disability. It is not dementia, depression, hearing loss, brain injury, developmental disability, loss of a limb, or visual impairment. It is not autism, Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, paralysis, or epilepsy. The stone is the perception of inadequacy, the stigma of misunderstanding, the assumption of pity, or the imposition of otherness. It is the barrier to inclusion, welcome and embrace. It is that stone that must be moved and may one day be shattered, pulverized into dust and carried away on the winds of acceptance, openness and love.

As people with disabilities, advocates, friends and family, we sometimes ask “Who will roll away the stone for us . . . ?” We aren’t sure we have the strength to do it on our own. Will there be anyone to help? But we follow the example of the three women and don’t let that question deter us from our mission. We move forward with hope and determination.

In Mark’s Gospel this question is asked but it is not answered: Who did roll the stone away? The gardener? The angels? How about Jesus? Was anyone else around? Or could it have been all of them together? Why not? We need to gather all who can help move those stones again and again and again.

Kevin’s move out of the institution and into the community was a first and a heavy stone to move. There were many more stones that followed. But there were also many people in his life to help him push them to the side. Over the years Kevin gained friends, was welcomed as a family member, and was known not for his disability but for his character, his laugh, his embrace and, especially, his friendship.

God of the empty tomb, we have experienced the darkness, the isolation, and the cold of the tomb. It has drained our souls, weakened our bodies and chilled our hearts. But this morning, this Easter morning we can shout “Alleluia!” as the warmth and light of new life calls us from the depths and brings us into communion with you and all your people. Help us to embrace one another, to leave no stone standing as a barrier to full inclusion, participation and welcome. Alleluia and Amen!

A Devotion For Holy Saturday

This is the sixth entry in the UCCDM Lenten Devotional 2015. This reflection for the Holy Saturday comes to us from Rev.Jeanne Tyler who is  the current Vice Chair of UCCDM. Her bio can be found on the Board of Directors page

I grew up in the Episcopal Church in which most every Sunday we said the Apostle’s Creed together. On rare occasions we said the Nicene Creed. I remember saying the words, “crucified and died, descended into hell and rose on the third day. Now, The New Century Hymnal says, “…was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On third third day he rose again;…”.

The Saturday of Holy Week is called Holy Saturday. Like the day of crucifixion is called Good Friday the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is named Holy Saturday. I have come to ponder that the naming reflects the reality of reconciliation and redemption. I have come to treasure Holy Saturday. In our daily lives we experience times of defeat and times of victory; times of death and times of life; times of despair and times of joy. We struggle mightily.

For persons with disability, the struggle is complicated by the devil named normalcy. The devil is in the details of living. The grace with which you walk, the ease with which you talk and are understood, your high or low intellect, wheelchair bound, sight impaired, sugar high or way too low, too depressed to get up, too angry to talk, too manic to sit down, talk to people who are not in the room and perhaps have never been in the room. The devil of normalcy is in our minds; it is in our bodies and there is hell to pay.

Holy Saturday is the time of dead. Jesus arrived in the dead as you and I will bearing the scars of life. It is where our deadness meets the deadness of Jesus and where Jesus experienced the devil of normalcy. Yet this deadness is also the darkness which is also fertile and where all growth begins. I call Holy Saturday a day of fertile darkness.

Holy Saturday is the day we tell our stories of pain and anger and cry and experience the reconciliation and redemption of community that turns our cries of pain and anger to tears of joy. It is because Jesus has been here and is still here in the time of the dead that we are able to face ourselves and one another. Within Holy Saturday there is fertile darkness where the seeds of flowers make their beginning or the community makes the mystery of resurrection known as an act of God’s love for all humanity.

Holy Saturday is the day the devil is paid. We are one another’s friends and the reality of reconciliation and redemption is at hand. We are free to love one another, free to forgive ourselves and one another. We are free to proclaim in the growing dawn that which was beginning in the nighttime, Alleluia Christ is Risen!

A Devotion for Good Friday: The Cross of the Visually Impaired

This is the fifth entry in the UCCDM Lenten Devotional 2015. This reflection for Good Friday comes to us from Rev.Lynda Bigler who is  the current Chair of UCCDM. Her bio can be found on the Board of Directors page

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Being legally blind, to me many trees look like lollipops, with their trunks as the stems and their canopies the pops.The tall pines, spruce, and firs that grow here in the Pacific Northwest are like gigantic arrows hoisted far above the ground by sturdy brown shafts.

