Tag Archives: acceptance

All Are Welcome

“All Are Welcome” is a well-known and well-loved Christian hymn written by prolific liturgical composer, Marty Haugen. I’ve sung it often as a member of the congregation and even led it as a cantor on a few occasions, but never did the song impact me in the way it did this past Sunday when visiting St. John Chrysostom in Wallingford, PA.

This was not my first visit to St. John Chrysostom. I wrote a piece several years ago, called “Welcoming the Visitor”. My family and I had attended a Mass at the church at Eastertime while visiting our oldest son at Swarthmore College. I was so overwhelmed with their intentional inclusion, I wrote a story and connected with the pastor, Fr. Hallinan by email.

More than a year after my son has graduated from Swarthmore, I found myself preparing to bring our youngest son to the school for an official visit on campus. I happily anticipated an opportunity to attend church once again at St. John Chrysostom…I was not disappointed.

The moment I walked in, about ten minutes before the start of Mass, I observed several people with various kinds of disabilities. Ushers and members of the congregation greeted everyone in a kind and gentle way, expressing their joy to see them. One young adult, who seemed to be non-verbal, shook hands very enthusiastically with the greeter, a huge smile on his face. It was obvious to me that he was a valued member of the congregation and everyone he encountered was as glad to see him as he was to see them.

A few more steps into the church and I noticed some signage; one an announcement about a Caregivers Support Group and another about an Autism help line. These notices were not buried among many on a full bulletin board, but prominently displayed and easy to read.

I finally found a seat in the pew and listened to the choir warm up (a folk group with guitars, bongos and several singers.)  Of the six vocalists, the soloist chosen to lead a prominent part of one of the songs was an elderly woman with an exceptionally quiet voice. She was singing in tune, but it struck me as particularly refreshing that she was the one chosen for the solo. Not the strongest or the youngest voice, but an important voice and another obvious way that this church embraces the gifts of every person.

I could go on but you probably get the idea. St. John Chrysostom is a vibrant congregation with a strong understanding of what it takes to be inclusive.

I waited a few minutes at the end of Mass so I could re-introduce myself to Fr. Hallinan and hopefully get a few minutes to talk. We ended up chatting for more than ten minutes about our shared passion for inclusion and concluded our time together with a photo (thank you for that, Fr. Hallinan!). I expressed how grateful I was for all that this church does to promote inclusion and headed out the door.

As I got back in my car to head back to the campus baseball field, one of the points from my conversation with Fr. Hallinan that resonated strongly with me kept running through my mind.  St. John Chrysostom, like many other faith communities around the country, holds a designated service especially for individuals and families affected by disability. The “Mass of Welcoming and Inclusion”, as it is called at St. John Chrysostom is celebrated the 1st Sunday of the month. (The Mass I attended, by the way, was not on the 1st Sunday of the month, it was a regular Mass without this distinction) Fr. Hallinan said that his goal is that eventually they would not need to have the Welcoming and Inclusion Mass, that all Masses would feel welcoming and inclusive! We both agreed that an inclusive service can really be a helpful stepping stone for congregations and is still important for some individual and families affected by disability.  I couldn’t help but think, however, as I left the church, that if any congregation was nearing the goal of letting go of this kind of stepping stone, it was this church.

“All Are Welcome” at St. John Chrysostom, that is for sure in both obvious and subtle ways. I am grateful for their efforts and appreciate the opportunity to be an occasional visitor. I also know that there are many Hampton Roads local faith communities doing equally awesome inclusion work and seeing great results. If you aren’t already connected with FIN, please do share with us what you are doing. Your efforts could really be an encouragement to someone else or another faith community.

God Bless.

Karen j.

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.  

 

 

Acceptance

“I’m a bit nervous”, I confessed to my husband as I prepared for my speaking engagement at Temple Israel in Norfolk, VA.  Despite the friendship, support and encouragement I have received from Rabbi Michael Panitz over the past 10 years as I worked to start and develop Faith Inclusion Network, I had actually never been asked to speak there or for any other local Jewish congregations.  Would they really be interested in hearing some of my story? Would they accept and welcome me, a Catholic Christian, to be a part of their service?

I prepped my daughter’s caretaker and headed over in plenty of time to hear some of the beginning of Temple Israel’s Disabilities Awareness Shabbat. February is designated as Jewish Disability, Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month in our country and I had been asked to share a few words about inclusion as both a parent of child with a disability and the leader of Faith Inclusion Network.

When I arrived at Temple Israel, I was immediately greeted by a friend I already knew from the disability community; a mom who shares a similar parenting journey. Others I didn’t know smiled warmly, offering words of welcome and I immediately relaxed.

My short talk was titled, “Acceptance”, a word that was recently added to the national Jewish inclusion effort for their 10-year anniversary. Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion month is celebrated and experienced around the country, due to the efforts of people like Shelly Christensen, one of the founders of this effort and also one of Faith Inclusion Network’s national board advisers.

Karen Jackson and Claudia Mazur

It didn’t take long for me to recognize that the Temple Israel congregation is a very accepting community. People with various types of disabilities dotted the congregation and several individuals affected by disability participated by leading prayers during this Disability Awareness Shabbat. It did not escape my notice that the congregation was also very accepting of me, a guest to their worship time.

After the service I joined members of the congregation for lunch, sharing stories with a few other parents who have children with disabilities. The word “acceptance” floated in and out of our conversations. The feeling of community was strong and encouraging.

Rabbi Michael Panitz and K. Jackson

More than ten years ago, I reached out to many people in the Hampton Roads community, including Rabbi Panitz, to ask the question, “What can be done to make our faith communities more inclusive?” The answer is reinforced again and again in the opportunities I have had to visit and speak with congregations, sharing and listening to stories of welcoming and acceptance. We can all make a difference with inclusion efforts when we begin by being open and accepting of people who may be different in some way. Acceptance is the first step towards inclusion.

Thank you to Temple Israel for your kind invitation and welcome, your understanding and demonstration of inclusion and for choosing to accept individuals and families affected by disability.

Shalom.

Karen j.