The Promise of Disability

An IYM Blog Series

Since 1990, with the legislation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the experience of disability and the ways in which disability is socially constructed has slowly moved closer to the fore of American institutional consciousness. Policies have come into place, architecture has been reimagined, and technology has been adapted. And although it’s a shame that the church has not been more of a leader in the change, even resisting it at times, thanks to the persistent faithfulness of certain prophets among us—including Nick Palermo, founder of Capernaum Ministries—youth ministry has come a long way in its awareness of the needs and gifts of young people with disabilities. Many youth ministries have made intentional changes in technique and programming. Books (including Amplifying Our Witness by Benjamin T. Conner) have been published and new ones are being published, conversations are starting, and, more than ever before, youth workers are seeing disability less as a problem to be solved and more as a source of new meaning, even a location for divine encounter.

Even though there is a long way to go before the church, and youth ministry in particular, is where we would like it to be, it’s clear that a conversation is happening. The Institute for Youth Ministry is introducing this blog series on Youth Ministry and Disability as a way of shining a spotlight on that conversation. Over the next several weeks, you will find these posts among others on the IYM Blog.

In keeping with our commitment to integrating theology and practice, we believe that youth ministry needs to do more than just move the furniture. Especially when it comes to the reality of disability, we cannot just change our techniques—we must attempt to do something more comprehensive. We don’t just want to think about how we can deal with the “problem” of disability, we want to be transformed by the promise of disability. To this end, contributors to this series include bible scholars, theologians, anthropologists, educators, and veteran youth workers. Each post offers a different perspective, each with the hope of helping youth workers to be more faithfully attentive to God’s action in the lives of young people with disabilities.

Ben Conner

Associate Professor of Christian Discipleship, Western Theological Seminary

Director of the Graduate Certificate in Disability and Ministry

Nick Palermo

Founder of Young Life Capernaum Ministries

Worked as Young Life leader for over 30 years

Erin Raffety

Lecturer on modern childhood and disability, Princeton University

Parent of a child with disability

Joel Estes

New Testament doctoral candidate, Princeton Theological Seminary

Parent of a child with disabilities

Justin Forbes

Professor of Youth Ministry, Flagler College

Veteran youth worker

Christina Cosby

M.Div. Student, Princeton Theological Seminary; has worked with young people since she was a young person

Grew up legally blind

Amy Jacober

Founding member and faculty of the Sonoran Theological Group

Focused on urban ministry and marginalized communities

John Swinton

Chair of Divinity and Religious Studies, University of Aberdeen

Veteran nurse, hospital chaplain, and practical theologian