World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Statement from EDAN Middle East consultation

Representatives of persons with different disabilities and church disability workers came together from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Palestine representing different church traditions among them Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical.

25 June 2006

EDAN - Middle East Consultation

WCC - Middle East Desk
Le Bristol Hotel
Beirut - Lebanon

21- 25 June 2006

Twenty Five representatives of persons with different disabilities and church disability workers came together from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Palestine representing different church traditions among them Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical. They gathered in a consultation from June 21 to 25, 2006 in Beirut under the auspices of the WCC Middle East Desk and EDAN to discuss disability concerns in the churches and in society. The Middle East Council of Churches' General Secretary, Mr. Guirguis Saleh, led the Biblical morning meditation and addressed the participants during the opening session. He welcomed the participants assuring them of the MECC's support to implement the Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network in the Middle East region.

The occasion was also graced by the presence of representatives from the head of churches in the region. Fr. Housig Mardirossian, representing the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia, and Fr. Paul Wehbé, a representative from the Orthodox Church of Antioch addressed the participants encouraging them in their initiative to launch the EDAN network in the ME, and assuring them of all their support.

At the end of the three days consultation, the participants came up with the following conclusions:

Having shared our experiences in the different countries and churches, we have observed the following:

  1. Our churches in the region are at different levels in understanding and addressing disability concerns. Some churches already have programs but others do not.

  2. There are many NGOs in the region that are involved in disability work, some of them are church related, and some of these have more advanced programs than the churches.

  3. A lot of work needs to be done in order to change attitudes in the churches and in societies towards the acceptance and integration of persons with disabilities at all levels.

  4. There is need for more information, awareness and orientation at the levels of both church leadership and membership on disability issues.

  5. The church needs to integrate disability studies in the theological institutions as a way of preparing future clergy, pastors and leaders to work with persons with disabilities.

  6. Many of our churches are inaccessible to persons with disabilities in terms of physical barriers as well as entry to the ordained ministry.

  7. And having further observed that the church should carry forward the responsibility of following these issues up, we identified the following advantages that it has:

    • Our churches in the region, through the MECC and other ecumenical organizations, are more present and efficient when they work together thus giving an ecumenical dimension to their work.
    • The Church is able and has the capacity to advocate for changing attitudes towards people with disabilities.
    • The Church has the human and financial resources to do this work.
    • The mandate of the Church to deal with disability concerns has its sources and basis from the life and witness of Christ himself. The nature of the Church's work in this field should therefore be unique.
    • The Church is the Community where people come together in all their diversities to constitute the one Body of Christ, and therefore should be an inclusive community. Responding to and including persons with disabilities is not an option. It is the Church's defining characteristic: A Church of all and for all.
  1. We therefore, as persons with disabilities and colleagues in disability work in our churches, resolve to join together into a regional network as part of the Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (EDAN) and to be an example of an inclusive community in our work. We call upon the Churches in the Region, the MECC, and WCC to support and partner with us in our commitment to work on:

    • Building and raising awareness within our churches on all levels in order to sensitize them on the issue of disability.

    • Communicating information among us and sharing our diverse experiences through networking.

    • Advocating for all aspects of accessibility to our churches so that they become inclusive communities.

    • Promoting inclusive policies, legislations, systems, and facilities on both regional and national levels.

    • Empowering people with disabilities for an active participation in church and community life.

    • Networking with other faith based communities as well as NGOs.

    • Initiating theological reflection and introduction of disability discourse in theological institutions.

In order to operationalize the Regional Network, we have designated Mr. Fadi Halabi and Ms Rula Helou as the two volunteer regional co-coordinators. Mr. Halabi will be in charge of Church and Ecumenical relations and Ms Helou will be in charge of liaison with non-church actors in disability work as well as the general communication in the Network. They will work with a Reference group to include representatives from Syria, Egypt, Jordan and Palestine whose selection will bear in consideration the different church confessions in the region. The operating base for the Network will be the WCC ME Desk, based in Beirut, where all logistics will be provided.