*This is the fourth of four articles in our Disability Concerns Canada Fall 2021. You can find the rest here: DC Canada Fall 2021 Newsletter
Several years ago, when Lindsay Wieland Capel first learned of the CRC’s Disability Concerns, she was so impressed by the ministry that she sat down and wrote a letter to director Mark Stephenson.
Introducing herself, she commented how blessed he was to do the work he did in advocating with and for people with disabilities and providing resources and support to both them and the ministry’s many volunteers. She confided he had her dream job and that one day she’d love to work in a similar position.
She had no idea what a beautiful foreshadowing this conversation would one day turn out to be of God’s amazing leading and blessing in both her life and the Disability Concerns ministry.
“It’s surreal that all these years later, Mark is retiring, and that dream is coming to fruition,” says Wieland Capel, who took over the ministry’s helm in November as its new director. “God is doing great things through this ministry, and I’m honored to be part of it.”
The ministry of Disability Concerns, she reflects, is healthy and vibrant, in large part due to Stephenson’s dedication and gentle presence and in how he truly lives what he believes. Stephenson was the director from 2006 to 2021.
“Mark creates space for everyone. He sets a tone of such kindness and warmth. His gifts in engaging, listening, and caring about people have been such a gift to so many.
She says Stephenson’s ability to make people feel like they belong has provided critical support to a strong and dedicated network of volunteers. These volunteers are supported in various ways including resources on the website, conferences, publications, and a new online series of training modules that are currently being pilot-tested.
“I’m so thankful for the many volunteers,” agrees Stephenson. “When I started, I learned quickly that the beating heart of the ministry is the disability advocates working in churches and classes throughout North America.”
He also gives credit to those who came before him in the long history of the ministry, which turns 40 in 2022. “I came into this work standing on the shoulders of previous DC staff and volunteers.”
One of Stephenson’s many legacies at Disability Concerns is his crafting of the beloved and well-known vision statement/motto: everybody belongs; everybody serves.
“When I first started, I really wanted to find some way of quickly painting a picture of what Disability Concerns is all about,” Stephenson explains.
Pouring over years of literature produced by Disability Concerns staff and volunteers, he felt the Holy Spirit lead him to 1 Peter 4:8-10 and was struck by the emphasis on the importance within the body of Christ of both belonging and service.
With these two words at the forefront of his mind, the motto was coined, and the rest was history. To this day, everything the ministry does, teaches, or shares hinges on this central vision that everybody belongs and everybody serves. Everybody.
As she takes the ministry’s reins, Wieland Capel carries on this vision of belonging and serving, seeing it as a helpful foundation. “What barriers might be keeping someone from full participation?” she asks. “What are their gifts that bless the body of Christ? In some cases, is there support that’s needed?”
Like Stephenson, she is passionate about creating spaces of belonging and service. Her background in social work contributes to her belief that a vibrant DC ministry is one in which all CRC churches are considering specific individuals with disabilities in their church and are intentionally and thoughtfully designing worship and buildings with universal design.
According to the National Disability Authority’s Centre for Excellence in Universal Design (CEUD), “Universal Design is the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability, or disability.”
Wieland Capel explains the idea behind Universal Design is to intentionally design buildings, worship, and programming that are accessible for all, rather than adapting as a response to people needing or asking for it. “It’s really a way a church can practice hospitality so that all can not only come, but also fully participate.”
“I’d love to see churches that are creating space in worship, attitudes, hospitality and physical spaces for those who aren’t yet in the church as well as anticipating the needs of those who don’t feel comfortable voicing their needs,” she muses.
She contends churches should lead the way for other organizations in accessibility, creating welcoming spaces, and valuing the gifts each person brings.
“Churches that aren’t intentional in this area are really missing out on the giftedness of so many people! Many think of Disability Concerns as a ministry towards certain people, but I hope we can shift to a concept of mutuality. Each person in God’s family has a role and has gifts to offer the others.”
The Disability Concerns Canada editorial team extends our heartfelt thanks to Mark for his many years of incredible leadership. We wish him God’s leading, blessing, and peace in the next stage of his life.
We also enthusiastically and wholeheartedly welcome Lindsay on board! We are so excited about the godly, thoughtful, and vibrant leadership she will provide the ministry going forward.