(This is the first of two posts I’ll be sharing about my recent professional development trip.)
Last week, thanks to the support of the Dennis Lin Fund, I had the privilege of attending the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability, an initiative by the Collaborative on Faith and Disability. Now in its tenth year, the Summer Institute is considered one of the premier conferences in the field of disability and faith, drawing religious leaders and scholars from all over the world. I was one of over 150 professionals who spent four days discussing the best ways of ensuring people with disabilities experience a true sense of Belonging whenever we participate in religious practice and community, not just access.
The highlight of the conference for me was the amazing people I met. At the Institute, people with disabilities are not just a topic of discussion, we are also the planners, the presenters, and the attendees. That’s not to say ableism was absent. I saw plenty of instances when ableism reared its head. No doubt there were others I missed due to my unconscious bias. But the level of awareness and the number of accommodations put in place to serve a wide variety of abilities made it clear that the desire for full inclusion was also present.
I could go on and on about the myriad of resources I have returned with but I won’t do that here. Suffice it to say that my suitcase was five pounds heavier than when I left (see photo evidence). I look forward to sharing them with you in the days and months ahead and God-willing some of my new friends will visit us at WCUC.
“Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answers.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
With these words in mind, the youth recently ventured into the woods to listen for God’s wisdom in nature and to ponder the questions on our hearts. Witness what WCUC Youth are thinking about these days…
“What does it mean to be a Christian?”
“Why did God create people who are homophobic or racist?”
“What is the difference between God and Jesus?”
“What does God have control over?”
“What happens to us when we die?”
“What is heaven like?”
“Is there only one right religion?”
“Does God love people who don’t believe in him/her?”
“If Jesus is still with us, why doesn’t he preach like he used to?”
“Why do people believe in that which isn’t supported by scientific evidence?”
“Why do bad things sometimes happen to good people?”
“Does anyone deserve bad things?”
“When did life begin?”
“How can we help educate Christians who don’t believe in science?”
“How can God be real if his so-called ‘followers’ go against his teachings?”
Thirty one women from our congregation traveled to the Craigville Retreat Center on Cape Cod for a weekend of rest, play, worship, prayer, and friendship. Our theme this year was Women’s Wisdom: Inspiring Stories of the Sacred, Secular, and Self. Enlightened by the strength, resiliency, gifts, and courage of women in the Bible, writers, poets, artists and activists, as well as some legendary women from WCUC, we then moved on to consider our own journey’s to wisdom as we shared our stories, our struggles, and our celebrations with one another.
“This weekend has provided space and time for thought about the specific contributions of women, both present and past.”
“I feel like I have been raised up by the wisdom of women of the Bible, secular world, and most importantly the women gathered here. I am leaving with so much to reflect upon.”
“This weekend has given me peace, gratitude, and faith in the power of other women and myself.”
“I have been raised up this weekend by my sisters, my tribe. I am renewed by the wisdom, compassion, love and humor of these amazing women of God.”
A Weekend for…
“I realized that I felt crippled by my burdens. This weekend I was reminded of my strength and power and that if I pause and listen to God speaking, I can tap into that and move forward.”
“I am rejuvenated and refreshed by sunshine, moonshine, inspirational women, and retreat from regular life.”
“I proved to myself that I have grown mentally by being able to learn to knit much more easily than it was in high school.”
“I gained insight from the reading “My Journey to Wisdom” that ‘clouds of insecurity’ are natural and sometimes protective.”
“I was given the gift of solace and reflection.”
“I have been encouraged to listen carefully to the Spirit and then step out with boldness and courage.”
“I have been enveloped in a blanket of warmth and caring.”
“I learned it’s ok to not conform to the conventional picture of femininity, so you can enjoy being a woman.”
“I was reminded to focus and be grateful for my strengths, when I only see weakness.”
“This is my new life. I can be who I am.”
Finding Strength in Community:
“Being a part of this community made me feel stronger and welcome. I learned from every woman I met.”
“Seeing the ways in which the generations are sensitive to each other has been a high point for me this weekend. I really appreciated the acceptance of the younger women here with us.”
“I was empowered by a conversation with another woman whom I did not know well. We discovered we have a common history that is not easy to talk about with many people.”
“The company of women with such a diversity of experiences has given me renewed hope for the power of the ‘Holy’ in our broken world.”
“Sharing stories with others has helped me to appreciate everyone better.”
“Many people have shared their struggles and uncertainties about coming. I have been inspired by everyone here and this weekend turned out to be a blessing.”
“I felt raised up by a conversation I had in which I shared something that I haven’t before.”
“Enjoying a conversation I had with someone I don’t know well and feeling more comfortable with her now.”
