This workshop was presented by Rev Dr Anthony Gooley a deacon from the Archdiocese of Brisbane and currently working with the Broken Bay Institute, together with Zachariah Duke, a PhD student who also lectures at the Broken Bay Institute. Dr Gooley has recently published a book called 'Bite Size Vatican II'.
This is Maria's story.
Maria is 36 years old, and has a range of disabilities including some intellectual disability and physical difficulty in communicating due to a malformation of the palate. Some sounds she is able to make are recognisable as words.
Maria was moved to a group home, in a location she had no connection with, but not by choice. This was chosen for her by the department of disability services. The three others who live in the group home have similar disabilities. She did not know these three prior to moving in. Her main source of interaction with other people is with paid workers eg cleaners, case workers, those who prepare meals. There is a high turnover rate with these paid workers: they don't stay long. Friends are few, and family rarely make contact.
Due to the move, Maria was also now in a new parish. She got noticed quickly because she was very physical in her response to the music. If the music was good, she would clap and sway. Mostly she didn't clap according to the rhythm of the music, and she would sit as close as she could to the musicians. Her behaviour was seen as annoying by most people.
In the same parish was a bloke named Paul. He was married with children, was employed and had lots of friends. He was also a valued member of the parish and the parish choir. After observing what had been going on, Paul decided to ask Maria a question: 'Would you like to join the parish choir?'
This question was the start of a major transformation in Maria's life. She now had a reason to go out of the group home for choir practice : something that wasn't medical, governmental etc that was her choice and not chosen for her. She was also meeting people on a person to person basis, not on a doctor to patient, or carer to client basis. Over time she was invited to join the choir at the coffee shop after Mass, and other activities they decided to do as a group. Once the choir group started focussing on what Maria could do rather than what she couldn't do, it was only a matter of time before someone offered her a part-time job that suited her abilities. Now she not only belonged, and had access to relationships that could last, she also had the little bit of independence and self-worth which comes from being employed and a colleague.
Paul was able to reach out to Maria because he grew up with a brother who had Downs Syndrome, and the confidence to relate to her and the ability to smooth her integration into the choir group. He recognised that both Maria had the capacity to become a valued choir member and that the choir had the capacity to include someone a bit different into their activities – and he acted on it. As a result of his invitation to Maria, some of the community grew in confidence in relating to her and in the capacity to include others in similar situations.
We were asked to take a few minutes to write down some of the things a person could do to contribute to a choir other than singing. This are the ideas the workshop attendees came up with:
Helping with the administration of the music sheets, preparing the tea and coffee after the practice, playing a musical instrument, playing a percussion instrument, helping set up the electrical stuff (microphones, amplifiers, etc) work the overhead slides, turn the pages of music for the organist, help choose the music, doing the photocopying, setting up the music stands, filling the folders with copies of the new music, and handing out hymn books.
Those with disabilities still have the same needs we do, the basic ones (food, clothing, shelter, safety) as well as the need for an income, for social interaction, for good health, for purpose etc)
Society is still fearful of disability, and sees a disabled person as a cost and a burden rather than a person.
Disability is a common, but varied experience. Most people will experience a bout of disability in their lives (failing eyesight, reduced mobility, broken bones, mental illness etc)
Zachariah then told us a bit about his qualitative inquiry into how the Catholic Church in Australia is doing with regard to inclusion. He spoke about some of the 25 interviews he had conducted with people across Australia and the questions that were part of that interview process:
- Describe the extent of inclusion in your parish/ school/ deanery/ diocese.
- Does the practice of inclusion match the talk about inclusion in your area?
- Is your parish/school/deanery/diocesan policy backed up with resources?
- Have there been any modifications to liturgy and worship to make it more inclusive?
Inclusion is a planned and intentional activity
- Most parishes don't plan to exclude people, they just fail to plan to include them.
