The theme of the conference was “Taking Our Place at the Table: Disability Leadership Academy.” The Rev. Stephanie Remington from the Lewis Leadership Center of Wesley Theological Seminary led the leadership seminar that provided insights to good leadership. The Rev. Nancy Webb, a blind retired clergy person from the Baltimore-Washington Conference and a past co-chairperson of the UMAMD, shared, “These insights are helpful across the board. What a wonderful presentation.” The afternoon session had a panel discussion that had representatives from the General Commission on Religion and Race, the General Board of Church and Society, and a representative from the Board of Ordained Ministry from the Baltimore-Washington Conference, all of which was to be improve collaboration and networking between general boards, agencies, commissions, and people with disabilities. The Rev. Dr. C. Anthony Hunt, the chairperson of the Baltimore-Washington Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, shared how the board had worked with candidates with disAbilities in the past and offered accessible meeting spaces. One current provisional deacon from another annual conference shared the challenges of her board examination and how the location would not be changed to make it fully accessible since she had to use crutches and did not drive. The gasps were heard throughout the room while sympathy filled the air. An appropriate response by Dr. Hunt was the encouragement to work with the conference disability commission; however, one of the participants stated that not all annual conferences have disability commissions despite the mandate in The Book of Discipline. As the other challenges were shared, Bishop Johnson, who was appointed by the Council of Bishops to be the bishop assigned to the disability ministries for consultation and awareness for the denomination, said she will continue to work with her colleagues to be certain that every annual conference in the denomination has a working commission on disability concerns. The evening session concluded with small groups doing some reflection for how God used them and their disability to share grace with others after the Rev. Leo Yates first opened the session with a personal story. To top off the evening session was the awarding of “The Unsung Hero Award” to Rev. Nancy Webb for all of her years of service and advocacy work. Bishop Johnson was provided with a book, Disability, Faith, and the Church, which was signed by all the conference participants as a reminder they were depending on her and her leadership. All of the participants, rolled up, walked up, or struggled to make it up to the front of the room to lay hands on her and prayed for her ministry. Bishop Johnson held back tears and said she will be faithful to the work. The Rev. Janine Delaunay said, “We are grateful for your leadership, Bishop Peggy, and we as a caucus will continue to support you as well.”
Purpose Statement from the United Methodist Association of Ministers with Disabilities
We the people of the United Methodist Association of Ministers with Disabilities (UMAMD) affirm the sacred worth of persons with disabilities as whole persons made in the image of God. For years, people with disabilities have been discouraged, excluded, and denied as we have sought places at the table as equals with full participation in all that the life of the church offers.
Therefore, we now claim our right to take our places at the many tables at all levels of the UMC. To prepare the table that all may be fully included, the UMAMD will provide leadership to:
1 Educate the church about the many and diverse gifts of people with disabilities for ordained and lay ministries that will strengthen the church.
2 Advocate for people with disabilities, both lay and clergy, as we seek places at the table in seminaries, the local church, annual conferences, jurisdictions, and the general boards and agencies of the church.
3 Support and provide connections and links between the church and people with disabilities, coming alongside conference disability ministries committees and the DisAbility Ministries Committee of the UMC as we work together toward full inclusion. To that end we also support clergy and candidates for ministry who have disabilities in facing the persisting barriers to living out God’s call.
We call on the church to engage with us in this effort to achieve full equality. We further call upon the church, its annual conferences, and the general boards and agencies to identify funding to support this important work.