AndFeeling the Power of Nature and Laughter:
“I enjoyed walking to the ocean…seeking an expanse beyond indoor enclosures.”
“I loved the beach walk and I laughed a lot with the women.”
“The inspiration of nature and the changing views of the beach: stormy and windy; calm and soothing in the sun; water view at night below the moon and stars.”
“It felt good to integrate nature with our daily lives.”
“An objective measure of trust in a space or group of people is the count of the number of belly laughs a person has had. The count for me this weekend is near
Like Samantha’s neighbors, I too learned my first words in ASL out of love for a child, my own. But unlike them, ASL took a back seat to mom blogs and potty training books as soon as my son could say, “more” and “all done,” I wish I had stuck with it. Then I might be able to have fluent conversations with my friends at Sunday Fellowship who are Deaf or hearing-impaired. But I’m working on it. I can now sign the entire Lord’s Prayer and I know how to use basic ASL books and apps to get my point across. I’ve been incorporating ASL into some Sunday school lessons and recently got to see a student use her knowledge of ASL to have a conversation with someone from SF.
But the best way I’ve found to increase knowledge of ASL aside from formal classes is to “sing and sign” together. Check out the pictures and videos from the last session of Food and Fun when we learned how to sing and sign to two songs music from The Greatest Showman. I wonder how much progress we can make by May 5th, when SF hopes to perform these pieces with the adult, teen, junior choirs for Sunday Fellowship Sunday!
Seventy people of all ages and abilities came together on February 17th for the second installment of “Food and Fun” a fun new experiment Sunday Fellowship is trying this winter. After a delicious lunch of pizza and salad, it was GAME ON with Candyland, Connect 4, Giant Uno, Legos, puzzles and more! Check out the silly and serious game faces below.
And if you missed it, don’t worry, there is one more edition of Food and Fun on March 3rd when we’ll be singing and signing to music from the Greatest Showman.
Over 80 people of all ages and abilities came together on February 3rd for Food and Fun, a fun new experiment Sunday Fellowship is trying this winter. This session of Food and Fun featured a taco bar (THANK YOU TEAM TACO!) and an interactive program of stories, songs and crafts with Doria Hughes, a professional teller from Cambridge, MA http://doriastories.com/.
Check out the Wall of Jericho we built and knocked down (cathartic) as well as the tree we covered in decorated leaves for Zacchaeus to climb! Join us for the next session of Food and Fun: Game Day on February 17.
This past Friday night, folks from WCUC gathered along with members of many local faith communities and other friends to light the way into Shabbat services for our Jewish neighbors at Kerem Shalom. Some folks provided candles to share; others, including Jim, helped lead us in music. We held signs and witnessed to the light of hope together. The Kerem Shalom community graciously welcomed us in to participate in the Shabbat service. This beautiful worship experience included songs and prayers in Hebrew and English, a special remembrance of those who died in Pittsburgh at the Tree of Life Synagogue, and words from Rabbi Darby Leigh. Rabbi Darby invited us to consider last week’s tragedy in the wider context of intolerance and violence, and encouraged us to continue to build local connections that will nurture love and understanding in our communities. The folks at Kerem Shalom provided a wonderful reception and warm fellowship for all who were there. It was truly a blessing to be there!
Please read below for Pastor Hannah’s brief remarks during the service:
I give thanks to Rabbi Darby and this congregation for your hospitality in welcoming those of us who are your neighbors, to share this tender time with you.
This Sunday, many Christians will be studying a text from the book of Ruth, a text that is holy in both Jewish and Christian traditions. In this story, we meet a woman named Naomi who is grieving the loss of her husband and both of her sons. Naomi tries to send her daughters-in-law away from her, back to their parents. She has nothing to give them; no way to protect them. But her daughter-in-law, Ruth, says: “Where you go, I will go; where you stay, I will stay. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God…Not even death will part me from you.” So Naomi and Ruth journey on together, and together they make a new life.
As we witness hateful speech and action around us, we must condemn the wrong that is done. As a Christian pastor, I especially grieve that violent anti-Semitism has been justified by Christians and by Christian scriptures. Jesus himself was a faithful Jew; and Judaism is both an honored ancestor and a beloved sibling to the Christian faith. We share sacred texts and holy values. We both follow a call to love God with all that we are, to honor one another, to care for the most vulnerable among us.
I pray that all of us, from many traditions, religious or not, will respond to the tragedies around us today not only by grieving, but also by growing in our practice of the kind of love that Ruth models. Let us go with one another; let us stay with one another; let us understand ourselves to be one people, bound together. May it be so.