- At any given time 20% of the population has a disability of some sort (mobility, eyesight, healing, intellectual and emotional disabilities etc)
- Maybe there are people in your parish who are not in the pews because they simply can't get in (eg no ramp, too far to walk from car park to pew)
- Maybe there are people in your parish who are not in the pews because they have experienced hurt, misunderstanding and exclusion at some time in the past (eg they were supposed to do a reading at a special Mass but they could not get up the stairs necessary to do so)
- Maybe there are people in your parish who are not in the pews because they don't know you want to include them (eg we are a safe, understanding place you can bring your autistic child to)
- Access (ease of getting in and out of your building) is only one issue, but a complete audit of accessibility of all areas is essential (eg there is little point being able to get into the building if you then can't gain access to a toilet).
- Inclusion is much, much more than providing ramps and toilets for those with limited mobility. Inclusion is knowing that if you are not there, that you will be missed.
- There is no access without planning
- Don't assume you can fix access problems without the input of those who find it difficult to access your buildings. Talk with them, learn from them. Plan with them.
- Meet with local disability groups. It is one way of making sure they know you want to include them.
- Learn from these groups, they are your best teachers on the path to inclusion
- Find out about the issues and challenges they face
- Show solidarity with them, as allies and advocates in their needs (eg if the local railway station needs a lift, join them in lobbying the various levels of government.
- Get your local parish social justice group involved
- For each type of service, greeters, collectors, readers, altar servers, extraordinary ministers of holy communion etc ask, 'Who could do this role?'
- Focus on what a person with a disability can do, not on what they can't do.
- Ask them what they would like to do. The answers may surprise you.
- Think also about other ways of service : social media communication, parish bulletin folding, setting up for social functions, operating the overhead screens, cooking, driving, craft group etc
Don't be afraid to put up great big signs to say, 'we have a ramp', 'we have a hearing loop'.
The spirituality and theology of communion give us an excellent framework for thinking about inclusion.
Novo Millennio Ineunte 43-50 and Lumen Gentiium Chapter 5 are well worth meditating on in this context.
The spirituality and theology of communion is the key to understanding the central concept of Vatican II.
Communion suggests that inclusion is at the heart of the self-definition of the Church, and not a special project for communities. Communion regards the Eucharistic assembly as the realisation of inclusion and communion. Periodically it is worthwhile to have prayers for those with disabilities in the prayers of the faithful. By Baptism each person becomes a member of the Church, so each baptised person who has a disability is fundamentally included and this just needs to become a lived reality in parish life. We need to minimise the numbers of those who say in words or by their behaviour 'you are not welcome'.
When the priest hold up the host and says, 'The Body of Christ' to which we respond 'Amen', we are saying Yes, Amen to the Body of Christ present in the whole Church, in His ministers, and in Jesus Himself.
Communion highlights the necessity of a spiritual foundation of inclusion. Inclusion is one of the authentic signs of the Kingdom of God. We need to encourage prayer and reflection on these matters. We need to name the struggles and to work on them. We need to form parishioners in holiness.
Getting 'buy in' from parishioners at a parish level is not easy – because inclusion is not a glamorous issue.
The challenge is to find ways to connect with those not yet included. Three possible pathways are employment, housing and the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). In any parish there are parishioners who are potential employers, providers of work experience and advocates for those with disabilities.
What are the options for valued work in a parish context for those with disabilities?
Who are the small business owners in your parish?
A lot of people don't know what kinds of help are available to them, if they or a loved one has a disability.
Principles to guide inclusion in a parish context
- Plan with, not for, people with disability
- It is not about the disability, it is about Maria and Jose, Meena and Aaron-real people with concrete needs.
- It is not about something we are doing for them (people with disability) but something we are doing for us (the Catholic community). Without them we are diminished. Anything we do to help someone with a specific disability will also benefit everyone else who has a lesser form of that disability.
- Beware of talking to people as though they were children or babies, they're not.
We need to invite others to become part of the inclusion process. We need to help them to get to know people with disabilities, to prepare them to succeed, and to do as much myth busting about various disabilities as possible.
The Australian Catholic Disability Council (Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/ACDCouncil )
This Council has produced many publications, including braille versions and audio versions of Papal documents.
Working on inclusion is taking part in the mission of Jesus, who enabled people on the margins to return to the full life of the community.
In the next blog-post will be about the workshop on the Kerygma – the essential part of the Gospel to proclaim.
Some of the workshops have been made available as podcasts via www.xt3.com
To access them visit http://www.xt3.com/library/view.php?id=17454