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Toward Full Inclusion of People with Developmental Disability

Toward Full Inclusion of People with Developmental Disability (DD) in the Life, Liturgy and Education of The Episcopal Church


Report of forum held at Christ Church, Montpelier on Saturday, November 23, 2013


Note:  Developmental Disability for the purposes of our guiding resolution, D068, Move Toward Full Inclusion of People with Developmental Disabilities, is defined as:  Intellectual Disability (ID); Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).


Present: Stannard Baker; Stephen Reynes, Beth Ann Maier, The Rev. Lee Ferry, Elizabeth Kooperkamp, Marilyn May, Joyce Mechling, Bruce Campbell and Jesse Campbell

            The group represented a mix of clergy, parents of people with DD, and one person with DD.  Geographical representation included NE Kingdom,        Champlain Valley, and Central Vermont.

Stan gave those present the explanatory leaflet for the forum, a page with three questions, and he also explained the history of the forum and talked about the church-wide survey and anticipated resolution for General Convention 2015.  Stan also handed out Resources for Establishing Special Needs Ministries.


The questions were:

1 – What has worked for you or your family in your parish, diocese or in church-related activities?

2 – What has not worked, what are the gaps, or what needs to be improved?

3 – What is your vision of a more inclusive future for your parish, the diocese or the larger church?

Minutes of the forum:

Challenges and Ideas:

  • Things needed in parishes and diocese: awareness, inclusion and welcome
  • Leadership from clergy is essential with the message being, “We need this to happen.”
  • Clergy and lay leaders can break open: “Who we are when God moves through everyone.”
  • Look at our own weaknesses to open ourselves to others
  • Awareness of blame that flows to people with ADHD
  • “Each internal weakness has a corresponding weakness in our culture.”
  • We need to acknowledge the challenge in each of these identified disabilities, not gloss it over, so we are not asking people with disabilities to hide their pain or challenges
  • We need an organized way to scan the pieces of parish life => do they work for people with ID, e.g. our hymnals are virtually meaningless to many people with ID (paperless music is a better option)
    • Liturgy and music – come up with useable resources.
  • Family oriented services are hugely helpful so that noise and movement are acceptable
  • Some churches have experimented with “low-stim” and “high-stim” services
  • Find ways for parishioners with DD to present themselves to the community so we all see ourselves as people with things to offer and with challenges.  Everyone needs accommodations.
  • Some find it helpful to have “buddies” or friends present in the service
    • Use of “champions” or “buddies” for support.  How do we raise up champions?
  • Formation: NOT, what can we do to form your child separately, but how do we include or accommodate her or him?
  • We need the church as a whole to come up with some leadership statements that state something such as: If we behave in these ways as a church, the church will grow.
    • An example was the GC resolution about poverty that resulted in diocesan education an action
    • A year of inclusion. How is this church more inclusive?
    • It would be like creating a new “sound system” for the church
    • Include some examples of inclusion in worship at GC 2015 (lectors & acolytes with ID, clergy with ADD/ADHD, Asperger’s, etc.
  • The way people change is through example.  Identify some people who “get this” and seed them on Standing Commissions.  Have them be “listeners” and “reflectors”
  • It is more important to create experiences than resources
  • How are we changes by inclusion?  Let us proclaim that we are all enriched by inclusion.  It is similar to the full inclusion of women as clergy and in the life of the church or the full inclusion of people of color or of LGBT people.
  • We have an intellectual bias in TEC.  We prize our rich intellectual heritage => What will we do and how will it look with full inclusion?  It can be a “both – and” equation, not “either – or.”



  • Sunday school after the family services => sermons to the point
  • In Sunday school have art and movement with active engagement
  • No one is saying, “We can’t handle your kid”
  • Holy Molly curriculum recommended
  • Some have had success with Godly Play
  • Vacation Bible School is a good place to engage those with learning differences
  • “How will the Baptismal Covenant questions at confirmation make sense to my ID son?  I don’t want them watered down, but instead presented in a way that he can understand and internalize.”
  • How do we do God language? 
  • Good idea to ask all people: “Tell me what you believe about God?”  People with ID and ASD will respond well to this question.
  • We need to hear each other share more of ourselves.  A parish could have a “Book of Responses” to each other’s sharing for all to look at.
  • Thinking about the rigidity that some people with ASD experience, how to we keep our system from becoming rigid in response? How do we maintain gray?”
    • People with ASD can develop and share an “intricate and infinite cosmology” and, thus, connect to the great “via media” of God-thinking and God-talk
  • The thing that makes it work is having enough people; expand the pool of people interacting – recruit “companions”
    • Would it make sense to have a diocese-wide confirmation to increase the pool of people being confirmed and create more companions/buddies

To do:

  1. Stan will word process minutes and send to:
    1. All participants
    2. To the diocese
    3. To The Standing Commission on Health
  2. We will meet again in the spring to follow up on our work
  3. Connect with Diocesan Convention planners for next fall to discuss “inclusion” elements
  4. Stan to communicate with GC on possible liturgy
  5. Standing Commission on Health, DD Inclusion Subcommittee to create TEC-wide survey based on forums to be circulated in winter

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