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‘All stand’: Synod motion aims to remove barriers to the inclusion of disabled people

28 June 2022

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RUBRICS in liturgy such as “All stand” and “All kneel” may be permanently removed as part of a move to make the Church more inclusive of disabled people.

This is one of the proposals being brought to the General Synod, meeting in York from 8 to 12 July, in a motion from Canon Timothy Goode from Southwark diocese. The motion, due to be debated on the Monday 11 July, asks the Synod to “commit to working towards the removal of all remaining barriers to full participation for disabled people in the life and ministry of the Church”.

This includes a series of requests: to the Faith and Order Commission and Liturgical Commission to make liturgies more inclusive to disabled people, for example, by removing rubrics such as “All stand”; to the Research and Statistics team to gather and analyse new and existing data on disabled people among the clergy and laity; to the Archbishops’ Council to amend legislation and require every diocesan advisory committee (DAC) to include at least one suitably experienced disabled person in its membership; and to dioceses to employ a full-time disability adviser.

The motion, from the Disability Task Group (part of the Committee for Ministry among Deaf and Disabled People), is described as an invitation to begin the long work of fully welcoming disabled people in church, rather than an “exhaustive strategy” — because “articulating a vision is not enough”.

A paper accompanying the motion explains that “disabled people” is the preferred identity-first language in the UK, because people with physical or other impairments “are disabled by barriers which discriminate against them”.

It says: “Action on disability is not just about meeting the needs of a minority (although that matters) but about acknowledging and celebrating our common humanity and ensuring that our life together does not perpetuate a misleading account of being made in the image and likeness of God.”

First steps listed in the paper include omitting or changing rubrics in liturgy (even if they are currently being verbally omitted, altered, or caveated by the priest), because “whilst the rubrics remain in place, an impression is given that those who cannot follow them are not participating fully. That is not an impression that the Church actively intends to give.” This proposal had the provisional approval of the Liturgical Commission and would not require vast resources to implement.

On gathering data, the paper says: “It is a sad fact today that if you are not counted, you are often not acknowledged or missed. Moreover, it is important to be able to measure change if resources are to be deployed effectively — a matter of accountability and stewardship — and a base line must be established first.”

This was difficult, because people did not have the confidence to disclose a disability for fear of discrimination, it explains. Triennium Funding already earmarked for work on inclusion and diversity would be used to resource this data collection.

Decisions about accessibility when changes are being made to historic church buildings should not be left to DACs whose members do not include a disabled person whose views can be represented, the paper continues. “Disabled people’s concerns should cease to be a ‘category’, discussed only when others have noticed the need, and that questions of access and participation become, potentially, part of every discussion.”

Furthermore, it suggests that “strengthening the network of Diocesan Disability Advisers is likely to be more effective in achieving grass-roots change than reappointing a national adviser” — but this needed a collective approach to avoid the issues that came to the fore over the funding of diocesan racial-justice officers (News, 16 June 2021).

Finally, the paper concludes that, theologically: “The culmination of our salvation is realised in the figure of a human being, profoundly disabled by the actions of others, hung on a cross, unable to move, barely able to speak, denied of both physical and mental agency. That image is central to our understanding of the Incarnate God. . .

“So, this debate and motion are about an approach to being the Body of Christ which reveals the nature we all share and helps all to witness to the incarnate, constrained, liberated, and disabled, God-in-Christ in the world.”

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