Book Project: read about our book, Speaking Out: The Gifts of Ministering Undeterred by Disabilities, published in 2012. If you are interested in participating in a future edition or second volume, contact us here
The Discipline, the book of procedure and legislation of the United Methodist Church, has a number of statements about disability. The excerpts below are those that deal specifically with ordained ministry, including incapacity leave. Provisions dealing with disability in general can be found at this page of the Disability Ministries Committee web site.
Please note: while we have carefully proofread these excerpts, we cannot guarantee that they are error-free. Also, we have not followed the exact formatting of the printed Discipline.
¶ 324. Qualifications for Election to Provisional Membership 8. Each candidate shall present a satisfactory certificate of good health by a physician on the prescribed form. Disabilities are not to be construed as unfavorable health factors when a person with disability is capable of meeting the professional standards and is able to render effective service as a provisional member.
¶ 330. Requirements for Ordination as Deacon and Admission to Full Connection 5. The following questions are guidelines for the preparation of the examination:
c) The Practice of Ministry
(4) Provide evidence of your willingness to relate yourself in ministry to all persons without regard to race, color, ethnicity, national origin, social status, gender, sexual orientation, age, economic condition, or disability.
¶ 334. Ministry, Authority, and Responsibilities of an Elder in Full Connection 5. Clergy who are retired, on incapacity leave, or on sabbatical leave may at their own initiative apply to the conference Board of Ordained Ministry for affiliate membership in the annual conference where they reside.
¶ 335. Requirements for Admission to Full Connection and Ordination as Elder (7). . . The following questions are guidelines for the preparation of the examination:
c) The Practice of Ministry
(4) Provide evidence of your willingness to relate yourself in ministry to to race, color, ethnicity, national origin, social status, gender, sexual orientation, age, economic condition, or disabilities.
¶ 337. Appointments to Various Ministries. General Provisions 1. All elders in full connection who are in good standing in an annual conference shall be continued under appointment by the bishop unless they are granted a sabbatical leave, an incapacity leave (¶ 357), family, a leave of absence, retirement, or have failed to meet the requirements for continued eligibility . . . .
¶ 357. Incapacity Leave Resulting from Health Matters and Disabling Conditions. 1. When clergy who are members of an annual conference are unable to perform their ministerial work because of incapacity due to health matters and disabling conditions, upon recommendations of the conference Board of Ordained Ministry and the conference board of pensions, . . . they may be granted annual incapacity leave without losing their relationship to the annual conference; provided, however, that such leave may be granted or renewed upon reasonable and appropriate investigation of the case by the joint committee on incapacity of the annual conference . . . . This relationship may be initiated by the clergy member or cabinet with or without the consent of the clergy member through the Board of Ordained Ministry. When incapacity leave is given without the clergy member's consent, reasonable accommodation shall be offered whenever possible. . . .
2. When clergy who are members of an annual conference are unable to perform their ministerial work between sessions of the annual conference on account of health matters and disabling conditions, with the approval of a majority of the district superintendents . . . . an incapacity leave may be granted by the bishop for the remainder of the conference year . . . .
3. When clergy members on incapacity leave provide medical evidence that they have recovered sufficiently to resume ministerial work, or are able to return through reasonable accommodation, they may receive an appointment . . . .
4. A person under consideration for incapacity leave shall have the right to appear before the joint committee on incapacity or to designate someone to meet with the committee on his or her behalf.
¶ 407. Vacancy in the Office of Bishop. A vacancy in the office of bishop may occur due to death, retirement, resignation, judicial procedure, leave of absence, or incapacity. [Describes procedure to fill such vacancy].
¶ 417. Selection and assignment . . . In the selection of superintendents, bishops shall give due consideration to the inclusiveness of The United Methodist Church with respect to sex, race, national origin, physical challenge, and age, except for the provisions of mandatory retirement.
¶ 430. Appointment-Making Responsibility Open itineracy means appointments are made without regard to race, ethnic origin, gender, color, disability, marital status or age, except for the provisions of mandatory retirement. Annual conferences shall, in their training of staff-parish relations committees, emphasize the open nature of itinerancy and prepare congregations to receive the gifts and graces of appointed clergy without regard to race, ethnic origin, gender, color, disability, marital status, or age. The concept of itineracy is important, and sensitive attention should be given in appointing clergy with physical challenges to responsibilities and duties that meet their gifts and graces.
¶ 635. Conference Board of Ordained Ministry 2. The duties of the annual conference Board of Ordained Ministry shall be:
k) To interview applicants and make recommendations concerning: . . . . (6) incapacity leave
¶ 652. [Annual Conference Committee on Incapacity] Each annual conference shall establish a procedure by which it will manage incapacity of clergy. The annual conference may establish a joint committee on incapacity. . . . The joint committee shall be encouraged to include in its composition a person with a disability, preferably someone under appointment. . . . If the annual conference does not establish a joint committee, the annual conference's established policy and process for managing incapacity of clergy nonetheless should involve the Board of Ordained Ministry, the conference board of pensions and representation from the cabinet.
