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Removing Barriers, Building Friendships, Developing Leaders: The Access Leadership Network

June 27, 2024
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The Rev. Kathy Ayres
Director, Access Leadership Network of the Next Generation Leadership Initiative

By Deacon Kathy Ayres

One of every three houses in a neighborhood is impacted by someone with a disability. If we want to reach our neighbors with the gospel of Jesus Christ, we need to be prepared to minister with people with disabilities. Fifty percent of adults over 65 years old experience one or more impairments. One in seven children receive special education services. Every Anglican church has members or visitors impacted by disabilities. Access Leadership Network (AcLN) wants to help you remove barriers, build friendships, and develop leaders to become a church where people with and without disabilities worship, grow, and serve together.

In mid-2020, several people individually approached the Rev. Dr. Jessica Jones about ministries in the ACNA related to those impacted by disabilities. Jessica gathered this core group of leaders to prayerfully enter a discernment process to see how God would guide them to better integrate individuals and families impacted by disabilities into the Church. Deacon Kathy Ayres who is part of Servants of Christ in Gainesville, Florida, was selected to lead this team.

AcLN connects people and shares resources to support the church’s ministry with and by people with disabilities and is part of the Next Generation Leadership Initiative. As churches become accustomed to incorporating people with disabilities in meaningful ways, building authentic relationships, as well as growing spiritually and serving together, this paradigm will become the “typical” church of the next generation to the glory of God and building of his body. A healthy, functioning, interdependent body of Christ with each member valued. When we consider the next generation of leaders, we want to make sure we do not overlook those with disabilities as capable effective leaders in the church and the world.

“[Jesus] came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”

Ephesians 2:17-22

AcLN has appreciated the research of Dr. Erik Carter which points to a growing recognition that “the language of inclusion does not fully capture the depth of connection and mutuality people with disabilities desire.” Belonging is a human need sought by those who engage with a community of people. Churches and individuals may want to welcome those affected by disabilities, but sometimes find it difficult to navigate the challenges which arise. Access Leadership Network has people and resources to come alongside ACNA churches seeking to build communities of belonging among people with and without disabilities. AcLN likes to schedule a virtual meeting with individuals/churches who contact them to better understand the specific context and needs. Please reach out to Kathy Ayres for more information.

AcLN hosts a monthly Virtual Gathering focused on various topics related to disability ministries to better equip lay and clergy leaders to serve in their church. Once or twice a year, AcLN collaborates with other NGLI networks to host panels of stakeholders sharing personal insights and addressing relevant topics. Stakeholders include disabled people as well as caregivers. At this year’s Provincial Assembly, AcLN presented a breakout session entitled: Building Communities of Belonging to Welcome Different Voices and Abilities. Other recorded presentations and workshops can be found at our website and can be used for developing your church’s ministry.

You are not alone! It is a blessing to build a network of people, often working in isolation, serving the individuals and families in their church. Let us link arms and work together!