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March 15, 2013 - 

For the first time, Korean and Anglo congregations came together for a Disability Concerns conference that involved Christian Reformed congregations as well as churches from the Reformed Church in America (RCA). Participants took time to think, dream, and plan for inclusive churches.

Translation devices helped remove barriers of communication at this inclusive event.

At Anaheim (Calif.) Christian Reformed Church, keynote speaker Jeff McNair challenged the audience to see this not as an event but as a beginning.

Through breakouts sessions, a panel discussion, and the keynote address, participants were encouraged to create churches that transcend barriers.

Steve Nyhuis, regional disability advocate for Classis Greater Los Angeles (a regional group of churches), said the conference presented “a clear message that engaging people with disabilities in church life knows no denominational (or language) barriers.”

Taking down barriers was an important part of the conference. Terry DeYoung, coordinator of Disability Concerns in the RCA, said, “It's heartening to observe people with and without disabilities naturally negotiate acts of service, hospitality, and generosity toward one another in ways that are personal and helpful without drawing attention or making a scene.”

That spirit is what conference organizers are hoping to see spread. Attendees were challenged to think about the day-to-day obstacles faced by people with disabilities and then “to imagine that when they come into the church community they find just the opposite: love, warmth, value, opportunities to serve, and belonging,” said Mark Stephenson, director of Disability Concerns for the CRC.

Along with wonderful conversation during breaks, another highlight of the event was the opening worship. Anaheim CRC’s Friendship class of adults with cognitive disabilities led the opening praise time with their praise team, and there was simultaneous translation for Korean attendees, according to Jonathan Kim, regional disability advocate for Classis Pacific Hanmi.

“I am hopeful that we can begin plans for a series of annual conferences that will include but also reach beyond RCA and CRC churches. I sense that many churches are hungering for practical assistance and resources so they can welcome and include people with disabilities more effectively,” said DeYoung.

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