The duties of the annual conference, with respect to incapacity, or the joint committee on incapacity, or its equivalent, shall be:
a) To study the problems of incapacity of clergy in the annual conference.
b) To provide for a continuing personal ministry to any disabled clergy of the conference and to aid them in maintaining fellowship with the members of the conference.
c) To provide advice and support to and, where appropriate advocacy for, clergy on incapacity in
(i) applying for and securing disability benefits from the Comprehensive Protection Plan and government programs,
(ii) exploring possible sources of interim financial assistance before disability benefits can be obtained, and
(iii) establishing rehabilitation and return-to-service programs.
d) To make recommendations to the Board of Ordained Ministry, the conference board of pensions, and the cabinet on matters related to incapacity, including steps for its prevention, incapacity leave, benefits, grants or other assistance, and programs of rehabilitation.
e) To cooperate with and give assistance to the Genera Board of Pension and Health Benefits in its administration of the Clergy Retirement Security Program, the Comprehensive Protection Plan and other benefit plans for clergy on incapacity, and to the extent applicable assist with the disability benefits and other benefits provided under those plans.
¶ 1421. Duties and Responsibilities of the Division of Ordained Ministry 4. Support/Accountability
g) Give attention to the specific needs of clergy with disabilities.
15. It shall provide content for clergy and laity in local congregations in a variety of accessible formats to promote understanding and appreciate of the global, connectional church, to develop support for and encourage participation in initiatives, ministries, and missions of the general church and its agencies, and to provide resources and information to assist local congregations and their leaders in carrying out their ministries.
17. It shall represent United Methodist interests in new technological developments in the field of communication, including research, the evaluation of new devices and methods, and the application of technological developments to the communication services of the Church.
The Book of Resolutions contains the social policies adopted by the General Conference of The United Methodist Church. The following are summaries of the sections that deal with disability. If you know of other statements that should be included, please use the Contact Us form and we will gladly include them.
162: Rights of Persons with Disabilities
We recognize and affirm the full humanity and personhood of all individuals with mental, physical, developmental, neurological, and psychological conditions or disabilities as full members of the family of God. We also affirm their rightful place in both the church and society. We affirm the responsibility of the Church and society to be in ministry with children, youth, and adults with mental, physical, developmental, and/or psychological and neurological conditions or disabilities whose particular needs in the areas of mobility, communication, intellectual comprehension, or personal relationships might make more challenging their participation or that of their families in the life of the Church and the community. We urge the Church and society to recognize and receive the gifts of persons with disabilities to enable them to be full participants in the community of faith. We call the Church and society to be sensitive to, and advocate for, programs of rehabilitation, services, employment, education, appropriate housing, and transportation. We call on the Church and society to protect the civil rights of persons with all types and kinds of disabilities.
3001: Accessibility Grants for Churches Money to be set aside to provide for $500 grants for local churches to remove architectural barriers; administered by General Board of Global Ministries. (Adopted 2000)
3002: United Methodist Implementation of the United Nations' Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities and the Americans with Disabilities Act Replacing a variety of prior resolutions, this resolution calls for full implementation of the ADA in US churches and agencies and of the UN Standard Rules. Accessible print materials, closed captioning, assistive listening devices, and sign language interpretation are listed along with physical accessibility measures. General conference sessions are to also follow these standards. (Adopted 2012)
3003: Assisting Personal Mobility Calls on all agencies and congregations to be generous with time and resources in approaching mobility needs in their community and other parts of the world, and to "collaborate" with people and organizations seeking to enhance mobility. (Adopted 2004)
3004: The Church and Deaf Ministries Steering Committee
Establishes and maintains what is now the United Methodist Committee on Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministries. Lays out the structure, and calls for the committee to provide resources, develop leadership in the Deaf and hard of hearing communities, nurture young people, create new places for worship, and improve global health through mission including communication in sign language; accountable to the General Board of Global Ministries. (Adopted 2000)
3022: Aging in the United States: The Church's Response
Sets out situation, theological response, and calls to action. Specifics related to disability include to "develop a barrier-free environment in which older adults can function in spite of impairments," and "advocacy in behalf of . . . especially those who do not have access to needed services because of isolation, low income, or disability...." (Adopted 2008)
3184: Repentance for the Support of Eugenics
Offers repentance for historic Methodist support of the eugenics movement which resulted in forced sterilization of persons with disabilities, as well as for acceptance of current unregulated genetic and reproductive technologies which make up the new eugenics. (Adopted 2008)
3201: Health Care for All in the United States
Barriers to health care access create "disparities in access [which] lead to disparities in treatment." People with disabilities are among those most at risk. Quality, comprehensive care for all should be provided. "We encourage development of community support systems that permit alternatives to institutional care for such groups as the aging, the terminally ill and mentally ill, and other persons with special needs." (Adopted 2008, based on resolutions from 2000 and 2004)
3202: Health and Wholeness
The "Call to United Methodists" includes a call to work toward healthy societies of whole persons. "People, who are well, but different from the majority, are not to be treated as sick in order to control them. Being old, developmentally disabled, mentally or physically disabled is not the same as being sick. Persons in these circumstances are not to be diminished in social relationships by being presumed to be ill." (Adopted 1984)
3262: Housing in the USA
Notes that the Section 202 housing program is one of the few "bright spots" in housing for older and disabled adults. Because this section is restricted to non-profit organizations, most of which are religious, it is a "direct ministry opportunity." Calls for expansion of congregate housing for older adults and people with disabilities. (Adopted 1988)
3301: Abusive Treatment Methods for Persons with Mental Disabilities
Supports positive approaches and condemns punitive, aversive, abusive treatment approaches. United Methodist institutions should research and adopt positive treatment approaches. Affirms that "The United Methodist Church declares itself to be open to persons with mental disabilities and their families, and the church commits itself to support such persons and families and to accommodate their needs within our community." (Adopted 1996)
3302: The Church and People with Intellectual, Physical, Psychological, and/or Neurological Disabilities
Calls the church "to a new birth of awareness of the need to accept, include, receive the gifts of, and respond to the concerns of ..., persons with disabilities."
