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Disability Concerns Resolutions: General Conference 2004

by John A. Carr
January 2004

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I hope that you had a meaningful Christmas/Epiphany and hope it is not too late to wish you a happy new year. The main focus of this letter to share with you the petitions submitted to General Conference on behalf of our caucus. The petitions were formulated after receiving the feedback from those who gave it.

The petitions are:

   1. Incapacity Leave Resulting from Health Matters and Disabling Conditions: Insert a new sentence in Paragraph 355.1 after, "...provided, however that such leave may be granted or renewed only after a thorough investigation of the case by the joint committee on incapacity of the annual conference, which will report its findings to the conference board of ordained ministry and the annual conference board of pensions." A person under consideration for incapacity leave shall be granted the right to be involved in the deliberation, either in person or by designating someone to represent his or her interests. This shall include the right to meet with the joint committee on incapacity leave when his or her situation is being discussed. Upon request by the person under review, a minister or other professional with a disability shall be involved in the process.

Rationale: In every case when a person's status or future is being considered, there must be fair representation, including some peer representation. Often, decision-makers are unaware of the possibilities for ministry by someone with a disability. Neither discomfort, fear, nor ignorance of the possibilities should alone determine the final decision. The members of the deliberating body as Christians should follow as high and moral a code as the civil courts in the secular world.

   2. Joint Committee on Incapacity: After the second sentence of Paragraph 648, add the following: The joint committee shall include in its composition and during all of its deliberations a person with a disability, preferably someone in ministry.

Rationale: When a person's capacity for ministry is under consideration, it is essential that a committee member with a disability be present as an additional resource to both the committee and the minister under consideration.

   3. A Proposal for Training Leadership in the United Methodist Church: Add a second sentence to paragraph 1405.3: A person or persons with a disability shall be part of the design team and presentation in the orientation sessions or training programs for new district superintendents. This model can be followed in planning for training for other United Methodist leaders.

Rationale: Whereas the United Methodist Church proclaims that its mission is to minister to populations in this country and throughout the world;
Whereas various mission, evangelical, and educational programs of the UMC encourage congregations to welcome all of God's people to the fellowship in the name of Christ;
Whereas many among God's people, more than one out of ten nationwide, are born with or during life experience acquire a disability, we would recommend the General Conference of the UMC in 2004 to adopt the above proposal.

   4. Course Material on Disability Issues: Add a final sentence to paragraph 1410:4f: To meet the needs of the many church members with disabilities as well as persons with disabilities preparing for ministry, each United Methodist theological school must have course material that explores theology and disability issues.

Rationale: It is critical that persons with disabilities receive a sensitive and informed response by the clergy and leadership of the church.

   5. Service of the Entire United Methodist Church: After the second sentence of paragraph 1637 add, Information should be shared in all relevant accessible media to maximize availability in formats that are usable by people with a broad variety of needs, abilities, and disabilities. Rationale: A large number of people with disabilities are eager to receive church materials and resources by means that they can access. We assume that a large professional publishing operation would assume these costs as part of their stated policy of making material available "to meet the needs of all groups of our people." The last ten words are a quote from current Paragraph 1637 in the Book of Discipline 2000.

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Some of you questioned the value of doing petitions. There are several good reasons. It is our opportunity to try to make changes and corrections in our Discipline, which is our rule book. We have had some success in the last three General Conferences. Successful or not, it is an opportunity to present our concerns before the political leadership of the church. In a sense, it is like planting seeds for future growth. There is also the possibility that someone unexpected will decide to join us or to further our cause in other ways.

My wife Maggie and I will be attending the first full week of General Conference . . . . Once again, we will be allowed some space through the hospitality of the MFSA. They have been very kind and helpful to us in Denver and in Cleveland.

The Rev. John A. Carr, Executive Director
Association of Physically Challenged Ministers of the United Methodist Church