Over the past few years, Disability Concerns has featured Chelwood CRC in Albuquerque, New Mexico as an example of how a church can design ministries from a very inclusive perspective. Their ongoing work of exemplifying the Disability Concerns mission statement of “Everybody belongs, Everybody serves” led us to spotlight their church community in the current Ministry Report 2020.
While the report offered a broad overview of the culture of their church where all people are encouraged to serve and be a vibrant part of the church community, we would like to extend this narrative further and introduce you to one gentleman in the church who has an intellectual disability and has recently been ordained as a deacon. His name is Phillip. Phillip participates in many church events and meetings alongside Sherry TenClay, who has written the following with his encouragement.
This morning we installed a new deacon. Phillip has seen himself as a deacon for a long time. He’s always ready to tell us that this person needs our prayers, that person needs our help, this thing needs to be fixed. He’s been a faithful guest at every Council meeting.
I think about the first time I encountered Phillip. A friend, his roommate from their group home, had brought him to Sunday worship; Phillip hid behind the open door to the sanctuary. It took some persuasion to coax him out. For weeks he came silently with his friend. Always part of the church family is worship, at potlucks, on outings, never saying a word.
One afternoon, a group of us attended a high school soccer game to watch one of our youth group members play. As we yelled, “Go Erin!” I heard a voice behind me, “Go Erin!” We switched up the cheers and again heard that small echo, repeating our every word. Phillip had found his voice.
After that, Phillip discovered that he could take a turn with the microphone during our prayer and share time that opened worship. Sometimes we took turns praying. We encouraged Phillip to pray also instead of telling others what he’d like to say to God. He prayed that his sister would come to church. She walked in the door one Sunday, followed soon after by his brother.
Phillip began taking the offering on Sunday morning and spending time with a mentor during Sunday evening Bible studies. He learned to write his name and began adding it to every sign up sheet in the building. He took care of the prayer record book in Friendship class, always making sure that there was enough paper and that the teacher entered each prayer request. When we staged our parsonage after it had been on the market for over a year, Phillip’s paintings hung in every room. The parsonage sold within a week. Last year, Phillip and I co-presented at a Joni & Friends Irresistible Church Conference. He was happy to tell his story.
When asked about our church, we say this: we believe that each of us is created in God’s image. God values each of us and invites us, with arms open wide, to continually develop a more vibrant relationship with Him. Therefore, as our mission and calling, we welcome persons with developmental disabilities, their families and their caregivers to join us as we explore what this means for all of us. We’re not experts; we’re seekers. We take this journey together with grace.
So, this week, as Phillip became an official deacon, we thanked God for his faith development as he has discovered and used his gifts. We know that our congregation is so much richer for having Phillip in our lives. God is good! We are thankful for what God has done, grateful for what God is doing, and eager to see what God will continue to do.
Prayers of gratitude for Phillip and for us as we celebrate this acknowledgement of his gifts.
We invite you to watch the YouTube video of Pastor Joe and members of Chelwood CRC participating in the ordination of Phillip
Image below is of Phillip with his sister (now deceased) at Chelwood CRC.