16 March 2006

New disability justice strategy for The Methodist Church

The Methodist Church is creating a disability justice strategy as part of a project to make the Church its buildings and all its activities welcoming and accessible to all. Alison Parker is heading the project as part of her three-year work on equalities and diversity.

'Disability Justice is a serious matter,' says Alison, 'It can range from simple practical matters such as making church buildings wheelchair accessible through to looking at the way we speak or the things we do and how we are with people. The aim is not to make people feel guilty but to promote real change that benefits all of us. There are local groups making these points within Methodism, but we need to make sure that the message reaches the whole Church.'

Alongside the disability justice strategy the Methodist Conference in June this year will also receive report on Ministers and Deacons with impairments.

The Revd Jonathan Kerry, Co-ordinating Secretary for Worship and Learning, says, 'we set up this project because people told us that the Methodist Church is doing a lot of good work on equalities and diversity but 'could do better'. Alison will be listening to people who may feel excluded and helping the whole Church to be better at being as inclusive as Jesus.'

Although Alison's immediate focus is on disability justice, this work is part of a larger campaign to address the ways in which Methodist churches and people unconsciously and inadvertently prejudge others.

'Lack of physical access is just one visible way in which we inadvertently exclude some people, but we need to recognise that there are also invisible ways as well. As a Church we believe that we exist to welcome and support everyone.

'The goal is to stress how we can stand alongside one another to challenge racism, homophobia, sexism and prejudice against the disabled, the elderly or young people. We need to do more than just support the notion of equality: we must actively challenge our own prejudices and those of the wider society.'

Alison is keen to hear from anyone who feels that they have been excluded or made to feel unwelcome in any way from a Methodist community. She will report her findings to the 2007 Methodist Conference, but she aims to stress that 'the goal is not about telling people off, or criticising the work they do. Every one of us has, at some point in our lives, been excluded from something we wished to be a part of, and all of us have the power to exclude others. By recognising that, we can all understand how to stand together to overcome the misinformation, prejudice and stereotypes that can otherwise divide us.'

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