Recently, as part of their diversity goals, the Office of General Secretary staff at the Christian Reformed Church in North America joined together to read and discuss Amy Kenny’s book My Body is Not a Prayer Request. From September to December, they met three times to go through the leaders’ discussion guide from the Thrive and RCA Disability Concerns team. While some of the staff were familiar with Kenny’s work, having heard her speak before, they nonetheless enjoyed being able to talk about the book with others and hear personal stories.
"I had heard Amy Kenny speak at the January Series last year, so a lot of the content of the book wasn't new to me. However, reading it as a group and discussing it with colleagues was a very helpful experience. I was able to hear people's personal experiences with disabilities (whether their own or those they love) and also apply the lessons in a tangible way to the work in our offices," said Kristen DeRoo Vanderberg, Director of Communications and Marketing.
The team shared that this was an invaluable experience for them to look into ableism on a broad spectrum and how it affects their daily work, how they plan meetings and synods, and more. They shared that they realized that ableism is pervasive in our community and that everyone is ableist in some way. Reading stories like Kenny’s made them aware of ways that they, both personally and communally, are ableist and, therefore, of what changes they can make to live in a more beautiful, diverse society.
The team was also surprised by how common disability is and that there is such a wide variety of disabilities and ways to be accessible. Within their team, they experience missing bones, chronic migraines, mental health diagnoses, seizures, and more. “Some disabilities are visible, some are hidden, but they are all real. This means that the ways in which we have an inclusive environment varies as well. It means turning off fluorescent lights, having working elevators, being trained in first aid and being aware of medical policies,” shared Ashley Medendorp, Senior Administrative Coordinator, Synodical Services.
Perhaps the most abundantly clear takeaway they had from the book is that the body of Christ is a beautifully diverse body that is made more full by inclusion. Scott DeVries, Director of Synodical Services said, "One important take away for me is a raised awareness of how people with different disabilities have unique insights into our beliefs and practices. Someone who is not able to work full time, for instance, has a different lens through which to view our theology of work, the relationship of work to our personal identity and worth, and our practice of sabbath. If someone has a fuller picture of those subjects, and we don't take the time to listen and learn from them, we are all worse off for it."
Kenny’s analysis of scripture and her honest storytelling allowed the team to see that God’s idea of beauty and wholeness is so much bigger than they had imagined. A cane is a symbol of freedom, a ramp is a reflection of welcome, and dependence is a sign of community. Including the diverse voices of the believers around us allows our churches to be a welcoming place; where every body is valued and loved.
Over 75 churches have hosted a book study on Amy Kenny’s book My Body is Not a Prayer Request. Free books are still available for churches who would like to participate. Learn more.