Disability Awareness Sunday, March 20, 2011

SPEEDWAY, Ind. – The church needs a day to celebrate the many ways people with physical, developmental, intellectual and other disabilities – and their families – are loved children of God and welcome addition to The United Methodist Church. That day is March 20, Disability Awareness Sunday in the Indiana Conference.

“Disability Awareness Sunday is simply a way to acknowledge that our hearts, minds and doors are open to all people with disabilities,” Beth DeHoff told Together. She leads the Indiana United Methodist Conference Disability Concerns Team.

DeHoff became interested in special needs ministry when her son, Kyle, age 11, was born with Down syndrome. Kyle’s church, Speedway UMC, has helped see him and his family through challenges related to DS, autism and leukemia.

“I know that churches are often seen as too rigid to welcome people with obvious disabilities,” said DeHoff, “but I saw how open my own church was to my son, just as he was – and I knew that United Methodists could both minister to people with disabilities and be enriched by their presence and service as well.”

Today, Speedway UMC offers to the west side of Indianapolis various outreach programs for more than 100 people with disabilities and their families. Several have become members of the church.

“On any given Sunday, our service is dotted with wheelchairs, with my son sitting on the floor in the front of the sanctuary rocking wordlessly to the music, with others vocalizing with excitement or pacing in the back,” says DeHoff.

“May of these individuals, and several others, participate in a program that gives back to the church with service projects as well. It’s a vibrant celebration of God’s people, and I believe everyone in our church benefits,” she says.

Why Disability Awareness Sunday?

Chances are good that you have children and adults in your church who have disabilities. Changes are greater that you have many others who live in your church’s neighborhood without a church home, as fewer than half of families who have a child with a disability attend church.

According to the Indiana Resource Center for Autism, one in every 101 Indiana K-12 students has an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. One in every 693 babies is born with Down syndrome. Approximately, one million people in the United States have cerebral palsy. Millions more have other disabilities.

All of them are children of God. All of them have unique gifts and personalities that transcend – or perhaps illuminate – disability. It is this large body of Hoosiers with disabilities and unique gifts that we celebrate on Disability Awareness Sunday.

That is all Disability Awareness Sunday needs to be – a celebration of all God’s people. The Indiana United Methodist Conference, as well as the United Methodist Church’s national Task Force on Disability Ministries, will provide resources for prayer, liturgy, media presentations and music for the worship service on the conference website www.inumc.org/disability.

Resources available

Congregations are welcome to use these resources or develop their own approach. If a church cannot free up a portion of worship on March 20 for this use, other Sundays in March also are appropriate, because March is Disability Awareness Month. Watch for information on these resources in conference e-mail. Visit www.indianadisabilityawareness.org.

The Indiana Conference Disability Concerns Team and the national United Methodist Task Force on Disability Ministries are comprised of individuals with disabilities, family members of people with disabilities, professionals in the field and others with a passion for this type of ministry. They help live out the section of the United Methodist Book of Discipline, which also specifies in the 2008 UM Book of Resolutions that the church should intentionally work with and on behalf of people with disabilities in the church, community, state and world society.

For more information, consult with www.umdisabilityministries.org or e-mail Beth DeHoff at dehoff5@att.net.

Courtesy of Speedway UMC

Daniel Cline and his mom, Debbie, join Rev. Scott Tyring and others at an arts day for people with disabilities and their families at Speedway UMC.

“That is all Disability Awareness Sunday needs to be – a celebration of all God’s people. “