Seminary’s School for Leadership Training to explore disability-oriented inclusion and connection in church communities

Eastern Mennonite Seminary’s 2023 School for Leadership Training is themed “Creating Communities of Belonging: Appreciating EveryBODY.” 

The emphasis on the word body is deliberate, says Veva Mumaw, SLT director. “1 Corinthians 12 reminds us that collectively we are all part of the body of Christ with each individual serving as one part of the larger body. Each body part is mutually dependent and vital to the health of the whole. Our communities of faith require a variety of gifts to thrive. When everyBody is actively included and firmly connected, the whole church benefits and grows stronger.”

Questions of theology, nurturing of gifts, and other core topics related to accessibility and inclusion will bring pastoral and lay leaders to the Jan. 9-11 event. The hybrid format offers in-person and online options. 

The conference is a timely resource in helping Mennonite congregations and their leaders live into the Mennonite Church USA Accessibility Resolution passed by the Mennonite Church USA delegate body in May 2022, said The Rev. Dr. Sarah Bixler, associate dean of the seminary. 

Participants will hear keynotes from pastors Amy Julia Becker and The Rev. Dr. J.J. Flag. Small workshop settings will provide opportunities to explore related topics. The schedule also includes worship, networking, and a concert with world-renowned musician Ken Medema.

“Our hope is that attendees will become more aware of the presence of people with disabilities in every community, and will be equipped to lead conversations about accessibility and inclusion and work for justice so that faith communities can fully incorporate persons of all abilities in the church’s work,” Bixler said.

Framing the theme are two keynote speakers. Becker holds a bi-vocational license with the Evangelical Covenant Church. She is an award-winning writer and speaker on personal, spiritual, and social healing and the author of four books, including To Be Made Well: An Invitation to Wholeness, Healing, and Hope. She hosts the Love Is Stronger Than Fear podcast. She is a graduate of Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary. Her addresses are titled “Perfectly Human: Understanding God’s Logic of Disability” and “Becoming Communities of Belonging.”

Flagg was recently called as the associate minister of pastoral care and justice at Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. He holds an Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Drew University Theological School. He will speak about his personal journey with disability and its connection to theology, followed by an address on developing a more inclusive view of disability inclusion in the church beyond accessibility. 

MaryBeth Heatwole Moore MDiv ‘21 is a member of the planning committee who has two Deaf sons and has worked as the school nurse at the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind in Staunton since 2002. She is ordained by Virginia Mennonite Conference and served from 2006-22 in Deaf ministry as a youth minister, church planter, and then pastor of Signs of Life Fellowship.  

 “By excluding people with disabilities, we are excluding gifts,” she said in a recent Anabaptist World article about MCUSA’s new resolution. “If our churches are not accessible to everyone, the whole community is missing out.”