Accessibility: Pledges church to renew and increase commitment to the development of a barrier-free society, especially in church facilities and parsonages. Approval for funding or construction requires access in all areas of a church building (including the chancel) and outside approaches. All meetings of The United Methodist Church beyond the local church are to be accessible to people with disabilities. Persons with disabilities should serve on committees at all levels of the church. Churches are to conduct an audit of facilities to discover barriers to full participation and take steps to remove those barriers.
Awareness: Pledge to sensitize and train pastors to the needs of those who have a disability and opportunities for ministry, to lead local churches in attitudinal change, to work cooperatively with other denominations, and to designate a Disability Awareness Sunday each year.
Adequate Resources: Pledge to provide resources at all levels of the church for various disabilities. Recommends that all curriculum be designed for adaptation to needs of people with disabilities, and that it portray people with disabilities as leaders in church in society.
Affirmative Action: Includes the concerns and interests of people with disabilities in affirmative action. Urges General Board of Higher Education and Ministry to monitor conference boards of ordained ministry so that people with disabilities are given equal treatment. Urges schools and seminaries to provide specialized instruction in awareness and appreciation of gifts, needs, and interests of people with disabilities. Urges local churches to conduct needs assessment surveys.
Advocacy Within the Church: Each annual conference is to implement methods of recruiting, sensitizing, and training persons as advocates to work with and on behalf of persons with disabilities.
Advocacy Within the Society: Similar admonishments to speak out in society, including rights to jobs, transportation, housing, and education.
Barrier-Free Construction for People With Disabilities: General Church funds are to be used only on projects that meet accessibility standards. Congregations using their own funds are encouraged to make similar provisions for accessibility. Local churches are urged to adapt existing facilities. "Appropriate national agencies [are to] provide information for local churches to assist in providing barrier-free facilities." (Adopted 1984)
3303: Ministries in Mental Illness
Calls for congregations to participate in the Caring Communities program and be places that offer education, covenant, welcome, support, and advocacy. Addresses issues of stigma, incarceration, deinstitutionalization, and misunderstanding of faith. Calls on the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry and seminaries to address issues of clergy mental illness and pastoral training. Asks the General Board of Church and Society to advocate for treatment reform, health care access, research, and funding. (Adopted 1992)
6128: Seeking Peace in Afghanistan
Urges funding of support and treatment for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. Raises awareness of the high suicide rate in veterans and active duty soldiers. Supports funding of health care, especially mental health care, for all affected by war. (Adopted 2012)
8017: Cultural Competency
While disability isn't mentioned, this resolution calls for cultural competency training to ensure effective participation of all members and especially those members of historically marginalized communities. This training could be expanded to include awareness of disability culture and etiquette. (Adopted 2012)
8031: By Water and the Spirit: A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism
"The power of the Spirit in baptism does not depend upon the mode by which water is administered, the age or psychological disposition of the baptized person, or the character of the minister. It is God's grace that makes the sacrament whole." "There are no conditions of human life (including age or intellectual ability, race or nationality, gender or sexual identity, class or disability) that exclude persons from the sacrament of baptism." "Through the church, God claims infants as well as adults to be participants in the gracious covenant of which baptism is the sign. This understanding of the workings of divine grace also applies to person who for reasons of disabilities or other limitations are unable to answer for themselves the questions of the baptism ritual. While we may not be able to comprehend how God works in their lives, our faith teaches us that God's grave is sufficient for their needs and thus, they are appropriate recipients of baptism." (Adopted 1996)
8032: This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion
No one is to be turned away from Communion because of mental, physical developmental, or other disability or condition that might limit understanding or hinder reception of the sacrament. Divine grace is the essence of the sacraments, and while we may not understand how it works in those of different or limited understanding, we believe that it is sufficient. Churches and pastors need to plan spaces for physical access to communion and to provide assistance that maintains dignity and worth of the persons who need accommodations. "When worship spaces are constructed or renovated, attention needs to be given to providing physical access to the Communion Table for all." (Adopted 2004)
From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church—2012. Copyright 2012 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.