Sunday, July 22, 2018
Abilities and the Gospel
When I was in the home stretch toward ordination as a United Church minister in 1980 I was anxious, as were most of my classmates. There was a final interview and then there was a medical. In retrospect it was foolish for me to be worried. I was a white, heterosexual male, married and ready to go where the church wanted to send me. My LGTBQ classmates were either still unwilling to identify themselves to decision-makers, or wondering if they would be rejected because they had "come out."
And the medical? I was 25-years-old mobile and healthy. Ruth and I had hiked a section of the Bruce Trail the previous summer, so my physical fitness wasn't in question, but I was still nervous. There were seminarians who were not approved for ordination because they were obese and told to lose weight before they would be reconsidered -- the next year. I didn't have a single classmate who walked with a cane, let alone a wheelchair, and everyone had good enough vision to drive a vehicle.
What a difference a generation makes. The Rev. Miriam Spies is a United Church minister and was our denominational representative in Geneva, Switzerland earlier in June for a meeting of the Central Committee, the highest governing body of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in-between assemblies. She had a lovely encounter with Pope Francis who asked Miriam to pray for him. As you can see, she is in a wheelchair because she lives with cerebral palsy.While there are obvious challenges for Rev. Spies they do not define her or her ministry. Forty years ago her gifts for ministry would have been muted or lost.
Learning about Miriam I have thought about the worship spaces of most United Church congregations and how the pulpits are seldom accessible for those with physical disabilities and challenges. How many persons have experienced Christ's call through the years but felt that the church is indifferent to their needs?
Today Miriam Spies will preach at the opening worship for General Council 43 to a congregation of a thousand, or more. Impressive. Thank you, Miriam, for all you bring to ministry.