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Including People with Disabilities in Faith Communities

A Guide for Service Providers, Families, and Congregations

Including People With Disabilities in Faith Communities: A Guide for Service Providers, Families, & Congregations. By Erik W. Carter. Paul H. Brookes Pub. Co. (2007).

Book review by Paul D. Leichty

Erik Carter has given faith communities a tremendous gift in this book. It is by far the most comprehensive practical guide to including persons with intellectual disabilities in faith communities that I have seen. Although the focus of the book is on persons with intellectual disabilities, many of Carter's ideas and models will stimulate creative thinking about a whole range of disabilities.

The progression of chapters in the book reflect a person-centered approach. Chapter 1 focuses on "Lives of Faith" with an overview of societal progress and a look at some of the typical barriers that the church presents for persons and families living with intellectual disabilities. Then, it moves on to summarize the major movements toward inclusion in both faith communities and disability services partners in the larger community.

I appreciated the emphasis in Chapter 2 on the larger theme of hospitality as a grounding for becoming a "welcoming congregation." This fits very well with ADN's thinking about moving from being technically "accessible" to being truly inclusive. In this chapter, Carter includes the first of a number of survey tools and check lists which can easily supplement hose of the Congregational Accessibility Network.

From there, the book moves out in a more detailed discussion of how congregations can be more inclusive in their common life. In addition to a chapter that focuses on worship, there are chapters that focus on the religious education programs, and on "the other six days." Recognizing that community agencies care for and sponsor programs for persons with intellectual disabilities leads Carter into a chapter on how service providers can support the spiritual expression of persons in their care.

In the final chapter, Carter's vision becomes even more expansive. He explores ways in which the faith community can not only welcome persons into its own programs and ministries, but also serve as a catalyst for a more comprehensive community-wide approach. He has many ideas for building partnerships that involve the entire community in the ministry of inclusion.

While I found some of the sections a bit tedious in their detail, I realized that this is truly a handbook, a resource to turn to in order to get a fresh start on practically any ministry initiative dealing with persons with intellectual disabilities. The details are not intended to necessarily be read straight through but instead to be consulted as a practical guide to next steps on a specific congregation's journey in its ministry of inclusion.

What does make the book delightfully interesting are the dozens of gray boxes with quotations from other publications, all of which are thoroughly documented in a "References'' section at the end. I was particularly amazed to find myself among the sources quoted, never realizing that an obscure 2003 article in The Mennonite could have this kind of ongoing impact.

Two appendices round out the work, one a listing of statements on disabilities by faith groups and the other an extensive list of "Resources for Service Providers, Families, and Congregations." Undoubtedly, lists like these will soon become dated, but the principles and guidelines that form the heart of the book will be relevant for many years to come.

Many congregations are picking up the challenge to become "missional'' in their focus. Studies continue to show both the large number of persons affected by disabilities of all kinds as well as a continuing gap in church attendance patterns between those affected by disabilities in the family and the general population. Thus, a ministry of inclusion opens up a mission field that is truly ripe for harvest. I recommend this book to any congregation that is serious about its outreach. Congregations might want to secure several copies to circulate among leaders or publicize the book as an addition to its church library.

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