The United Methodist Task Force on Disability Ministries

picture of United Methodist Book of Discipline

The Discipline, the book of procedure and legislation of the United Methodist Church, has a number of statements about disability. The excerpts below deal with disability in general. Excerpts that deal specifically with ordained ministry, including incapacity leave, will be found here at the United Methodist Association of Ministers with Disabilities. If you know of other statements that should be included, please use the Contact Us form and we will gladly include them.

Please note: while we have carefully proofread these excerpts, we cannot guarantee that they are error-free. Also, we have not followed the exact formatting of the printed Discipline.

Page v: Episcopal Greetings
This book of covenant . . . . makes clear that The United Methodist Church is an inclusive society without regard to ethnic origin, economic condition, gender, age, or the disabilities of its constituents.

¶ 101: page 49
. . . Our struggles for human dignity and social reform have been a response to God's demand for love, mercy, and justice in the light of the Kingdom.

¶ 124: Our Mission to the World . . . The visible church of Christ as a faithful community of persons affirms the worth of all humanity and the value of interrelationship in all of God's creation. . . . .

¶ 139: Called to Inclusiveness
We recognize that God made all creation and saw that it was good. As a diverse people of God who bring special gifts and evidences of God's grace to the unity of the Church and to society, we are called to be faithful to the example of Jesus' ministry to all persons.
Inclusiveness means openness, acceptance, and support that enables all persons to participate in the life of the Church, the community, and the world. Thus inclusiveness denies every semblance of discrimination. The services of worship of every local church of The United Methodist Church shall be open to all persons. The mark of an inclusive society is one in which all persons are open, welcoming, fully accepting, and supporting of all other persons, enabling them to participate fully in the life of the church, the community, and the world. A further mark of inclusiveness is the setting of church activities in facilities accessible to persons with disabilities. In the United Methodist Church inclusiveness means the freedom for the total involvement of all persons who meet the requirements of the United Methodist Book of Discipline in the membership and leadership of the Church at any level and in every place. In the spirit of this declaration, United Methodist seminaries will make all efforts to meet Americans with Disabilities (ADA) accessibility standards by the year 2011. Exemptions for historical or existing buildings are not allowed under this requirement.

¶ 161: The Nurturing Community
The community provides the potential for nurturing human beings into the fullness of their humanity. We believe we have a responsibility to innovate, sponsor, and evaluate new forms of community that will encourage development of the fullest potential in individuals. . . . We also encourage all individuals to be sensitive to others by using appropriate language when referring to all persons. Language of a derogatory nature (with regard to race, nationality, ethnic background, gender, sexuality, and physical differences) does not reflect value for one another and contradicts the gospel of Jesus Christ.

¶ 162: The Social Community
I) Rights of Persons with Disabilities—We recognize and affirm the full humanity and personhood of all individuals with mental, physical, developmental, neurological, and psychological conditions or disabilities as full members of the family of God. We also affirm their rightful place in both the church and society. We affirm the responsibility of the Church and society to be in ministry with children, youth, and adults with mental, physical, developmental, and/or psychological conditions or disabilities whose particular needs in the areas of mobility, communication, intellectual comprehension, or personal relationships might make more challenging their participation or that of their families in the life of the Church and the community. We urge the Church and society to recognize and receive the gifts of persons with disabilities to enable them to be full participants in the community of faith. We call the Church and society to be sensitive to, and advocate for, programs of rehabilitation, services, employment, education, appropriate housing, and transportation. We call on the Church and society to protect the civil rights of persons with all types and kinds of disabilities.
O) Genetic Technology—Human gene therapies that produce changes that cannot be passed to offspring (somatic Therapy) should be limited to the alleviation of suffering caused by disease.

¶ 166: Our Social Creed
We commit ourselves to the rights of men, women, children, youth, young adults, the aging, and people with disabilities; to the improvement of the quality of life; and to the rights and dignity of all persons.

