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“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” — Matthew 20:16

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Susan Stack
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2008 Nancy Jennings Award

Presbyterians for Disability Concerns (PDC)

The Nancy Jennings Award honors a person, congregation or PC(USA) entity that affirms, supports and advocates for the gifts, rights and responsibilities of persons with disabilities in the total life of the church.

Presbyterians for Disability Concerns (PDC) is pleased to announce that its 2008 award recipient is Webster Presbyterian Church in Webster, New York.

The Webster Presbyterian Church lives out what PDC advocates regarding the full inclusion of people with disabilities in the total life of the congregation. There is no specialized “program” or “ministry” to or for those who have disabilities. Rather, the church recognizes the gifts and talents of their members with disabilities just as they would any member. People with disabilities are valued members of the congregation sharing their gifts in ways such as serving in the church’s leadership and committee work, teaching Sunday School and serving as a liturgist and serving on the presbytery’s committee on representation. Members who have a disability are also invited to share from their expertise and experience in shaping the congregations response to issues which affect their participation, such as leading an accessibility audit and evaluating options for a ramp for chancel access.

Persons with disabilities are not “under the radar” at Webster Presbyterian. If the church becomes aware that a person with a disability will be visiting their church, they will give them directions to the accessible entrance and meet them in the parking lot to accompany them inside and to direct them to the accessible bathroom and chair lift. At Webster, folding chairs are used for worship, which makes it easy for the individual to sit with their family members in the location they desire. Others are quick to rearrange the seating so the individual with the disability is not restricted to sitting on the fringes of the congregation. Carolyn Bartlow, a parishioner who has a disability, commented that she was given a key to the chair lift the second time she visited the church! This tangible gesture (and others) gave her an immediate sense of welcome and embrace that was a true godsend after a long and despairing search for a church home.

It is common that Webster parishioners will support individuals with disabilities during the week by taking them to doctor appointments, picking up prescriptions and/or groceries and, if they are recovering from surgery, bring meals to the home. A bible study group has also periodically relocated their location to that of the home of the individual with a disability to ensure their ongoing participation. The men’s group has a helping hands program which provides help for people as requested whether it is a home repair, yard maintenance or preparing a home for their frigid upstate New York winters. A site visit was also made to a possible church retreat site to make sure it was fully accessible.

Webster also has a relationship with group homes for those with developmental disabilities as well as a home for adults with mental illness. A warm welcome is extended to all, not just to Sunday services but also for the congregation’s social activities.

PDC would like to lift up The Webster Presbyterian Church as a model of respectful engagement with and inclusion of persons with disabilities in the full life of their congregation.