Connect with members and ministries of the church related to disabilities

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We are less than 60 days from a national day designated to vote in America for our nation’s president and congressional representatives in our state and nation. People with disabilities have every right to vote, and their vote can make a real and meaningful difference.

Did you know that 25% of American citizens eligible to vote are living with a disability? Families and friends can benefit from talking with you about when and how to cast your ballot. While some of us may vote by mail, others may prefer to be out at the polls with other citizens. This is every voter’s right; however, doing so safely is also important. Voters with disabilities admittedly have experienced varying degrees of openness and/or obstacles in registering to vote, voting at the polls or even relying on family and friends to help them exercise their right to vote. This year’s pandemic may complicate things a bit, yet with a strong plan and flexibility amid rapid changes surrounding different ways to vote, voting can be a joyful means of serving. This year you might consider inviting someone whom you trust and who supports your right to vote to plan ahead with you. It is OK to be in dialogue with friends, neighbors, church members and family members about voting. You don’t need to disclose who you are voting for, but sharing your thoughts and day-to-day realities is one way to help others feel well-informed as they vote. Someone might even like to go to the polls with you so they understand your experience at the polls.

We are a nation of many people who are more alike than different. Persons elected into public office as government leaders have impact on the well-being of us all. Voting early has been recommended to ensure your vote is counted. The ELCA believes your vote counts and that your voting is an act of service to both God and your country. Learn more about the impact your vote can have and visit #ELCAVotes on Facebook or Twitter.

Suicide Awareness in September and Mental Health Awareness in October

Suicide Awareness A compassionate message from Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton about suicide is as relevant today as ever. View it now and remember that God, Emmanuel, is with us at all times.

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“The God of All Abilities”

Christ the King Lutheran Church in Cary, N.C., is inspirational in its ongoing growth of disability ministries. The congregation committed to a nine-month plan in 2019; designated $5,000 of its congregation’s budget to the project; and applied, and was approved, for an additional $5,000 from ELCA Disability Ministries that has helped it live into its mission as a church.

The God of All Abilities Josef Herz-Lane and the Rev. Wolfgang Herz-Lane traveled to Chicago in February to attend the ELCA Disability Ministries network gathering after establishing a 10-member action team at Christ the King (CTK) and hearing of their approval for a grant in January 2019. The CTK action team held routine local meetings to focus on their approach for all possible ways to engage members with disabilities in their church and community. The team consisted of members with disabilities, their friends and a few family members. In August 2019, Josef attended the triennial ELCA Churchwide Assembly, where he and Pastor Herz-Lane served as assisting ministers for a large gathering’s worship celebration in Milwaukee, Wis. In October, Disability History Month, CTK kicked off its PossAbilities Sunday in Cary, whereby members living with disabilities served in leadership roles, parents presented and facilitated Sunday school classes, and an artist-in-residence completed a painting that was commissioned by the congregation. Josef, Rachel and Paul served in leadership as ushers, readers in worship, communion assistants and assisting ministers. Donna and other parents led a six-week Sunday school series using the book Disabilities and the Way of Jesus by Bethany McKinney Fox. The painting (anonymous), an original art piece, titled The God of All Abilities, commemorated their experience (see picture).

Even though the CTK action team had met all three of the funding criteria for the grant and they worked hard for nine months, the ministry spread and the congregation believes more work is to be done. The team’s efforts further informed other existing congregational ministries. The CTK communications department, for example, recommended a large-print publication of the congregation’s quarterly newsletter, which is now in the works. Other members conducted research about the “Rejoicing Spirits” worship model of Mosaic, which they plan to follow through with postpandemic. In addition, the task force developed collaborating relationships with L’Arche, an international nonprofit that plans to develop a faith-based group home nearby. And just as Jesus modeled in his own ministry, when CTK was approached by the Triangular Alliance Chorus (TAC), a local 12-member choir whose adult members live with disabilities, at a time of need, the congregation embraced the opportunity and now serves as a host site, provides administrative support and serves as the fiscal agent for TAC so its ministry of music can continue. “Now that’s what I call walking the talk!” says Pastor Herz-Lane.

young adult members You might ask, who are these saints? Well, Josef and Rachel Forster are each young adult members of both CTK and TAC. Over the past two years Josef has been attending monthly conference calls facilitated by ELCA Disability Ministries and has shared about the amazing ways that God has shown up in their midst. On one occasion Josef shared, “I am so happy to be serving God, friend and neighbor in ministry.” Rachel, a newer member who relocated to Cary from Pennsylvania in May 2019, works part-time in the church’s nursery and serves as a reader in worship. Her mother, Donna Forster, shares that even though the pandemic has been challenging, her daughter is an active Zoom user with the church in virtual career-building workshops and has even managed to participate routinely in virtual Zoom exercise classes with her friends in Pennsylvania.

In July and August a few CTK members joined Josef and Pastor Herz-Lane in attending some of the ELCA Disability Ministries Zoom conference calls that are offered each month. In addition to Donna Forster participating, Barbara Olson, Paul Sovany and Stephanie Burke have shared about their commitment to disability-related matters in church life. We are so excited to be on this journey with CTK in North Carolina and cannot help but be caught up in the spirit of enthusiasm and joy they are experiencing. Praise be to God; it truly is God’s work in our hands!

If you have been wondering about how to connect with members and ministries of the church related to disabilities and hear the good news or even the struggles that happen along the way, please consider joining us in September for one of three monthly Zoom conference calls (Grantee Enlightenings, Disability Ministries Connections or Disability Ministries Grant Review team) hosted by ELCA Disability Ministries. You can call in if you do not have a computer, and we’d love for you to join in the fun. Learn more here.

