On Saturday 29th July the Welcoming and Inclusive Conference was held, with a focus on actions for churches in response to people with disabilities and mental health issues. It was organised by the Victorian Council of Churches, the UCA Justice Unit, and the Salvation Army, and held at the Salvation Army complex at Box Hill.
Extraordinarily good speakers including key note speakers Rev Dr Andy Calder (Disability Inclusion Advocate, UCA Synod of Vic/Tas) and Colleen Pearce, Victoria’s Public Advocate who advocates for human rights and the interests of people with a disability and mental illness, as well as significant issues of abuse, neglect and exploitation. There were workshops in the afternoon.
A video of the morning proceedings will be available online.
Here is the opening reflection I offered to begin the day:
This is a significant day. The church has a particular responsibility to be welcoming and inclusive. Everyone is made in God’s image and is precious in God’s sight. All people bear the image of God. And the gift of God’s grace and love and mercy is offered to us all. Jesus crossed borders and boundaries to be with those with psychosocial impairments and physical disability, to bring hope, as much through healing as it was through a willingness to be attentive to their needs and to include them in the family of God in a culture where mental and physical ailments were a cause for exclusion.
And for us today – the message is clear, that our priority is to create a welcoming, supportive environment for all people. If there is any sense that some people are not good enough to be included in the heart of community, you’re preaching a different gospel to the one exemplified in the life of Jesus. Everyone should feel safe and welcome and included in our church life, companions on this wonderful journey of life that has been gifted to us.
And yes, that may mean things may be a little different. We may need to accept behaviours that are not what we are used to. We need to create safe space for everyone. But more than that, to be able to welcome the gift each person brings to community, to learn from and with each other, to be open to change together. Not everyone’s gifts will look the same but everyone’s gifts are vital for the way we function as the body of Christ.
Today we will hear many wise voices, share many experiences, learn from the stories others bring, encounter fresh ideas, be challenged, and find encouragement, wisdom and hope. May these experiences be like that parable of the yeast in the flour, and rise up and refresh our Christian communities to reflect what it means to be the body of Christ in all its fullness.