Sunday, 19 July 2009

Yearning for unity – experiencing diversity with the Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network (EDAN)

We are Simone Poortman and Torill Edoy from the Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network which is a programme of the World Council of Churches. I am here with my EDAN colleague Torill Edoy.

The Assembly theme is called “Called to one hope in Christ” with its major challenge: Yearning for unity – experiencing diversity

Throughout the documents and reports I read when I prepared for this meeting it is clear that CEC focusses on being one church in all its diversity and colourfulness. CEC has worked hard on inclusion of migrants and migrant churches in Europe as fellows and partners you can learn from and share with.

As regional coordinator of EDAN this theme is very familiar. It is EDAN's major goal to establish a totally inclusive church with all and for all. A church where all children of God share, learn, give and receive.

Unfortunately one group of brothers and sisters is not named once.

When I was preparing for this Assembly I read a lot of papers, reports etc., but not once I found something about people with physical, mental, or psychological challenges.

People with disabilities live in the margin of the churches. Usually taken care of by diakonia. An other (large) group of people with disabilities left church. They do not feel at home in the church any more. This does not mean they do not long for a spiritual family as a church community can provide.

Listening to the testimony of Victoria Kamondji made me curious during the opening worship. She used words and expressed feelings that are so very familiar for us, members of EDAN. For people with a disability church is not inclusive or diverse enough. Even when physical access is provided a church is not necessarily accessible. This takes more.

It is also about theology, anthropology, culture. It is about willing to see the church through the eyes of the other person. In this case not a migrant but someone with a disability.

We ask for the possibility to be able to give and share instead of being given and taken care of.

Rev Younan from the Council of Churches of South America mentioned the difference between tolerance or acceptance and respect. In church people with a disability are accepted for sure but we do not often feel respect for who we are. Because that is what it is about: who we are; and not what our inability is.

In CEC I do miss this part of being one church in all its diversity. As regional coordinators Torill and I urge CEC to consider adopting a new theme: the accompagnement of people with a disability in the church to become a true inclusive church for all and with all and trough all.

I know this will be a real challenge for a lot of European churches, but we are offering to help because we know challenge. We are open for dialogue to understand each other better and find ways to respect one another. In September we organise an EDAN consultation in Crete with the goal to establish an Eastern European network for EDAN.

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