About 10 years ago, the Greater Palisades classis of the Reformed Church in America (RCA) offered their denomination $25,000 to start an RCA disability ministry. This substantial offer prompted the RCA General Synod Council (GSC) to investigate the possibility of working closely with CRC Disability Concerns. I was approached and was very interested.
We pulled together a team of RCA and CRC staff and volunteers to draw up a partnership agreement. That agreement was approved by the CRC Board of Trustees and the RCA GSC and General Synod. The RCA General Synod also approved funding in addition to the money offered by Greater Palisades. Finally, in September 2009, Rev. Terry DeYoung was hired to work two-thirds time as Coordinator of the RCA Disability Concerns ministry.
This partnership has yielded a lot of fruit in the past three and one-half years.
- Like CRC Disability Concerns, RCA DC is developing a network of Regional and Church Disability Advocates, which now numbers nearly 120 people. (CRC DC has about 600 advocates.) Yearly, we gather some of these advocates from both denominations for networking and training. Some of them also participate in a Google group which has produced some lively conversations about effective advocacy.
- We co-publish a newsletter, which retained the name Breaking Barriers from its years as a CRC Disability Concerns publication.
- We have co-sponsored conferences across North America, including gatherings this spring on disability and ministry in Bowmanville, Ontario; Anaheim, California; and Jenison, Michigan.
- RCA and CRC Disability Concerns ministry are both members of the Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition (IDAC), a Washington, D.C. based public policy group sponsored by the American Association of Persons with Disabilities. RCA and CRC DC have a volunteer who represents both of our ministries at the monthly IDAC meetings.
- Together, our two ministries have produced two editions (2011 and 2013) of the Inclusion Handbook to help anyone seeking to enhance congregational ministry with people who have disabilities. The second edition, finished just in time for distribution at the CRC and RCA Synods, has less prominent CRC/RCA branding than the first edition in the hope that it will be more appealing to disability advocates of other denominations. Available through Faith Alive, it includes brief articles by leaders in disability ministry from a number of denominations including Roman Catholic, American Baptist, and Mennonite.
I’m thankful for the vision of Greater Palisades classis and their desire to see a disability ministry flourish in the RCA. I’m thankful that someone on the RCA General Synod Council knew about the ministry of CRC Disability Concerns and encouraged us to work together. I’m very thankful for an excellent working relationship with Terry DeYoung and the people of RCA Disability Concerns. Most of all, I thank God that the people of the CRC and the RCA recognize and commit energy, people, and finances to help churches engage in ministry with people who have disabilities.
In what other ways could the CRC and RCA collaborate to help our congregations engage people with disabilities in church life?