Author: ALBERT A. HERZOG, JR.
This synposis was prepared by David E. Denham.
Since its inception as a union between the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church in 1957, the United Church of Christ has been a leading American denomination which seeks to be faithful to its Christian heritage by making faith its own in each generation. In its location within contemporary society, the United Church of Christ has sought to maintain dialogue with the major issues of the day.
The movement within the United Church of Christ to integrate persons with physical, developmental and emotional impairments into its life and into society is borne out the conviction that both are necessary for the denomination to be an effective witness to all people. The UCC is one of several mainline Protestant denominations, which in the late 1970â€™s, embraced a national movement which was to have profound impact on American society. The gradual movement of disabilities into the mainstream resulted in giving voice to persons with disabilities who emerged as challengers to virtually every aspect of social life impacting upon them. The culmination of this movement came when President Geroge H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.
Two ordained clergy would bring leadership to the disability movement within the UCC, Harold H. Wilke and Virginia Kreyer. Born with no arms, Wilke was the founder and director of the Healing Community, graduate of many distinguished schools of higher education, chaplain, administrator, and pastor. The Healing Community is an inter-faith religious organization assisting congregations to welcome those who had been alienated by religious groups, including (but not exclusively), persons with disabilities.
The second ordained person, who brought profound leadership to the disability movement within the UCC was Virginia Kreyer. Born with cerebral palsy, Kreyer was ordained in the American Baptist Church. She served several years as a member of the professional staff to the local affiliate of the United Cerebral Palsy Association. After some time, she left her American Baptist congregation and joined the local UCC. Kreyer approached the Metropolitan Association requesting to have her credentials recognized. The officials were interested but required the Ms. Kreyer have a ministry to which she could be assigned. Subsequently, the Association suggested she assume the responsibility of providing leadership for the Task Force on Exceptional People which she was ultimately to initiate and direct.
In 1976, this Task Force decided to present a resolution to the New York Conference. The resolution arrived late and was not considered until its last session. During discussion, a visitor from Japan arose to note that he had traveled across the United Stated and had not seen one person with a disability. In response, Ms. Kreyer took the floor and gave an impassioned speech in support of the resolution. The Conference responded by passing it unanimously and referred it to the next General Synod. On Monday, July 4, 1977, the Eleventh General Synod adopted the resolution entitled â€œThe Church and the Handicapped.â€ Both Kreyer and Wilke gave speeches in favor of the action.
To implement this General Synod resolution, an Advisory Committee on the Church and the Handicapped was formed. Harold Wilke, the first chairperson, called the inaugural meeting to order March 8, 1978. Virginia Kreyer had already been named the paid consultant to support this ministry.
This body emerged through name changes to the committee, structural changes within the committee, and restructure of the wider church to be known today as the UCC Disabilities Ministries (UCC DM), and to be a fully recognized voting member of the Executive Council. The UCC DM is located in Local Church Ministries. Up to nine persons may serve on the UCC DM. In 1992, this committee supported the development of the Mental Illness Network (MIN). In 1995, Virginia Kreyer retired. In 1996, David Denham assumed the role of consultant. Like Kreyer, Denham had developed a Task Force on disability issues in the Central Atlantic Conference. Denham also had served as chairperson of the National Committee on Persons with Disabilities. The UCC DM has representation on the National Council of Churches Committee on Disabilities.
The UCC DM and MIN are shaped today by three primary General Synod resolutions and other key initiatives:
Concerning the Church and the Americans with Disabilities Act,
(ADA) of 1990;
"Accessible to All"; was added to the UCC vision statement calling the Church to be ";multiracial, multicultural".
The Calling of Clergy with Disabilities;
Calling the People of God to Justice for Persons with Serious Mental Illnesses (Brain Disorders);
Wilke Fund established, a fund that would be used to support the goals of the UCC DM;
Kreyer Award was established and presented to Virginia at the 2001 General Synod. Thereafter, the award would be presented to persons who have shown a pioneering spirit in the work of the UCC DM.
The story of the UCC DM continues to unfold. That All May Worship and Serve, the UCC DM newsletter and UC News insert, serves to chronicle current initiatives and future directions.
This synopsis is condensed from a larger and more detailed account of the disability movement outside and inside the church. You may purchase a copy of A History of Disability Advocacy in the United Church of Christ by Albert A. Herzog by contacting Michelle Hintz at email@example.com
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