Our town requires a permit to cut down a tree and homeowners are allowed to cut down only 2 trees on their property per year. Avoiding obtaining a permit or exceeding the permitted number results in a $2,000 fine per removed tree.  In 2015 the tree permit process was modified to state that people removing trees must replant one tree on their property for each one removed.

This permit process assumes that trees are living things, not to be destroyed for random reasons such as a dislike of raking leaves fallen onto a driveway or a desire to eliminate the pesky birds nested in the tree. The number one reason for eliminating a tree here is a dislike of its appearance or color.  The permit process tries to remind us that nature is comprised of living things rather than inanimate objects subject to human whims.

And then it came to me:  Imagine the cross of Jesus as a tree that gave up its life for him.

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There is so much more to a tree than its looks.

In winter people often talk about the quiet, empty, barren landscape of trees.  They look forward to spring when the trees once again will come to life. In the world of the blind and visually impaired, winter trees can be one noisy bunch. They rattle and creak when covered with ice.  Their branches are the surfaces that allow wind to whistle as it blows over them. Swaying branches whoosh like waves breaking on the beach. The scent of evergreens fills the air with a hint of Christmas all winter long.

In spring and summer the trees are full of birdsong and scampering, chattering squirrels.  Trees hiss as rain falls through their leafy canopies. The wind rustles their leaves like girls rustle their crinoline dresses. Apple blossoms, orange blossoms, magnolias, and many other flowering trees fill the air with their sweet scents and promises of what is yet to come at harvest.

In autumn, the world is full of brightly colored lollipops — such an exciting change from the usual green ones!  Autumn brings falling leaves of all colors and shapes as trees shed their “clothing” before going to sleep.  As we walk along streets or sidewalks or forest paths, we hear the crunch of fallen leaves below our feet.  Fallen raked leaves bring fun and laughter as children and adults jump into them.  Although the leaves have died they bring joy to those left behind.  The leaves smell of decay, but their fruits and nuts make us salivate for their taste and sustenance.

The trees ease into sleep. While they appear to be dead, they are actually undergoing significant renewal and strengthening for their rebirth in spring. I am reminded that Holy Saturday is needed for the beauty and joy of Easter to arrive.

Tree trunks vary in texture from rough to smooth.  Most trees in my yard are rough, but the birches shed their bark as they grow, leaving a smooth, wet new skin behind. Bark can be fragrant like cedar or sappy like maples. Moss and English Ivy choke the alder trees beside our house so that when their branches fall, the bark, starved of nutrients, slides right off.

When blood and sweat ran down Jesus’ face as he carried his cross, I wonder if his blurred vision led him to feel each intricate detail of the cross in his hands: the texture, it’s fragrance.  For example, I wonder if his cross still held the scent of a Lebanon cedar. As a carpenter, did the smell of fresh cut wood remind him of his trade as he walked?  Was the cross splintered from being roughly cut?

When Jesus carries his cross to Golgotha, I think of him as beginning his journey as a person with a disability. His vision impaired, his other senses enhanced, Jesus walked toward the physical breaking of his body.  His body, broken for me, enables me, as a person with a disability, to know Jesus has experienced all that we with disabilities experience each minute of every day:  difficulty navigating, struggling to see and speak, unable to hear, mobility a challenge, thoughts a little disorganized or appearing slow, appearance a little bit different sometimes.  Jesus was subjected to the same bullying and taunting that people with disabilities receive.

Jesus asked God to forgive them, for “they know not what they do.”  I, too, forgive, but like Jesus, I also teach ways to act differently. Jesus shows us the big picture of life and death, and big pictures are the specialty of the visually impaired.

When the broken body of Jesus was carried to the tomb, it was carried with love and respect, the same kind of love and respect that those with disabilities may feel from God but not from those around them. How reassuring to know that one day, our bodies, like his, will also be carried with such love and respect.

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I collect crosses.  Each cross in my collection is meaningful to me, not just a fancy piece of sculpture or a fashion statement of jewelry. Each cross is tactile, made from differing materials with varying textures. I have one made of highly polished Koa wood from Hawaii, another made of seashells collected on beach walks in the Bahamas, another made of river rocks by Native Americans living on Oregon’s Warm Springs Indian Reservation.

But my favorite tactile cross was handmade by Frank Poszgai here is Oregon. Intricate yet sturdy, this wooden cross for me is a symbol of the church since the death of Jesus.

What better illustration can there be to connect Jesus and the tree of his cross than to illustrate Jesus’ own words, “I am the vine; you are the branches”?  Imagine this cross planted in the ground, it’s base sending roots to anchor it to the earth, it’s top reaching for heaven, it’s arms reaching out for each and every one of us.  This indeed is the tree of life, grown from the cross of Jesus.  It reminds us to stay rooted in God’s creation, to raise our praise to God in heaven, and reach out to each of God’s creatures.

