Presence to Participation: The Spirit is Not Disabled
Webinar 5 (Mar. 3, 2022): What Must I Think to be Saved? Cognitive Disability & Citizenship in The Salvation Army
This session will investigate how we might reframe our understanding of God’s invitation to follow him. The notion of invitation carries an expansiveness that is not always realized. For example, the invitation “to make a decision for Jesus,” while sincerely offered, can redefine the gospel as available only to those capable of making choices. In such a scenario, people living with a cognitive impairment, whose rational capacities may be compromised, are relegated to the margins. The power of choice remains outside of their frame of reference. In this sense, the call to decide can deny the rich complexity of salvation and effectively exclude a portion of the population for whom Jesus also promised abundant life (John 10:10b).
If the collective calling of The Salvation Army is to serve God and support others, then we need to provide frameworks and opportunities for people living with a disability to do likewise. Coralie will also share findings from her recent research that inform personal, pastoral, and training dimensions of Salvationist practice. These results demonstrate that witnessing the lived experience of people with disabilities is critical to addressing the marginalization that many currently experience within the church.
This webinar will also feature a lived experience discussion from Captain Andrew Hammond, Falmouth Temple Corps, The Salvation Army in the United Kingdom entitled Growing A Healthy Inclusive Church. Andrew will also be joined by David and Esme Willoughby and they will explore how they have focused on transitioning a dying corps into an inclusive growing, healthy church.
Featured this week:
Coralie Bridle, MTh, Doctoral Candidate AUT & Laidlaw College, Auckland, New Zealand
Coralie Bridle is a disciple of Jesus Christ, a lifelong Salvationist and attends the Auckland City Corps in New Zealand. Oncology nursing and palliative care have formed the backbone of her career. Her husband, Kevin, three adult children and two grandsons, keep her grounded amidst the complexities of modern life. She serves on the “International Theological Council” for the Salvation Army and the “Moral and Social Issues Council” in New Zealand.
Coralie holds a Master’s degree in Theology with a thesis focused on cognitive impairment, conversion, and citizenship within The Salvation Army. She is currently working on her PhD looking at post-resurrection identity and frameworks for supporting and ministering with people with complex disabilities within The Salvation Army.
Captain Andrew Hammond, The Salvation Army, Falmouth Temple Corps, United Kingdom.
Andrew is a Salvation Army Officer within the United Kingdom Territory. In 2016, along with his wife, Nicola, they were commissioned and appointed to Falmouth Temple Corps, a small Corps in the rural and remoteness of southwest England. Their primary focus over their 5 1/2 years at Falmouth has been to transition a gradually dying Corps into a stylistically inclusive growing healthy church. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Falmouth Temple Corps seeks to bring people to Jesus and membership in His family, develop them to Christ-like maturity, equip them for their ministry in the church and their life mission in the world, in order to magnify God’s name. Currently approximately 70% of the Sunday congregation are new to Falmouth SA over the past 5 ½ years. There is also a significant growing number of community volunteers, the Corps is now well known throughout the town and is connected to businesses, the university, community groups and many people. Furthermore, the Corps has a Facebook following of over 3,000 people (The second largest following of all Corps in the UK).
David and Esme Willoughby
David and Esme Willoughby will also be joining the seminar. David has high functioning autism and Esme is Down’s syndrome. They have been married for almost 5 years. They had been part of another local church but did not feel included because the style, in their opinion, was not inclusive in catering for their ability needs. David and Esme initially started to attend our café and then later came along to our church services. Because of the inclusive style of the worship service they have been able to participate and engage with the whole church community and are actively involved in ministry.
Please read 2 Samuel 9:1-13
I’ll admit, I had to read this passage of David and Mephibosheth several times. Every commentary I reviewed had something different to say about the interaction between these two men.
- Why was Mephibosheth cautious and self-deprecating in his interactions with King David?
- Why did Mephibosheth call himself “a dead dog”?
- Why was he so fearful when first meeting David?
- Why does the author mention two times in this short chapter that Mephibosheth is “crippled in both feet”?
- Did David respond any differently to Mephibosheth when he discovered his physical disability?
I am not sure I have any more confidence to answer these questions now, even after repeatedly reading through the story and some background study.
But additional context is helpful for why Mephibosheth might be cautiously approaching any interaction with David is that he was the grandson of Saul, the former king. It would be unusual for the new king in power (David) to want to restore attention, property and wealth on an heir to the former ruler (Mephibosheth); and yet, we read that David did just that, likely because of his referenced friendship with Mephibosheth’s father, Jonathan. Verse 7 tells us that David said, “I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.” In our final verse, we read, “And Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table, and he was crippled in both feet” (v13).
I want to understand what David was doing and the implications for Mephibosheth and his life. But, for me, what I’m most interested is to consider why the reference is made to Mephibosheth’s disability at all. How does the story change, or my view of it, because we are made aware of his physical disability… twice? We know the Bible must be viewed within its context. As we consider the context of humanity thousands of years ago when this took place, we understand that physical disabilities could and would have significant implications for the quality of life of a person – for basic provision of food, essential travel, shelter.
My son recently had an appointment with a developmental pediatrician. After a couple of hours observing and interacting with him and me outlining in detail areas of growth and places where we were seeing minimal to no change, the doctor reminded me that due to my child’s developmental delays, the tendency is to be hyper-vigilant and overly attentive to areas where we don’t steady progress. When – in fact – no toddler ever develops in all areas at the same time, rather they tend to focus on one developmental growth area and, once learned, move on to another area. Does my son have developmental delays? Yes. However, that doesn’t mean that *everything* related to the pacing of his development had to be a concern. I was looking for something that wasn’t there.
What if, in the same way, I am looking for something that isn’t there? What if David’s interaction with Mephibosheth was unchanged after learning of his disability, and had no relevance or bearing over David’s care for him? What if the author is simply stating factual information by noting Mephibosheth’s “crippled feet” and there’s nothing more to it? As I reflect on this passage, I am considering how God, in his infinite wisdom, wanted us to know that David (who had a heart after God), fully welcomed a person who was disabled at his table. Friends, may we consider this passage and our future full of hope that the Kingdom of Heaven can be lived out here on earth by ensuring there is room for us all at the table.