Pre-Conferences begin on a strong ecumenical note …
10 September 2021
“What we can do together, we must not do alone” was the significant ecumenical message and clear call for all Churches in India to come together to rally around disability inclusion, issued by Most Rev. Dr Felix Machado, Secretary General of Catholic Bishops Conference of India, who congratulated Engage Disability for being such a platform and initiating this pre-conference series.
“Persons with disabilities found a very important place in the ministry of Jesus as he reocognised their potential to be part of salvation history. Jesus tried his best to include himself into their world and seek out what they would want him to do. These great treasures of the church have hitherto been forgotten or not recognised adequately as part of the people of God.” declared Most Rev. Dr P.C. Singh, President, National Council Churches in India, capturing the rationale behind the theme of the National Conference 2022, Treasures of the Church: Celebrate, Recognise, Include.
“The goal of engaging with people with disabilities is to restore fair and respectful treatment of every person because that person is a unique individual created in the image of God, including people with disabilities,” was the affirmation by Rev Vijayesh Lal, General Secretary of Evangelical Fellowship of India, that set the tone the pre-conferences wishes to take in the journey of disability inclusion as we prepare for the National Conference 2022.
“Is the love of god, and love of Christ alive within the church? Do we disabled people aspire to be part of Christ’s Church or are we fighting a humanly made system in our country that is called the Church? This is the challenge to the leadership and members of the Church in India. Do we belong and worship a church that is led by Christ? And if so, I don’t think there would’ve been a problem of disability,” was the soul-searching question that the first keynote speaker, Mr George Abraham laid out for reflection.
George Abraham, himself a person with visual impairment from a young age, touched on four Es to focus on ‘Inclusion’: What we Expect of persons with disability? Do we have Empathy to understand what those with disabilities want in life, their relationship with God and aspirations as Christians, and their expectations when they come to church? Do we sympathise or apathise only? Are people with disabilities Empowered to be part of the action in Church? Is the Ecosystem of the Church accessible for persons with disabilities or do the able-bodied think they are doing persons with disabilities a favour by helping them become part of the Church?
“Love is an important principle to include people with differences in Churches. The manner in which celebration takes place may vary but it is important to celebrate as this is the example of Christ – who chose people to come and participate in wedding banquets, who himself went to the paralytic in the pool because he recognized his potential. Jesus healed many persons with disabilities to enable them to participate in the salvation process. Healing means to be loving, kind and compassionate – as Christ showed others,” affirmed Prof. Dr B. R. Alamelu, the second keynote speaker, who lives with visual impairment, highlighting the importance of celebration; who we celebrate; and how we celebrate them.
Dr Alamelu brought clarity to the theme, saying “Treasure is something that we value or the value attached to a person. The value of persons with disabilities and those with different needs may vary from context to context and we tend to measure based on capabilities, potential, and abilities, when it comes to the value of people. But even if someone is not able to perform on these lines it is significant to recognize that person’s life and provide their needs – that in itself is a grateful act in the context of the Bible. For a celebration such as a wedding we invite those we treasure because we want them to be part of the celebration. We invite people who we love and treasure. We always celebrate with those we love. Thus, love is an important principle in order to include people with differences in Churches,” she said. Alamelu affirmed that, “. . . it is important we celebrate and recognise people with differences and people with diverse needs, and diversity is to be celebrated always.”
“This year (of the pandemic) has been a year of remembering those disabilities that are invisible. However, whether visible or invisible the reality is that people see us (persons with disabilities) but never realize or recognize what we are overcoming everyday to live a normal life that is expected. (For me) The greatest recognition was to accept that I have limitations and to see them in the light of God’s word,” was the powerful affirmation of the final keynote speaker Ms. Pranitha Timothy, who lives with disability, post trauma, for the past 25 years.
Pranitha pointed out a seminal and recurring theme that undergirded all the keynotes: The importance of love and seeing persons with disabilities as we see ourselves.
She beautifully portrayed this central commandment of love saying: “When Jesus says, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ the word ‘as’ is very radical. It means seek for your neighbor the same things you seek for yourself, but also seek them in the same way—with the same zeal and perseverance. It means, as you seek friends for yourself, so be a friend to your neighbor. As you want your life to count and be significant, so desire that same significance for your neighbor. As you like to be welcomed into strange company, so welcome your neighbor into strange company.”
With formal welcome by the Chair of the ED movement Rev. Dr Asir Ebenezer, ED Core Group members Krupa Paulson and Shilpa Barrey providing an introduction to Engage Disability, and an overview of the upcoming series of pre-conferences respectively, the Vice Chair of ED, Dr Jubin Verghese introducing the keynote speakers, and the Convenor of ED, Prof. Dr Nathan Grills offering closing remarks, the Inaugural Pre-Conference was a powerful ecumenical event that resounded with the poignant, experiential sharing, and challenging keynotes that set the tone for the series of pre-conferences to come.