Imagine the cross of Jesus, covered in a growing vine. A vine strong enough for hands to hold on to and never fear of falling off. I do not need to see the vine to know it is there. All I need to do is feel its strength, know it is alive, and believe that if I reach through the gaps between leaves, I can help pull others to the safety of God.

UCC Disability Activist Wins National Award.

Rachel Chapman SDFueling Impact, the current theme of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, refers to raising awareness by sharing life experiences in order to speak up for medical research funding, address insurance and pharmaceutical companies’ responsibilities to consumers, lobby lawmakers to increase and protect the rights of all who have or need medical coverage, and more.

Rachel Chapman, a member of Christian Fellowship UCC in San Diego, CA, fuels impact and in November 2014 was inducted into the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Advocacy Hall of Fame.  In March, at the Public Policy Conference in Washington, DC, Rachel was again recognized for this honor.  March is MS Awareness Month and the perfect time to hold the Society’s Public Policy Conference where over 300 activists from throughout the country also took a day to visit the offices of legislators to discuss issues important to not only those impacted by MS but all medical challenges.

Rachel has been an MS Activist since her diagnosis over 10 years ago. In her position as the chairperson of the local chapter’s Government Relations Committee, she builds relationships with legislators and their staff at the local, state and federal levels to be a voice of the MS community.  Rachel is also a member of the National Content Advisory Committee, a member of the Scholarship Review Committee and general volunteer.  Her team, Rachel’s Warriors, will participate in their 11th San Diego MS Walk on April 25.Rachel Chapman SD Award

Advocacy has become a family affair. Last year Kevin, Rachel’s husband, gave testimony on male caregivers to the State Assembly Committee on Aging and Long-term Care and their daughter Ashley is the Manager of Advocacy for the Virginia Multiple Sclerosis Society. The three were speakers during one of the sessions at the Public Policy Conference.

Rachel’s activism is not only for multiple sclerosis. She is a member of the Southern Association’s Inclusion Team and the UCC Disabilities Board where she is currently working on the Widening the Welcome conference and a Synod recognition of the 35th  Anniversary of Disabilities Ministries and the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

 

A Devotion for the Fourth Sunday In Lent

This is the fourth entry in the UCCDM Lenten Devotional 2015. This reflection comes to us from Mr. Robert Kates an M.Div. student at Brite Divinity School. 

Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and God saved them

God sent out God’s word and healed them, and delivered them from destruction.

Psalm 107:19-20 (NRSV)

As a child, I would cry out to my mother and father when I was afraid, cranky, hungry, or in pain. My parents always seemed to be there for me, coming to my rescue, though today I know they were not. Not that they did not care for me. They were both busy medical doctors, always hearing the cries of others and not always mine. However they did make sure I was always comforted, always held and rocked to sleep, always fed, and always healed, having those ‘boo boos’ on my knees and hands kissed away with kindness.

I was blessed as a child, as many were not and still today aren’t. My parents could not always be there for me or with me, but I have come to know that they desperately cared for me, by supporting me with the love and kindness of others. I was truly blessed as a child.

Many years later, both my mother and father, have passed on to what I believe is the ultimate life to be living. Yet in their absence I have come to know my Mother/Father/God is always, somehow present in my life. Just as my parents were always, somehow present in my life, my Heavenly Parent is also.

I still have periods in my life when I am afraid, cranky, and hungry or in pain. Not as a child anymore, but now as an adult, an adult dealing with the consequences of physical disabilities. And just as that child I have cried out to my God, pleading for comfort, desperately needing the therapeutic solace of being rocked to sleep at night in my pain, to be fed when I could not swallow, and to have my old man ‘boo boo’s’ on my legs massaged away so I could attempt to walk again.

It is not easy feeling like one is a child again, at the mercy of the world around you. But again I am blessed. For my God is always present, through God’s own actions of care or those healing actions by others where God’s spirit resides.

I was blessed as a child, but now I know I am truly blessed even as an adult. Thanks be to God.

Our Mother/Father/God, from time to time…we all cry out to You. From time to time…we all share multiple inabilities within ourselves that we are afraid to face. From time to time…we all become lost and seek your guidance.  So dear God of All possibilities, show us, lead us to awareness, make us face those challenges in life, that from time to time, stand in our way. Make us realize that with Your Support and Your Love, there is always another way, perhaps even a better way. For it is within Your possibilities we find our way and our selves. Amen.

