A Model for Ministry in the Third Space

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By Terry DeYoung and Mark Stephenson

Except for our spouses, we’ve shared bedrooms with each other more than anyone else during the past 10 years. We have a good idea what the other will pack, what the other’s night-time and early morning rituals are, and when and how frequently the other will call home. Most recently, we have traveled together on overnight trips to Wheaton College and to Virginia Beach for our work.

We see so much of each other that one night recently Mark had a dream that he and Terry were traveling somewhere together. In the dream, we were accompanied by another person, a 10-month-old boy. The child was neither Terry’s nor Mark’s, but we needed to care well for him. Though we’ve never traveled with a child, we are on a journey together caring for the Disability Concerns ministry of our two denominations—the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) and the Reformed Church in America (RCA). The ministry belongs to neither Terry nor Mark, nor even to our two denominations, but to God, and we presently have the privilege of stewarding that ministry of fostering communities in the body of Christ where everybody belongs and everybody serves.

Although we still do some projects independently, we do most of our work on behalf of both denominations. When combined, the full- and part-time staff of RCA and CRC Disability Concerns total three full time-equivalent (FTE) staff—three FTEs that serve the 2,000 or so churches of our two denominations and the hundreds of volunteers from both denominations.

The shared journey began in 2007 when Mark was asked whether he might like to partner with the RCA in the work. At that time the RCA was actively exploring how the denomination could better minister with people with disabilities. A bi-denominational team was formed which created “A Working Agreement Between the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America in a Ministry For, With, and By Persons with Disabilities.” That agreement was endorsed by CRC and RCA governing bodies and remains in effect today.

This year Terry and Mark find themselves on an informal “10th anniversary tour” of our combined work. We presented a review of our work this past spring at Calvin Seminary. We co-wrote a journal article and presented it at a faith and disability symposium at Wheaton College (see full manuscript of this article attached), and have solicited feedback from a half-dozen regional groups of volunteers and advisors. At Inspire, Terry and Mark will lead a workshop about our shared work, “Disability Ministry in the Third Space.”

What does it look like for our churches to fully welcome and engage people living with disabilities? How do mutuality and interdependence create space in the body of Christ where everybody belongs and everybody serves? In our workshop, a brief overview of that decade of work will provide a platform to explore how mutuality and interdependence are essential in creating more hospitable and welcoming churches. In addition, these complementary concepts offer one model for moving into the proposed “third space” between our two denominations.

We hope you’ll join us at our workshop at Inspire to learn how our churches and denominations benefit when we share some spaces, and when we create places where everybody belongs and everybody serves.

Terry has served as Coordinator for Disability Concerns for the RCA since 2009. Mark has been Director of Disability Concerns for the CRC since 2006. 

Update (July 8, 2019): At the invitation of organizers of the Faith and Disability Symposium held at Wheaton College in March 2019, Terry and Mark wrote and presented an article on their shared work. A revision of this article is now attached. 

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