¶ 253: Age-Level, Family, and Specialized Ministry Coordinators
. . . . Where needs for specialized areas of ministry arise (for example, single adults or persons with addictions, mental illness, or disabilities), coordinators of these areas of ministry may be elected.

¶ 254: Other Ministry Group Coordinators
In order to fulfill the mission of the local church, the charge conference may elect annually a coordinator or ministry group chairperson for any or all of these areas: Christian unity and interreligious concerns, church and society, community volunteers, education, evangelism, higher education and campus ministry, missions, prayer advocacy, religion and race, status and role of women, earth advocacy, stewardship, worship, advocacy for persons with special needs, and church media resources.

¶ 256: Program Ministries
1. In each local church there shall be a variety of small-group ministries . . . . [which] shall provide people with opportunities for practicing skills for faithful discipleship, including but not limited to . . . service with the poor and marginalized, and advocacy for peace and justice.

    1c. Mission and Ministry Groups—Christian discipleship is patterned after the servanthood of Jesus, who cared for the sick, fed the hungry, and befriended the outcast. People may participate in small groups in order to serve the needs of the poor and marginalized, advocate for social justice, and demonstrate their faith in all their relationships and whatever setting they find themselves in.
    1d. Support Groups—Where needed, the local church may organize small groups to support particular needs of congregation and community members, including but not limited to care and prayer groups, divorce recovery, grief recovery, parenting groups, and support for people who are suffering from chronic illness, including persons with mental illness and their families.

¶ 262: Special Sundays
. . . Four churchwide Sundays—Christian Education, Golden Cross, Disability Awareness, and Rural Life—provide opportunities for annual conference offerings.

¶ 265: Approved Sundays for Annual Conference Observation—
4. Disability Awareness Sunday . . . shall be observed annually on a date to be determined by the annual conference. Disability Awareness Sunday calls the church to celebrate the gifts and graces of persons with disabilities and calls the Church and society to full inclusion of persons with disabilities in the community. If the annual conference so directs, an offering may be received and the funds used by the annual conference to promote the creation of architectural and attitudinal accessibility in local churches. The observance of Disability Awareness Sunday shall be under the general supervision of the General Board of Global Ministries.

¶ 603: The Annual Conference—Organization
4. The annual conference sessions shall be held in places that are accessible to people with disabilities.

¶ 610: Conference Agencies
. . . The annual conference is responsible for structuring its ministries and administrative procedures in order to accomplish its purpose . . . . It will monitor to insure inclusiveness—racial, gender, age, and people with disabilities—in the annual conference.

    4. Whenever possible, meetings scheduled by the annual conference and its districts, boards, or committees should be held in places that are accessible to persons with disabilities even if this means scheduling meetings outside church-related facilities.
    5. In the nomination and election of the membership on councils, boards, and agencies of the annual conference, special attention shall be given to the inclusion of clergywomen, youth, young adults, older adults, persons from churches with small memberships, people with disabilities, and racial and ethnic persons, in keeping with policies for general Church agencies.

¶ 613: Conference Council on Finance and Administration—Responsibilities
7. To assist local churches in making their church buildings, facilities, and programs accessible.

¶ 630: Conference Board of Discipleship
1. General Responsibilities

    c) To foster and promote camping experiences for persons with disabilities, including camps specifically designed for persons with disabilities, and the participation of persons with disabilities, when feasible, in camps sponsored by the district and conference.
    d) To provide training for clergy and laity in ministries with persons with disabilities, including the areas of the Sunday school, camps and retreats, and faith development.

¶ 631: Conference Board of Laity
3. The following membership of the board is recommended: . . . . Special attention shall be given to the inclusion of people with disabilities and racial and ethnic persons.

