TAMW-2019 Conference-A Lesson About Community

The FIN Conference that just took place on March 7-8 marks my 6th opportunity to be the lead in organizing a faith and disability conference. That All May Worship (TAMW)-2019, The Art of Inclusion was going to be the best event ever. I was thrilled with the theme related to another passion of my life, art and music, and started working on developing this event back in the early summer months.

I don’t want to give you the idea that it wasn’t a great training event. We had our biggest group of national faith and disability leaders yet be involved and our biggest number of conference attendees, not to mention our first ever Welcome Dinner to kick it all off. These talented disability ministry leaders, authors, researchers and speakers, many traveling by plane to attend, gathered for a retreat at Sandbridge, VA during the day on March 7 and most stayed to play a role at the conference sessions on Friday, March 8.

Group participating in FIN National Faith and Disability Retreat

We also reached a lot of people who are new to faith inclusion; vendors that represented arts organizations, people who traveled not just from the next town over, but from other states, to be with us to learn and engage in the conversation.

But what I elude to is the unexpected experiences related to this year’s event. As I continue to understand my role as an advocate, the leader of Faith Inclusion Network and a member of my community at large, my expectation for the conference and my appreciation for what I learned really affected me in a profound way.

If you were present at the very opening of the conference, you might have sensed a touch of chaos. That is primarily because of what transpired the evening before. As a group of four national guests were driving back from the Welcome Dinner at The Founder’s Inn and Spa to the Sandbridge house, they were in a car accident. An electric pole, hit by a drunk driver in front of them, landed on the top of the van. Luckily, no one was injured in either car but all of our guests were pretty shaken up.

The next morning, two of those passengers were not able to participate in the conference, including one of our breakout session presenters. We spent the precious prep time in the morning working out how to handle this and other conference staffing issues, not to mention my worry over how they were feeling.  Everyone was a bit out of sorts and the impact of “what could have happened” weighed heavily on many of our retreat guests and presenters, including myself.

The result of bringing together amazing, compassionate and caring people coupled with the kind of trauma several of them experienced with the car accident and you have a recipe for something remarkable. In the throes of taking care of all the people involved in the accident, I observed something that is really at the core of what FIN seeks to develop: community in action.

As soon as we all got word that our friends were in trouble, many of the group jumped up to help immediately. I was not feeling emotionally strong enough to drive by myself back to the scene of the accident to pick up our guests, so another guest stepped in without hesitation to drive us both back, while another person went ahead to check on them.

I immediately got word to the rest of the group who were praying and preparing for whatever needed to be done to care for our friends. Thoughts of any of them needing to be hospitalized filled my mind. Luckily, not only did everyone check out okay physically, but the rented van was drive-able and they all headed back to the retreat house.

As one person helped nurse a guest who was experiencing shock, several of us came around the driver of the van that was hit, to offer comfort, support and just a listening ear. It was a late night for many of us as we turned in, anticipating an early morning start to the Friday sessions for the conference.

All Conference participants engaging in discussion at the afternoon Community Conversation

The next day, our professionals got to work. Lisa Jamieson stepped in to give a presentation with no preparation and several community conversation host facilitators had to be changed around. What was amazing to me was that everyone did this without hesitation, only wanting to help make  sure all went as smoothly as possible.

For a hyper-planner like myself, the changes were a challenge but I learned that flexibility and creativity are key. Talk about ironic, huh? The whole focus of our conference, the theme of creativity and resolving tensions in community and in disability ministry was the very lesson I learned in dealing with the unexpected during this conference.

Why did this experience make such an impact and why tell this story? I believe that not only did we experience God’s protection (the results of this accident could have been so much worse) but we also experienced the true essence of community; a diverse group of people coming together, sharing their gifts and supporting one another through life’s joys and challenges. This is a big part of what FIN’s mission means. To develop awareness and support families affected by disability in our faith congregations is to intentionally develop a community, a community where everyone takes care of everyone else and a community where everyone belongs.

We are all safely back to our regular lives now, working in schools, offices, businesses. If you attended the conference, I pray that you felt that community and learned something you can take back with you to your lives and congregations.

Praise be to God!

Karen j.