Ecumenical Project on Disability Issues

 Open Conference to explore disability, spirituality and faith

The inaugural national gathering on Disability, Spirituality and Faith was held at the Hotel Brentwood in Wellington in May 2003. The aim of the conference was to explore issues of disability and faith within and beyond churches and other faith communities within Aotearoa New Zealand. This conference was an opportunity for people who live with disability to explore faith and spirituality as well as join with others in addressing disability issues within faith communities and beyond. Topics include justice, pastoral issues, theology, spirituality-the search for meaning, church structures, bio-ethics, honouring stories and cross-cultural issues.

From July to mid September 2001 the planning group sent out “registration of interest” forms throughout church and disability networks,. As at November 2001 we had over one hundred responses. This was very heartening and showed that there was great interest in issues to do with disability and spirituality.

There have been three similar conferences in Australia prir to this date. The convenor of the planning group has been to all three conferences and others have attended the other conferences. New Zealanders attending these conferences have been inspired by the range and depth of content. These conferences have been our inspiration. There is much enthusiasm and encouragement from people in Australia for a conference in New Zealand.

While the New Zealand conference sought to offer a similar range of content to Australia intended to stamp “a New Zealand flavour” on it by having involvement from the three tikanga by including maori and polynesian perspectives of disability and spirituality. Another crucial difference between New Zealand and Australia was that the impetus for the movement in Australia came from those working on disability issues in academic institutions and in the church whereas the impetus in New Zealand came from people with disabilities who are involved in faith communities. Quite a few people on the planning group have had experience in organising gatherings in the disability sector, this meant that the conference better catered for the needs of people with disabilities than the Australian conferences had done.

CCANZ made a policy commitment to give priority to the issues by endorsing the planning group to organise this conference by “acting as an umbrella organisation of the member churches to those organising a faith and disability conference in Wellington in 2002/2003…”. The Ecumenical Disability Advocate Network (EDAN) of the World Council of Churches has indicated support for this conference.

Vicki Terrell