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Sunday, 18 October 2015

Living on the Edge & St Luke's Day

Yesterday's Living on the Edge conference at St Martin-in-the-Fields was a day spent exploring how disabled people are finding new ways to use their experience of exclusion to improve understanding and address barriers to belonging. Through talks and workshops, using the art space, silent space and marketplace, this was an opportunity organised by and for disabled people, supporters and people with an interest in the issues to gather and resource each other and the church.

Naomi Jacobs and others tweeted about the day at #edgychurch and their tweets give a great flavour of the day:
  • We are kicking off! Fiona introduces this significant conference - *by* and *for* disabled Christians. This has been a year in the making.
  • Fiona recognizes contribution of the wonderful John Hull, involved in our conference from the beginning. He is sadly missed.
  • Sam Wells discusses disability as a story, an improvisation, a gift. Not blocking people but accepting others’ difference creatively.
  • Sam: concept of ‘over-accepting’, accepting in the light of a larger story. Receiving disabled people as a gift to the church.
  • Wonderful question to Sam - we have the right not to be ‘fixed’ by churches! They need attitudes fixed. Problem vs mystery.
  • "disability is not a problem to be fixed, but a mystery to be entered into..." Sam Wells
  • Sam relates the story of a disabled man living on the edge, who had a ministry to others - he created new rugs from old rags.
  • Talks from @naomi_jacobs on her research re disability & churches and from St Martin-in-the-Fields Disability Advisory Group.
  • Ann Memmott speaks on her work around autism in churches. Wonderful to have her & the other eminent speakers today.
  • At the end of the morning we heard from Richard Tillman and Eva McIntyre (from @MHEALTHCOFE). Now hearing from Susan Wolfe.
  • Susan quotes Jewish sayings. “If I am not for myself, who am I? If I am only for myself, who am I?” Activism and change.
  • Bernice & Celia from WAVE - church and social activities for people with learning disabilities.
  • Bernice & Celia: “If Jesus came back today, might he ask why our churches aren’t filled with people with learning disabilities?”
  • Disability and Jesus - Dave, Katie & Bill. User led org - disabled people speaking for disabled people.
  • Dave doesn’t need cure - he’s disabled, proud, and healed by a dog! Katie on being disabled and made in the image of God.
  • Katie from @DisabilityJ - “Do I need to be cured to be healed?” Owning her disability is healing. Might have crutches in heaven!
  • Katie: attitudes need changing first, in relationship. Bill: his healing started when he realized risen Jesus still had scars.
  • Very glad of Art Space as gentler processing space at @livingedgeconf.
I was privileged to lead the closing Eucharist together with June Boyce-Tillman. These are the intercessions I prepared for that service:

"Living God, at one time we understood you to be the one who is 'for' us over against those who we perceive as threatening us and our well-being in some way. Through the revelation of Jesus' incarnation we now perceive the deeper truth that you are with us and with all peoples everywhere, particularly in our experiences of living on the edge and being excluded. 

Therefore, we recognise that living on the edge can be both alienating and creative and pray that you will be with all those at either end of that spectrum, together with those who combine the two. 

We pray for those who experience living on the edge as isolating and alienating; praying both for welcoming communities that draw those who feel isolated into a community and also for a greater sense of community to develop among those called to live on the edge. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. 

We pray for those who live creatively and prophetically on the edge; praying that their voices and actions will be heard and seen and that your Spirit will bring a broadening of inclusion through their prophetic creativity. Support and sustain them in the task to which you have called them and enable them to know in their deepest being that you are with them in their ministry. We remember with thanks the prophetic ministry of John Hull and pray for all who have benefited from his teaching. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. 

We pray for your church which, like our wider society, often disables those within who are perceived as being in some way different; enable your Church to hear and respond to your people who live on the edge that we might be changed by those who live prophetically there while also including those who feel alienated there. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. 

We bring to you all those in our world who are on the edge because of conflict, lack of basic resources, disaster or illness; praying that all that is needed to empower such people to survive and to thrive will be found among them and shared with them. You have provided all we need for human flourishing; enable a more equal sharing of this world's resources that those currently experiencing scarcity can share in this world's abundance. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. 

Merciful God, accept these prayers for the sake of our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen."

We continued to reflect on these themes in the St Luke's Day Service at St Martin's this morning. This service included a liturgy prepared with our Disability Advisory Group, a poem, a dramatised Bible Reading, and the laying on of hands and anointing with oil, accompanied by prayers for healing.

The Eucharistic Prayer, to which I others had contributed, was as follows:

"Creating God, you fashioned all people in your image, shaping and forming us in the womb. You gave your people Israel a vision of a valley of dry bones brought to life, of vitality emerging from experiences of brokenness. In Jesus’ death and resurrection you walk with us on a path that leads through pain and dismay to newness of life. We look forward to his coming again to bring us into renewal and restoration. Therefore, with angels and archangels and the company of heaven, we join in your everlasting chorus of thanks and praise.


Restoring God, in the fracturing of bread and the pouring-out of wine your Son Jesus identified his passion with our struggles and your redeeming will. Send your Holy Spirit upon your people, that their lives may be transfigured by these signs of your glory. By that same Spirit, sanctify this bread and cup that they may be for us the body and blood of your son Jesus Christ. Who, at supper with his disciples, took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them saying, ‘This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ After supper he took the cup, again he gave thanks, and gave it to his disciples saying, ‘This is the blood of the new covenant poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ Great is the mystery of faith.

Great is…

Renewing God, your kingdom come on earth as in heaven, in signs of transformation and transfiguration. As your Son identifies with those experiencing poverty, discrimination, oppression and imprisonment, lead your people to solidarity in your kingdom by imitating your Son. As your Spirit empowers your children to share experiences of good news, restoration, renewal and freedom, raise up prophets filled with that same Spirit leading people through wilderness to life in you. Open the eyes of all who seek your truth to signs of your kingdom of justice and peace; until the day when all exclusion is transformed by the embrace of your love and all disadvantage transfigured by the triumph of your grace, ever one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen."

Sam Wells spoke on John 9, identifying three levels to the story:

"The first level is about faith that’s no different whether you’re disabled or not. Jesus is the overflowing love of God that brings about a new creation and gives us freedom, grace, and peace, transforming our social relations and making us missionaries for his kingdom. That gospel is beyond anyone’s personal circumstances. The second level is something many disabled people instantly identify with. It’s about community and relationships and prejudice and how when a disabled person asserts their identity beyond a simple assumption of deficit it unsettles established stereotypes and disturbs comfortable discrimination. That’s about going beyond pity and patronisation and entering a new world of discovery and learning that not everyone’s especially keen to participate in. When we say the gospel comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable this is precisely what we’re talking about. And the third level is a journey that makes sense of why many disabled people see their lives as more fulfilling than a conventional life. It’s about empowerment and vocation, about subversion and wisdom, about what only the blind can see and only the intellectually-impaired can know."


Bernadette Farrell - O God, You Have Searched Me.

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