A major part of the job would be to change the environment around individuals with disabilities, in other words, the church. The starting point might be to create a place where people are included, however, the goal would be to remove exclusion from existing programs and structures. There is a huge philosophical difference between these two activities. One says that a person doesn't fit in because of their characteristics. The other says that a person doesn't fit in because of the characteristics of the enviornment. Typically the expectation is that the individual will change to better fit the enviornment. They will develop better social skills, etc. such that they would be accepted by the larger enviornment, the social setting. There is not a lot of impetus on the environment to change. However, it is largely the enviornment that is in need of changing, even more than the individual who has the impairment. The church environment should be one that to the greatest extent possible does not reflect the socially constructed notions of disability that are reflected in Wolfensberger's 18 wounds. If the enviornment has wrong notions about people with impairments which are reflected in practices typical of society, then the environment needs to reflect more correct notions of who people with impairments are and reflect those notions in their practice. Imagine if a white woman went to a predominantly black church or a black woman went to a predominatly white church. Upon her arrival, the ministry staff approached the woman and said, "We are so glad you are here! We have a ministry specifically designed for women who are your color! All the people who are your skin color meet over there in the 'Your skin color' ministry." You would respond that this is ridiculous and you would be right. Skin color is an irrelevant characteristic when it comes to teaching people about the Bible and engaging in faith development. A segregated ministry for women with a skin color different then the majority of the women in the church reflects more about the flawed thinking of the church then it does about the relevance of the skin color of the woman. Sure there are things that have become relevant about skin color because of the way people of certain ethnicities have been socially constructed. People have experienced privilege and discrimination on the basis of their skin color. However, once you enter a church, you shouldn't experience privilege or discrimination on the basis of your skin color. The same holds for individuals with disabilities. My life in society will be different if I experience a bodily impairment of some kind. However, the socially constructed perceptions of my disability shouldn't find their way into the doors of a Christian church. I shoudn't experience discrimination in a church on the basis of disability. The fact that I do, implies the degree of change that needs to occur within that environment. That environmental change should be a major, perhaps THE major focus of the pastor of disability ministry. They should be agents of change above all else. They should be living out, teaching about, advocating for a replacement narrative, based on the Bible to replace the socially constructed, pervasive narrative about who people experiencing physical impairments are.
A second area of emphasis related to the first, is integration, friendship development and the changes the personal involvement and shared lives bring. If people were truly interested in supporting devalued people, if church members were looking for devalued people and bring them into the church, into relationship, then there might not be the need for a full time person. The fact that there is a need is somewhat of an indictment of rank and file church members who are NOT developing friendships, NOT seeking out devalued people, NOT advocating changing church structures such that people with disabilities would be included in the larger Body of Christ. If we were doing that, there wouldn't be the need so much for paid staff. Kathi and I recently spoke to the elder board at our church. We actually asked about the possibility of hiring a full time pastor of disabiltiy ministry. One of the elders in the course of the discussion, asked whether we were training another couple to take our place should we move or be incapacitated to do the ministry. At first, I thought "You don't look to the women's pastor or the junior high pastor or the college pastor to find a person within the congregation whom they can train as their replacement. Why would you look to us to do that?" Whether his comment was intentionally related to the naturalness of our "ministry" staffed entirely by volunteers as a perhaps better model, I am not sure. But it has since given me pause. We wanted a full time pastor because of the committment that funding implies on the part of the church. However, perhaps there are other ways churches can make a committment to ministry without hiring a full time pastor. A part of me thinks that the hiring of of full time pastoral staff to some degree simply removes the responsibility of the average congregational member from doing many of the things they should. Additionally, if a full time pastor of disability ministry was the one doing all the work of ministry to people experiencing disability within a church, it would be another example of a person who is only in the lives of a person with a disability because they are paid to do so (see Wolfensberger's wound #9) only in this case it is for the cause of "ministry." At least the hope is that this paid person would recognize the critical need for natural friendships and facilitate those within the social environment of the Church. From an evaluative perspective, if indivuals with disabilties attending a church do not have natural friendships with members of the church, the pastor of disability ministry is arguably NOT doing their job. If the only interaction that individuals with disabilities have with the larger congregation is the once per week chance meeting on Sunday morning with no social interaction outside of the church setting, then the pastor of disabiltiy ministry may be doing their job, but they are NOT doing a very good job. This aspect of "disability ministry" is hard because if people wanted relationships with persons with disabilities they would have those relationships. That they do not have such relationships communicates that they do not see those relationships as desirable or necessary TO THEIR OWN LIVES. The understanding of the Body of Christ, and of love among other things are then the foci of efforts of the pastor of disability ministry.
So thus far, we have described the most critical aspects of ministry and we haven't cracked a Bible with a person with a disability. Should someone not be able to understand the scriptures as presented to the larger congregation, the next critical work would be to facilitate Biblical study, faith development and teaching of that group of people. This will imply the development of a subenvironment within the church for people with this pedagogical need. Pastors of disability ministry should know what they are doing from a faith development perspective, understand what the goal is for a particular person with an intellectual disability for example and be discipling that individual to move forward in their faith. They should know what to do for an autistic child, or an adult with severe intellectual disabilities, or mental illness. In each of these cases, the approach for faith development would be different. To a large degree it would be inclusive, but to some degree the faith development approach might be different. The pastor should understand the samenesses and differences and develop those, constantly second guessing himself when segregation occurs in any form.
More to come.