The Church Is More Than a Gathered Group in One Building or Place

Persons Living with Disabilities The ELCA social message “Persons Living with Disabilities” (2011) has helped the church as a denomination think about who we are and what we believe. In the introduction of the social message, we state: “This church believes that God, as creator and sustainer, intends that society regard all people as of equal worth and make it possible for all — those without and those with disabilities — to participate freely and fully as members of society in all important aspects of common life.” In section IV of the document, language of affirmation follows, with rejoicing as a church, for the ways in which members, congregations and affiliate organizations have been present and demonstrated commitment to creative and sustainable ministries that live into a call for the church. This resource is intended to offer suggestions as to how ELCA congregations, synods, the churchwide organization, seminaries, social ministry organizations, associated educational institutions and other affiliate organizations can contribute to, and participate in, a joint effort of church ministry with people with disabilities as we listen to what God is calling us to be about, together, for the sake of the world.

Prior to becoming pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church (CTK), the Rev. Wolfgang Herz-Lane served as bishop of the Delaware-Maryland Synod (2010-2016). He aided the sharing of liturgical resources and invited synod congregations to dedicate themselves to a day of recognition he called PossAbilities Sunday, and they did this each year in October. At CTK, Pastor Herz-Lane and his son, Josef, have invited parishioners to organize themselves around some intentional concentrated efforts to prepare members with disabilities as leaders; I see this as a beautiful model of ministry others can replicate. We are all called by God and God works through us; no one has everything that is needed to be like Jesus, but the Holy Spirit moves through us as a means to serve in response to God’s love and care for the world. Much of the work of members and Pastor Herz-Lane demonstrate ways in which congregations can live into the church’s call “to welcome all people in all its congregations and ministries into full participation as baptized members of the body of Christ” (in reference to 1 Corinthians 12:14-26). This rich ministry led an artist in residence to paint a vision that contributes to its congregational identity. The above CTK article also models ways in which collaborations with social ministry organizations such as L’Arche and Mosaic might lead to deepening relationships that are long-lasting without the church needing to be doing everything for everybody—they simply join hands, support one another in their work and praise God for the ways in which the Spirit is answering prayers.

artisan I can imagine a time when many congregations and many synods might enter into some thoughtful and prayerful conversations about more inclusive and participatory ministry for all members. Considering who God’s people are and how we can be united in prayer, service, study and worship is central to the mission of the church. ELCA Disability Ministries is witnessing a few synods that demonstrate a commitment to this sort of work: the North/West Lower Michigan Synod has appointed a chairperson to develop its own Disability Ministries task force that will enter a time of training this fall; the Southeastern Synod has spent the past year addressing suicide prevention and, thanks to its youth, is now launching a Mental Health Awareness initiative that started in August with two webinars for ministry leaders; the Northeastern Minnesota Synod rolled out a Youth Ministry and Mental Health Initiative at its synod assembly in 2019; the Southwest California Synod (also in 2019) addressed mental health needs related to the taxing experiences of a nearby mass shooting and forest fires that ensued days later; and two congregations in Puerto Rico (Caribbean Synod) continue to address mental health concerns related to ongoing poverty and overwhelming impact following Hurricane Maria.

ELCA Disability Ministries is also working with partners within the churchwide office. For over a year the worship team of the Office of the Presiding Bishop has sought to put measures in place that consider unintentional implicit bias in ELCA worship materials and increase its accessibility for rostered ministers living with blindness. The Evangelical Lutheran Education Association, a membership organization supporting ELCA schools, has been discussing learning accessibilities and is consulting with Pathways to Promise, a mental health affiliate organization of the ELCA, to address school administration, teacher preparedness and childhood engagement in anxious times. The Rev. Brian Krause, the Rev. Lisa Heffernan and Anita Smallin, advisory team members, are participating in presentations with an ELCA seminary and with the LuMin campus ministries network this fall. And by December 2020, Women of the ELCA will have AudioEye accessibility for its websites (, and so that blind members and anyone with vision loss or partial vision will have improved accessibility for the next two years. We are excited about the variety of expressions in ministry that are living into being an inclusive church that values the gifts of every member of the body.

This October not only marks Disability History Month, but 2020 is also the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Americans With Disabilities Act. It is in such a time as this that we are called. You can find resources at The words of the social message approved by the ELCA Church Council in 2011 still rings true today: “This church commits itself to the full inclusion and equitable participation within its own life of all people along the entire spectrum of abilities and disabilities. The ELCA rejoices in the presence of individuals, congregations, ministries and organizations within it that have demonstrated this commitment in creative and sustained ways. We commend their work and witness and encourage their continued efforts.”

How will you, your congregation, your synod and your local affiliates jump on board in this initiative that is also called for in Future Directions 2025? We invite you to visit to see our schedule of conference calls and hope you might invite us to join you for your own events. It’s a new day and we are excited to be on this journey with you.

Coordinator for Disability Ministries, Carol A. Johnson

Disability Ministries announces new grants available for ELCA congregations that partner with ELEA schools

What better way to tackle learning accessibility amid a pandemic than to have teachers, leaders, administrators, ministers and board members join hands to enter this time of virtual, hybrid and/or onsite learning for children of our community in their academic, faith, social and spiritual development?

ELCA churches and schools walk in faith together!

Find additional information on Disability Ministries or contact us.

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