The Christian Reformed Church’s ministry of Disability Concerns has a new director starting next week. Lindsay Wieland Capel begins Nov. 15, taking over from Mark Stephenson who announced his retirement this past spring. Stephenson has also been serving as interim director of Social Justice and Race Relations. He will continue in that role part time until after Synod 2022 (the CRC’s annual general assembly) approves a new director search.
Wieland Capel’s appointment was approved by the CRC’s Council of Delegates in October. She said she wants to continue to share “the value of this ministry and how it fits in so beautifully with the family of God,” recognizing that “when parts of the body are missing, parts of the body are missing—we can’t be whole without everybody blessing each other.”
Disability Concerns’ 2014 mandate says the ministry “strives to promote and foster relationships, communities, and societies where everybody belongs and everybody serves.” The ministry dates its beginning to 1982, when the first staff person was hired and the newsletter (now called Breaking Barriers) was first published. Since 2009 the ministry has had a close partnership with the Reformed Church in America’s Disability Concerns.
Stephenson, 62, was the third director. He was appointed in 2006. He said the move toward retirement at this stage came from observing a past mentor. He said he and his wife, Bev, want to make room for the possibility of another kind of chapter in their lives in which they are not both working full time. Bev retired from her role as a special education teacher in June. The Stephensons credit their daughter, Nicole, born in 1987, with influencing their career decisions. “As the father of a child with severe, multiple disabilities, who needs help with all the tasks of daily living, I’ve had opportunity to do a lot of reflection on, ‘What does it mean for her to be indispensable to the healthy functioning of the body of Christ?’” (1 Cor. 12:22).
Stephenson said he’s most grateful for the dedicated volunteers—disability advocates in local churches and regional disability advocates—who make up the ministry. “They have done a huge amount of work to help churches become more welcoming communities for people of all abilities,” he said. “People tend to not think about it unless they are affected directly by disability themselves,” Stephenson said. He credits two volunteers, Hank Kuntz and Ralph Bus, with impressing on him, when he first started, the need to “help people in congregations remember that people are being excluded” when barriers to all-abilities participation exist.
Wieland Capel is a trained social worker, most recently with Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Service in referral relations. She has served Disability Concerns as a volunteer, establishing and monitoring its Facebook page in 2009, and serving as a disability advocate at Beckwith Hills CRC from 2012 to 2014. She said she’s passionate about training and wants to look at using technology, “that people are getting more and more comfortable with,” to deepen connections in the ministry’s network. She’s now a member of Sherman Street CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich. Wieland Capel turns 39 this month. She said she holds a strong faith foundation and learned from her mother a concern for “forming a heart for looking out for people on the margins.”