Covenants That Make Us Come Alive

This is the third entry in the UCCDM Lenten Devotional 2015. This reflection for the Second Sunday of Lent comes to us from Ms.Danielle Rochford who is a current board member of UCCDM. Her bio can be found on the Board of Directors page

17:1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.

17:2 And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.”

17:3 Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him,

17:4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations.

17:5 No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations.

17:6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.

17:7 I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.

17:15 God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.

17:16 I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”

Genesis 17:1-7 15-16 NRSV

When God spoke to Abraham he wasn’t just offering another covenant as a sign of his love; yes God was offering assistance, providing an accommodation to an infertile couple, but there is more to this story than what meets the eye.  God was offering a covenant to a couple who, back then and still today, would be categorized as having a disability.  What God was really saying when offering the covenant was “Hey, I care for you and have your back.”

As congregants we are familiar with certain covenants.  It is a simple, but important, statement that reminds us we are all human, we all have strengths we all have weaknesses, we are all different but we are all welcomed where we worship. Covenants are used as a way to understand that someone will have our backs; we make them in committees, we ask ministers to make covenants when being commissioned, and we use them as a set of guidelines to start a relationship with a fellow congregant we sometimes have almost nothing else in common with.   No matter how different each covenant is in language the message is the same “Hey, I have your back can you have mine?”

In the fashion of being formed in the likeness of God I come from a congregation that has utilized covenant to provide a safe space for those with developmental disabilities.  As someone with Asperger Syndrome, a syndrome that resides on the autistic spectrum, what seems like a simple social interaction such as small chat becomes complex for me and sometimes overwhelming. While others keep up speedy conversations with ease I have to remember to wait for natural pauses to speak, to keep up with a conversation when I am still processing what was said five minutes ago, and interpretation.  Constantly remembering not to flinch when someone in the coffee line accidentally touches me is hard and the question “How has your week been” offers challenges in my navigation of appropriate small chat interactions.

I often find myself thinking “Why am I the only one who finds this challenging? How can others adapt so easily to these interactions?  Can someone have my back please as I feel like I’m drowning in these murky waters!” Covenants are formed to help us all on these journeys.  Every member of a congregation, from the staff to the security guy who works evenings to the congregants.  We form covenants for formal projects and initiatives, for community building, but what about a covenant that supports individuals who dance to their own drummer through no fault of their own.  It started out small for me; an unspoken agreement with the associate minister and I to listen to each other with open minds and open hearts, for both of us to give constructive feedback, and me realize I am not just in this by myself but she was willing on working to understand me.   She may be retired now but our covenant has gone “viral” and spoken or not others see it and realize that it is what makes our congregation different and welcoming.

Let’s form these living covenants and know that we are all in relation to each other. My covenant that started with one radically liberal minister has grown to include a staff member who checks in with me every Sunday and offers direct feedback but knows that sometimes we both have to work on understanding each other. The congregants who intentionally start conversations with me to work on my small chat skills, the elderly congregant who loves to hug but allowed me space to get used to being touched, and those who recognize what an autistic meltdown looks like and will offer to find me a quiet space to calm down in.   It’s a covenant that didn’t exist when I went through the process of becoming a member at my current congregation, nor when anyone else goes through their own processes of membership, but it has evolved overtime because we are all here on this journey together. It does not require advance knowledge of the other person, a congregational study in disabilities, or an official document declaring these covenants.   It doesn’t always have to require even an official statement from church staff saying “this needs to happen”.

I am intrinsically drawn to religion, called to provide ministry, and at the same time I often exclaim that I find my sanctuary in my church family; the covenant that has been created allows me to find a non-judgmental space where I am welcomed in as I am.  I am reminded, on occasion, that no matter how hard I try to “pass” as non-disabled for anyone on the outside looking in there are signs that I, and others, sometimes struggle with.  The covenant that exists has allowed me not to be anxious when I enter my house of worship and take part in church life be it attending the annual Chicken and Biscuit Dinner each fall or, to be even more daring, going to other member’s house for a Saturday brunch without needing assistance.  As I have grown up to feel more comfortable by myself, an introvert out of necessity, even I sometimes crave social interaction and acceptance.

On this second Sunday of Lent I send out a call asking each of us to consider what covenants we have in our lives.  I then ask to consider what covenants can be formed with others with our own personal struggles.  It is time to acknowledge that we are created in the likeness of God and through that have the ability to form covenants with others that show our own understanding and love for each other.