by Robert Koth
Quoting "Interdependence" by Ernie Dunn posted on the Southwest Conference UCC website: "I believe the task before us is to cope with, better yet, celebrate our interdependence. We should not seek to escape the necessity for beneficial care of each other. We should see ourselves reflected in every other person and to respect and honor our differences."
The Southwest Conference (SWC) United Church of Christ Widening the Welcome Team Ministry recently formulated our mission statement "We are all ministers of Jesus Christ following the vulnerable, and working for justice for all people." Our vision statement is an implementation of the SWC UCC Open and Affirming Statement: In the 2015 Annual Meeting Report Michael Curry wrote: "We covenant with God and one another to extend welcome and Christian Fellowship to all the followers and seekers of Christ without fear, prejudice, or discrimination in regard to sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, race, age, ethnicity, nationality, physical, mental or emotional condition, education, financial situation or biblical or theological interpretation." "We commit to educate, advocate, and gather resources and skills to equip congregations to widen the welcome, accommodate and include all God's people in the life of the church"
The Widening the Welcome Team Ministry conducts monthly meetings for the purpose of education and support with representatives of Desert Palm UCC, First Congregational UCC Phoenix, Shadow Rock UCC, Scottsdale Congregational UCC, Church of the Palms UCC Sun City, Primera Iglesia, and the Multi-Functional Families Group. We invite speakers to make presentations on topics that equip us for assisting congregations to be more welcoming of people who are differently gifted such as: the aging process, substance abuse, Accessible to All, challenges faced by care givers, ministry to a predominantly Latino congregation, Stephen Ministry, congregational justice and witness programs, peer support counseling program, servant leadership, and fundamentals of disability ministry.
Our monthly meeting encourages our Widening the Welcome participants to share stories about their experiences with overcoming personal challenges as differently abled people, care giving including raising children with special needs and senior care, teaching children with special needs in church school, reports from congregations about particular inclusion programs such as usher training, peer support counseling program, Accessible to All program, congregational justice and witness and mentalhealth programs.
We utilize collaboration to bring people together to advocate with Southwest Conference UCC congregations to include people who differently abled in the full fellowship of the church. Through representatives from Southwest Conference UCC congregational representative we plan advocacy projects ecumenically through: participation in the Arizona Faith Network including speakers in a Public Policy Commission meeting and a panel member for the Economic Inequality Community Conversation on Living Wage, Presidents' Day at the Capitol with the Unitarian Universalist congregations and the National Council of Jewish Women, the Multi-Functional Families Group consisting of seven families raising children with special needs recruited young adult members to form a panel discussion after the film, "Autism in Love," speaking engagements and workshops organized at participating congregations, led workshops and made a presentation at the Southwest Conference Annual Meeting, and publicized our advocacy projects in the "In The Loop" newsletter.
Our vision is that with our efforts the differently abled community will be able to completely access spiritual training and be a full participant in the church community.
Robert Koth, Coordinator, RobertKoth1@cox.net