¶ 633: Conference Board of Global Ministries
4. b) Responsibilities

    (19) To develop strategies in response to critical community issues, with special attention to the needs of ethic and language groups, people with disabilities, people in transitional relationships, the working poor, and those living under repressive systems.
    (36) To promote an annual Golden Cross offering other means of giving to be received in every local church on a day or days designed by the annual conference in support of the health and welfare ministries within the annual conference. This offering shall provide financial support to care for sick persons, older persons, children and youth, and people with disabilities. Special emphasis shall be given to aiding those ministries that provide direct financial assistance to persons in need.
    (37) To make available program and other resources to local churches to help ensure physical accessibility of church buildings.

¶ 651: Conference council on older-adult ministries
2. Membership—The majority of the membership of the council should be older adults. . . . Members should represent the diversity of older adults in the general population, including . . . persons with handicapping conditions, persons with chronic illnesses . . . .

¶ 653: Committee on Disability Concerns
There shall be in each annual conference a committee on disability concerns or other structure to provide for the functions of this ministry and maintain the connectional relationships.

    1. The basic membership of the committee shall be nominated and elected by the established procedures of the respective annual conference . . . . Membership shall include persons with physical disabilities and persons with mental disabilities.
    2. It shall be the responsibility of this committee:
      a) To be aware of, and advocate for, the role of persons with disabilities in ministry, including ordained and diaconal ministries and local church and annual conference leadership positions.
      b) To advocate for and help develop programs within the annual conference that meet the needs of persons with disabilities.
      c) To be informed about current ministries within the annual conference that are related to persons with disabilities.
      d) To develop ways to sensitize persons in leadership positions on issues that affect persons with disabilities and therefore the entire Church.
      e) To foster cooperation among ministries with the annual conference that focus on specific disabilities (deaf, deafened, hard of hearing, developmental disabilities, mental retardation, mental illness, visual impairment, physical disabilities, etc.)
      f) To be a resource for local churches who are attempting to develop ministries that are attitudinally and architecturally accessible.
      g) To promote the full inclusion of persons with disabilities in the life of the local church and the annual conference.
      h) To participate in jurisdictional accessibility associations in the sharing of knowledge and resources.

¶ 715: Nondiscrimination Policies—
1. It shall be the policy of United Methodist Church that all agencies and institutions . . . . shall: (a) recruit, employ, utilize, recompense, and promote their professional staff and other personnel in a manner consistent with the commitment of The United Methodist Church to women and men of all races and ethnic origins, including persons with disabilities; (b) fulfill their duties and responsibilities in a manner that does not involve segregation or discrimination on the basis of race, color, age, sex, or disability, including HIV status . . . .
2. All agencies and institutions shall, insofar as reasonably possible, schedule and hold all events, including designated places of lodging and meals for the events, in accessible settings that adequately accommodate persons with disabilities. They are encouraged to include persons with disabilities in the planning and presentation of events.
If for any reason whatsoever any event is scheduled or held in a facility that does not so conform, all notices of the meeting will include plainly stated advice to that effect, or alternatively may bear a logo consisting of the international symbol for access placed inside a slashed circle. The term event shall be given a broad interpretation and shall include, by way of example, scheduled conferences, seminars, and other meetings to which persons are invited or called to attend as representatives of the Church or its various institutions and agencies.

¶ 1327: General Board of Global Ministries— Health and Relief Unit
3. Health and Welfare Ministries— a) Responsibilities

    (5) To provide programs for annual conferences, districts, and local churches that encourage awareness of the gifts and needs of persons with disabilities and to promote the leadership and employment throughout the connectional system of persons with disabilities.

¶ 1405: General Board of Higher Education and Ministry: Objectives—
4. To ensure that the board's programs and policies address the needs and concerns for ministry with racial and ethnic persons and people with disabilities.
8. To promote and give direction to work among racial and ethnic groups, and people with disabilities for enlistment, training, and placement of persons in the professional Church-related ministries.
25. To provide professional ministerial courses of study for orderly entrance into ordained ministry. In providing these courses of study, consideration shall be given to languages other than English and to persons with disabilities.
27. To provide such services as will create a climate of acceptance and empowerment for women, racial and ethnic persons, and people with disabilities in higher education and professional Church-related ministries, and to be alert to the necessity of advocacy in behalf of these professional ministries in questions of equity and justice.

