Approximately 150 people from around Australia and overseas attended a conference on spirituality and disability organised by the Uniting Church in Melbourne last month.
Rev Andy Calder, synod disability inclusion officer and convenor of the Exclusion and Embrace: Disability, Justice and Spirituality conference, said the feedback from the three-day event had been very positive.
“I think there was a very strong sense that people see this as a very important intersection of life for many people who are marginalised by disability,” Mr Calder said.
“People welcomed the opportunity to find kindred spirits and to be able to find voice where often they can’t find voice to effect some change and improve things. So from that point of view it was a terrific morale booster for many people.”
The conference hosted internationally renowned keynote speakers.
Professor David Tacey spoke on Australian spirituality, US expert Bill Gaventa talked about congregational supports, Hans Reinders from the Netherlands spoke on the gift of friendship while Adelaide academic Lorna Hallahan spoke on the NDIS and spirituality.
There were also 40 electives and an art exhibition that Mr Calder said was “highly acclaimed.” “People could sense the relationship between the expression of their spirituality and their experience of disability,” Mr Calder said.
A follow-up exhibition is planned for the Centre for Theology and Mission in Parkville in September.
Mr Calder picked out three themes he believed emerged from the conference as issues that needed to be further pursued.
“I’d like to see congregations and agencies be proactive with conversations about how we can make this a place that is welcoming to people who traditionally find it very difficult to be part of such communities,” he said.
Mr Calder also pointed to the need for a greater awareness and education around disability and spirituality, with courses on this area now being introduced into theological study.
He said the World Council of Churches had adopted valuable documents around this subject, particularly one entitled The Gift of Being.
Mr Calder said the conference also highlighted the need for a recognition of the importance of spirituality in the government planning of services for people with disability.