Conference promotes dialogue between churches and disabled

"It is time we thought about the meaning of disabled people's presence in the congregation," according to Don Saliers of the School of Theology. He has a point. Some 43 million Americans (one in six) have disabilities, and most of those acquired a disabling condition sometime during their lives. That's why the School of Theology is organizing a conference to help the disabled and their families enhance the worship lives of their churches.

Called "Human Disability and the Service of God," the conference is aimed at promoting a new level of dialogue between Christian churches and people with disabilities, said Nancy Eiesland, conference co-director and a member of the theology faculty. "By bringing together scholars, practitioners and writers who belong to different theological disciplines, we hope to explore and articulate a more inclusive liturgical theology and practice," she said. The conference is scheduled March 8-10, and a pre-registration fee of $50 is required.

The conference is for church leaders, lay leadership in local churches, those involved in church agencies and "anyone interested in forging a new theology," said Saliers, also a conference co-director. Sessions will cover a wide range of disabilities and their individual challenges in the worship world. Many consist of "rereading scriptures in terms of the present situation," said Saliers. "We want to correct the view of just having pity on the disabled and praying for them." Sessions include:

* "Disability and Liturgy in Ancient and Modern Religious Traditions;"

* "Playing A Part/Playing Apart?: Folk Religious Belief about People with Disabilities;"

* "To Make a Wounded Wholeness: Ritual, Disability and Ethics in the African-American Context;"

* "The Body of God at Risk: Ecclesiology and AIDS";

* "Recent Developments in Christian Education and Disability Awareness;"

* "Through Glasses Darkly: Discovering a Liturgical Place," (for individuals with limited sight capabilities); and

* "`We Have This Ministry:' Ordained and Diaconal Ministers Who Are Physically Challenged."

Participants also will have the opportunity to participate in discussion sessions, meals with other conferees and a concluding worship service. "We'll be finding ways to read with fresh eyes the sources we've been using," Saliers said, adding that he will highlight "healing narratives in scripture" in his keynote address titled "Toward a Spirituality of Inclusion," and look for things the church may have missed.

For more information or to register, contact Don Saliers at 727-4157.

-- Elaine Justice

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