Community for ALL-2020

Community. It’s been on my mind for quite a while. The precious, almost sanctified sense of belonging…to a group of people that know you, care about you, and miss you when you are not there. For those who experience community, it is the part of their life that often brings them great joy, this connection with others.

My work with Faith Inclusion Network is mainly about helping faith communities fulfill that sense of community and belonging for people affected by disability. I am keenly aware of the challenge individuals and families can face when seeking inclusion and community in congregations, and the sense of defeat they can experience when things do not work out as desired.

Michelle Munger, Associate Director of FIN, Shelly Christensen, Samantha Jackson, Fr. Eric Ayers, Pastor at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church and Karen Jackson

I myself am richly blessed with being a part of many different kinds of community. I meet monthly with a group of moms who, like me, are raising children with disabilities. We meet together to listen and encourage, sharing our similar parenting journeys. I also find strong community at my church and enjoy worship, and the fellowship and social opportunities provided there. I have a tight-knit neighborhood community and am part of my school community, where I have taught music for more than 20 years.

Yes, community is important to me and to many others, which is why the Community for ALL initiative that we celebrated last weekend is an idea that I am hopeful will gain momentum throughout our Hampton Roads region and perhaps even beyond.

C4A poster made at Temple Israel, Norfolk

Community for ALL  or C4A as we have quickly nick-named it, is an interfaith disability awareness weekend that gives congregations the opportunity to celebrate their already established disability inclusion efforts or introduce members of their congregation to the importance of inclusion. In its inaugural weekend (Saturday, Feb. 29-Sunday, March 1 2020) Presbyterian, Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Jewish and non-denominational churches in our area and in a few areas out side Hampton Roads, including New York state and Toronto, CAN, participated in the C4A weekend, by providing guest speakers, including information in their bulletins about disability inclusion efforts, making posters and sharing about Faith Inclusion Network. There is likely much that did not get reported back to us…and that is completely fine. Of course, we want to know about any efforts that were sparked by the C4A weekend, but that is really not the point. As Frank Fabiano, the Lead Chaplain with Faith Choice Connections in Warren, Washington and Albany Counties, NY shared in an encouraging email he sent in early February, “… at least four of these churches [in his network], plus the synagogue that is planning one for next year, are doing something because you all encouraged us to host a Community for All weekend! Thank you so very much!!”

It seems simple and yet, I talked recently on the phone with a young woman with a disability who was looking for a way to connect with her community. She lives on her own without family nearby, does not have transportation and currently is not working. Where does someone in this situation find community?

If you answered, “church” or a “faith community” you are right there with me. It seems obvious, right? But there are barriers to making that happen, which is why we need to be intentional about inviting all people into our congregations and communities and providing accessibility and accommodations as needed. This is the heart of the “why” behind the Community for ALL initiative.

Shelly Christensen, speaker, consultant and author of “From Longing to Belonging”. Shelly also helped to develop the C4A initiative as one of FIN’s National Board Advisors.

On Sunday, March 1, I sat next to my friend and national faith and disability leader and speaker, Shelly Christensen at Second Presbyterian Church, Norfolk. I helped facilitate the opportunity for Shelly, who is of Jewish faith, to speak briefly at Second Pres., a very community-minded church and the home to Faith Inclusion Network’s office. We took our seats in the front pew and their new music minister, Robert Shoup, began the opening music, a short selection from the Chichester Psalms by Leonard Bernstein. The soprano soloist started and sang the beautiful words of the 23rd Psalm in Hebrew. I glanced over at Shelly and could see the emotion in her face. I had tears forming in my own eyes. The thoughtfulness that went into selecting this music because of Shelly’s participation was beyond moving. It was intentional, welcoming and inclusive.

The children were then called up to the front and sat down with the youth pastor. He shared a story about being different, about his experience with a group of people at a Special Olympics event and what he had learned about being accepting of differences. Again, an intentional addition to the service, tying into the theme of inclusion and community. This was followed by Shelly’s talk about inclusion and her very important message about belonging. As the title of her most recent book, “From Longing to Belonging” emphasizes, belonging is the key to making community work. We are not part of a community unless we feel we belong.

Shelly Christensen, Pastor Craig Wansink and Karen Jackson

The entire service at Second Presbyterian was more than I could have hoped for. Not only was the C4A weekend the first weekend of Lent is was also a special 10-year anniversary at the church for the senior Pastor, Craig Wansink. Despite all of this, the worship team chose to incorporate and celebrate C4A. The service was beautiful and perhaps even more meaningful because they had to work extra hard to incorporate the inclusion theme into the already full worship time.

Community. It takes intentional effort and at times, can be elusive for people on that are sometimes (oftentimes?) on the outside looking in. Yet, as people of faith, I believe we can make a huge difference in the lives of those affected by disability if we put developing community, being accessible, being welcoming and finding ways to include all people, at the top of our list.

Thank you to all who participated in any way with the very first Community for ALL weekend and for all who are actively involved in disability inclusion efforts in our faith communities and community at large. I am already looking forward to next year’s C4A weekend and hope you and your faith community will consider participating.

Peace,

Karen J.

Faith Communities who Participated in C4A-2020

Crossroads Church, Norfolk, VA
Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, Norfolk, VA
Church of the Holy Family, Virginia Beach, VA
Second Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, VA
Church of the Holy Apostles, Virginia Beach, VA
Trinity Presbyterian Church Norfolk, VA
First Congregational Church Saugerties, NY
Great Bridge Baptist Church Chesapeake, VA
Temple Israel Norfolk, VA
Wesley Grace UMC, Norfolk, VA
New Life Church-Ghent Campus, Norfolk, VA 
Church of the Ascension Episcopal Church, Norfolk, VA 
St. Andrews Episcopal Church, Norfolk, VA
Enoch Baptist Church, Virginia Beach, VA

And thank you to the organizations that endorsed the C4A Initiative

RavensWay Foundation, Hampton Roads, VA
The Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA
Eggleston Services, Norfolk, VA
Friendship Ministries, Michigan
Different Dream Living, Iowa
Key Ministry, Ohio
Inclusion Innovations, Minnesota
NAMI Coastal Virginia, Virginia Beach, VA
SPRED of Virginia, Newport News, VA
Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services, Norfolk, VA
The Salvation Army-Broadview Village, Toronto, CA
Social Butterflies Club, Virginia Beach, VA
Park Place Child Life Center, Norfolk, VA 
Warren, Washington, and Albany Counties ARC, NY
Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, Richmond, VA
Walk Right In Ministries, Minesota
Anabaptist Disabilities Network, Indiana
Autism Faith Network, Georgia
TRDance, Norfolk, VA
SeeJesus, Bethesda Disability Ministry, Pennsylvania
Benevolence United, Warrenton, Virginia