2014 Archives

Theology and disability summit gets United Methodist welcome

SMU professor Jaime Clark-Soles helps to lead summer institute


The following is excerpted from the June 17, 2014 edition of United Methodist News (UMC.org). Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor Jaime Clark-Soles, associate professor of New Testament in SMU’s Perkins School of Theology, is featured in this story.

June 17, 2014

By Sam Hodges
United Methodist News Service

The Rev. Jaime Clark-Soles didn’t hesitate when given the chance to involve herself and Perkins School of Theology in the 2014 Summer Institute of Theology and Disability.

Considering and acting on issues pertaining to disability — everything from building access to the religious dimensions of suffering — strikes her as a clear priority.

“It’s really important in terms of the church being the full church,” said Clark-Soles, an American Baptist minister who teaches New Testament at United Methodist-affiliated Perkins. “I can’t think of anything more important.”

The Summer Institute on Theology and Disability draws people from around the world — scholars, people with disabilities, parents of disabled children, clergy and other church workers. They gather for classes, workshops, plenary sessions and networking.

This year’s institute began in earnest on Monday and runs through Friday at Perkins, part of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and at next-door-neighbor Highland Park United Methodist Church.

Plenary sessions and meals are in Highland Park United Methodist’s Great Hall. Workshops and classes are at Perkins. Daily attendance is running about 110-115, with special events drawing more.

The event, sponsored by the Bethesda Institute, is in its fifth year, but this is the first time it’s been hosted by United Methodists.

The director, the Rev. Bill Gaventa, relocated to Texas last year, and has been working with the Texas Faith Inclusion Network for People with Disabilities and their Families. So he hoped to find a Texas location for the institute, which has twice been in Gettysburg, Pa., and once each in Chicago and Toronto.

Gaventa said he first approached Clark-Soles, whose theological writing about disability he knew and who this week is co-teaching a class titled “Scriptural Representations of Disability.” He said she enlisted the support of the Rev. William Lawrence, dean of Perkins, and the Rev. Connie Nelson, Perkins’ director of public affairs and alumni relations.

The Perkins team knew of Highland Park United Methodist’s commitment to special needs ministry, including four Sunday school classes, a theater program for special needs kids, and “Night OWLS (Out with Loving Sitters),” which twice a month provides parents a night off from caring for special needs children and siblings.

At Perkins officials’ request, Highland Park agreed to co-host the institute, where motorized wheelchairs, guide dogs and personal attendants are rather commonplace.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity so that more of our membership can understand the scope of integrating those with special needs,” said Cheryl Vandiver, director of special needs ministry.

Read the full story.

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