“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Report from European Society on Theology and Disability

This is my report on the first meeting of the European Society on Theology and Disability held at Schoorl, Netherlands this past week(8/29-3/31/07). The conference organizers were Dr. Hans Reinders and Dr. John Swinton, however, Dr. Reinders and his family were the wonderful hosts who made this a memorable event. Accommodations were provided at an organic beef and dairy farm where we stayed in tents, enjoyed breakfast together as well as evening discussions about the events of each conference day. The conference itself was held at a place called Scorelewald, a residential/vocational setting for adults with cognitive disabilities.

The first evening opened with a few comments from Dr. Reinders, followed by a skit performed by members of the L'Arche community of Amsterdam about the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). This was followed by the viewing of a film about the life of Henri Nouwen. Throughout the performance and the film, I sat by Willy, a beautiful gal from L'Arche who knew of Henri Nouwen and became excited whenever Jean Vanier was mentioned, and her friend Ferd. Both folks only spoke Dutch and I speak English, but we were reasonably able to communicate. After the film, another woman from L'Arche was interviewed about the impact the Nouwen film had made on her the first time she saw it with Dr. Reinders interpretting Dutch to English. The evening ended and we went back to the campground/farm.

The following morning, we awoke, had breakfast and walked the 1 1/2 miles to Scorelewald for the beginning of the conference. Dr. Reinders introduced the day and Dr. Swinton and others acted as moderators. We learned that attendees were from England, Scotland, Ireland, Switzerland, Nigeria, India, Russia, America and of course Holland. It was a friendly, lively group of 32 attendees 12 of which presented. The day's schedule was two 1/2 hour sessions followed by questions, coffee break, 2 more sessions then lunch, 2 more sessions then coffee break and then 2 more sessions and then dinner. I had the opportunity to present after the morning coffee break after Dr. Herman Meininger. My topic was, "The essential nature of persons with mental retardation to the church."

After dinner, there was a short break and then a dramatic presentation put on by the residents of Scorlewald. About 200 people were in attendance. The play was entitled, "Happy Hans" from Grims fairy tales which included a great musical accompaniment provided by residents. Earlier in the day, we were given the opportunity to forgo a portion of our lunch time to tour a workshop that made musical instruments. I must say that these instruments (flute, lyre, drums, xylophone) were beautifully made and produced lovely tones. Similar instruments were for sale and were sold for as much as a thousand dollars. The workmanship was very impressive as was the fact that that people with severe cognitive disabilities were involved in making the instruments. Anyway, Happy Hans was well done and great fun, and many jokes were made later as Dr. Reinders name is also Hans!

The final day of the conference included morning presentations and a business meeting after lunch led by Dr. Swinton. Some good discussion and decisions were made. The next meeting of the society will be held in 2 years with the location tentatively planned to be Switzerland.

Friday evening ended with a delicious barbecue prepared by Dr. Reinders' son Jasper. There was much great discussion. Dr. Reinders and his family were lovely hosts. Through their efforts, the standard has been set very high.

My immediate reflections about the conference was that there were very different ways of approaching the notion of disability although there was a unity of heart. I was very interested to hear about Nigeria and the presenters' contention that the church is the answer to disability issues there. There was unanimity about the desperate need for the church to change. I was approached on several occasions for ideas about how to actually facilitate change. It seems there is much resistance in the countries represented.

The good news is that God is gathering change agents world wide. It is a small thing that 32 people gathered from 4 continents, but God uses small things. I am excited about the possibilities this society has for the future. I also know now that I have two years to work on my German!

May God bless and direct the Eurpoean Society on Theology and Disability

(The Jordan Shelter,
Amsterdam, The Netherlands)


Arthur Seale said...

I am anxious to read your notes on your presentation and to find out what the church is doing in Nigeria!

Anonymous said...

This is encouraging! Like Arthur, I am interested to hear about what is happening in Nigeria. When the presenter said that "the Church is the answer to disability issues there," did he mean that the Church is stepping up and adressing the issues or that it is the last hope in a desperate place?

I am pleased to hear such an optimistic report and I look forward to hearing more good news.

Blessings to all reading these posts.