¶ 1410: Division of Higher Education:
4. Principle objectives of the division are:
f) To foster within educational institutions the highest educational standards, effective programs of Church relationships, the soundest business practices, the finest ethical and moral principles, and especially Christian ideals: to help people experience release from enslavement, fear, and violence; to help people live in love; and to raise awareness of and sensitivity to persons with special needs.

¶ 1412: 3. Division of Higher Education:
The division shall, as it seeks to interpret higher education:
a) Promote the Church's mission in higher education, including the special missions and education ministries to ethnic groups, people with disabilities, and other peoples disadvantaged by world conditions.

¶ 1421: Duties and Responsibilities of the Division of Ordained Ministry
4. Support/Accountability
g) Give attention to the specific needs of clergy with disabilities.

¶ 1703: General Commission on Archives and History
4. The commission shall promote collection and dissemination of information and materials concerning the historic witness made individually and collectively by women, racial and ethnic people, and other constituencies not covered extensively in traditional historical documentation . . .

¶ 2518: District Board of Church Location
There shall be in each district of an annual conference a district board of church location and building. The board shall consist of the district superintendent and a minimum of six and maximum of nine additional persons. . . . It is recommended that the membership include one-third clergy, one-third laymen, and one-third laywomen, and where possible, should be inclusive of gender, race, age, and persons with disabilities.

¶ 2520: Standards for the Approval of Building Proposals
1. The board shall review the plans of any church in the district which proposes to construct or purchase a new church or educational building or parsonage, or remodeling of such a building if the cost will exceed 25 percent of the value of the building. . . . Where readily achievable and financially feasible, renovation plans shall provide for equal access to persons with disabilities.

¶ 2532: (Local Church) Board of Trustees' Powers and Limitations—
6. The board of trustees, in cooperation with the health and welfare ministries representative, shall conduct or cause to be conducted an annual accessibility audit of their buildings, grounds, and facilities to discover and identify what physical, architectural, and communication barriers exist that impede the full participation of persons with disabilities and shall make plans and determine priorities of the elimination of all such barriers. The Accessibility Audit for churches shall be used in filling out the annual church and/or charge conference reports.

¶ 2543: Planning and Financing Requirements for Local Church Buildings—
If any local church desires to

    a) build a new church, a new educational building, or a new parsonage;
    b) purchase a church, educational building, or parsonage; or
    c) remodel an existing church, an existing educational building or an existing parsonage where the cost of the remodeling will exceed 25% of the value of the existing structure or require mortgage financing, then the local church shall first establish a study committee to:
      (1) analyze the needs of the church and community; . . .
      (4) develop an accessibility plan including chancel areas.

    3. [Requires notice of approval meeting]
      b) . . . In the case of the purchase of a parsonage, the board of trustees shall either:
        (1) purchase a parsonage that has on the ground-floor level:
          (a) one room that can be used as a bedroom by a person with a disability;
          (b) one fully accessible bathroom; and
          (c) fully accessible laundry facilities; or

        (2) purchase a parsonage without the accessible features for persons with disabilities specified above and remodel it within one year's time, so that it does have those features.

    4. The building committee shall:
      c) develop preliminary architectural plans that:
        (1) comply with local building, fire, and accessibility codes;
        (3) provide adequate facilities for parking, entrance, seating, rest rooms, and accessibility for persons with disabilities, but providing for such adequate facilities shall not apply in the case of a minor remodeling project;

      (d) provide on the ground-floor level of a newly constructed parsonage:
        (1) one room that can be used as a bedroom by a persons with a disability;
        (2) a fully accessible bathroom; and
        (3) fully accessible laundry facilities.
    5. The building committee shall submit to the district board of church location and building for its consideration and preliminary approval:

      b)the preliminary architectural plans, including accessibility plans;

    From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church—2008. Copyright ©2008 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.