Conference to target disability and inclusion barriers in the Church
By KIRRALEE NICOLLE
Salvation Army officers are set to share their expertise at a conference on disability and mental illness in the church.
The event will also feature speakers from the Uniting Church of Australia, Baptist church, Church of Christ and other community-based organisations.
Box Hill Corps will host ‘Welcoming and Inclusive: Actions for Churches in response to people with disabilities and health issues’ on Saturday 29 July. It will explore theological perspectives on disability and mental illness, as well as workshops on neurodivergence, invisible disability, navigating government support and issues of mental illness in the justice system.
The Salvation Army’s National Disability Inclusion Lead, Joseph Pinkard, said the conference would help raise awareness about barriers to inclusion in churches and explore practical ways to reduce and remove barriers so that everyone could experience welcome and belonging in the Church.
“It’s important to explore because there are two key passages in the Bible that make it important,” Joseph said. “One is Luke chapter 14, which talks about the great banquet and about Jesus welcoming in people with disabilities to that banquet. And then in 1 Corinthians chapter 12, where we read about the body of Christ and how all parts of the body have a role to play. Even the parts that seem weaker are indispensable. And so, as a church, we have a calling from Jesus and from Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth to be inclusive.”
Joseph said while most churches would say they welcome everyone, research suggested that people with disabilities still encountered numerous barriers and challenges in accessing church.
“Barriers can be obvious,” he said. “Like a lack of physical access, e.g., only having steps into a church building, but it can also be less obvious things like attitudinal barriers, so having low expectations of someone living with a disability participating or serving in ministry.
“There’s often not an intentional attempt to exclude, but just a lack of awareness that these barriers exist and are preventing people with disabilities from full participation in our corps.”
Joseph said the Social Justice Stocktake conducted by The Salvation Army in 2021 showed the issue Australians were most concerned about and wanted addressed was mental health.
“Particularly where we have shared sites where we might have different mission expressions operating out of the same location, there's often increased interactions with people with disabilities and people with mental health challenges,” he said. “So, there’s an opportunity for us as an entire movement, not just our corps, but also our other mission expressions and mission enterprise to think about how we more consistently include people with disabilities across everything that we do.”
Major Christine Pickens of Eva Burrows College will share on a panel at the conference exploring the role of Christian community in welcoming and inclusion, while Major Dr Catherine Spiller will reflect on findings from her worship research initiative at Mooroolbark Corps (Vic.).
To find out more about the event or book tickets, visit https://events.humanitix.com/welcoming-and-inclusive.