Churches to be more inclusive of persons with disabilities
16 October 2014
Members of the Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (EDAN), a programme of the World Council of Churches (WCC), met in the Netherlands to develop a new statement with the working title “Gift of Being: Called to be a Church of All and for All”. The new document, which aims to build on the WCC interim statement on disability “A Church of All and for All” issued in 2003, is founded on the premise that even a decade later, persons with disabilities experience marginalization both in societies and in the church communities themselves.
The meeting, held from 12-15 October at the Mennonite Conference Centre at Elspeet, gathered staff members of the EDAN, the WCC Faith and Order Commission and the WCC Commission on World Mission and Evangelism, among other participants.
Hosted by Professor Hans Reinders of the Free University of Amsterdam, the meeting initiated theological reflection on both disability and the place of disabled persons within the life of the churches as part of just and inclusive communities. These reflections served as a basis of EDAN’s new statement.
Dr Samuel Kabue, coordinator of EDAN, said, “Churches have moved on issues of disability in the last ten years, but there are still continuing challenges that must be addressed. The new statement from the EDAN will give churches a fresh momentum to address the issue of disability.”
During discussions on the WCC’s new mission statement Together Towards Life, the Faith and Order convergence text The Church: Towards a Common Vision and the WCC’s Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace, Kabue said the issue of disability poses a clear challenge to the churches in terms of its unity, mission and witness.
“The communion of the churches in unity and diversity is impaired without the gifts and presence of all people, including persons with disability. The mission of the church is to proclaim God's reign of justice and peace and is less than credible if the churches do not actively and visibly receive the diverse gifts of all its members, including persons with disability.”
“The inclusion of persons with disability is not an option but a defining characteristic of the church,” Kabue added.
At the meeting, Rev. Dr Gordon Cowans, EDAN’s Caribbean coordinator, drew attention to the working title of the document. He said since “life is a gift, every life has intrinsic value”. Aikaterini Pekridou, a Greek Orthodox doctoral student from the Irish School of Ecumenics, affirmed these views stressing the significance of EDAN’s contributions in ecumenical and ecclesiological dialogue. “If communion is the gift by which the church lives, and the gift that God calls the church to offer to a divided and wounded humanity, ecclesiological reflections from EDAN provide a concrete challenge and opportunity to live into a common vision of the church as communion,” Pekridou said.
Fadi El Halabi, a Maronite Christian from Lebanon and EDAN’s Middle East coordinator, said, “the new document from the EDAN will challenge churches in the Middle East to address disability from a theological perspective and find new ways of making the church an inclusive community at all levels.”
A significant contribution to the statement was received in a colloquium hosted by the Faculty of Theology’s Centre for Dogmatics and Ecumenical studies at the Free University in Amsterdam on Tuesday. In the discussions a research group comprised of faculty, students and ministers in formation engaged with the text, providing a stimulating critique to help shape the draft.
The EDAN statement will be finalized in February 2015 and will be presented to the WCC governing bodies for approval.