Challenges of Interfaith Dialogue in Disability Ministries

By Rev. Betty McManus
Ministry Consultant
Bethesda Lutheran Communities

Bethesda Lutheran Communities supports people of a variety of faith backgrounds. Honoring each person as an individual child of God requires the openness of ensuring religious choice is honored. Interestingly, in a state-wide census of all the group homes throughout Wisconsin, it was discovered 30% of the people Bethesda supports have a Catholic faith background – yet Bethesda was only in partnership with three Catholic churches.

To meet its goal of honoring religious choice, Bethesda actively engaged in the creation of an ecumenical partnership with Works of Mercy, a Catholic disability ministry led by the Capuchin Order.

Often the biggest challenge in creating ministry partnerships between denominations is moving beyond the differences in theology. Yet ministry partnerships are absolutely necessary if we are to successfully provide the spiritual support needs of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

I believe partnerships can easily be created if we recognize that we are all one in the Body of Christ regardless of our denominational labels.

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6 NRSV)

All Christians are called to do God’s work and we are all given different gifts with which to do that work. Honoring each other’s gifts and respecting theological differences while remaining solid in our own faith opens doors for ministry partnerships that can cross Christian, and even non-Christian, denominational lines.

As Rev. Chuck Werth, VP of Religious Life for Bethesda Lutheran Communities, so eloquently states in his position paper, Our Lutheran Self-Understanding

“No single denomination is the sole repository of all revealed truth.”

While we all have different gifts to bring to the work, we have also been given the gift of oneness as a human family. Paul uses the concept of the human body to project the image of the Body of Christ and says, “If one member suffers, all suffer with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” (1 Cor. 12:26, NRSV)

This oneness cuts across our differences and encourages us to respect religious and cultural differences rather than oppose them. If one suffers, we all suffer; if one is honored, we are all honored. It leads us to the story of the Good Samaritan that teaches us that our neighbor could be anyone – anywhere – from any cultural or religious faith background. We are asked to love our neighbor as ourselves… and everyone is our neighbor according to Christ.

With that understanding, ministry partnerships become more than possible – they become blessings to everyone involved.

We can then, as Rev. Werth indicates in his position paper, work alongside each other with love and respect. We also must love and respect the people we support; honoring their religious choices is paramount to that love and respect. That means engaging in ministry partnerships with other denominations to provide spiritual support.

The saying “One for all, all for one” is a slogan attributed to the Three Musketeers. Yet it could be a mantra for Christians from all denominational backgrounds. And if embraced, imagine what all could be done!

11 Responses

  1. Agree! We have way more in common as Christ-followers than we have differences.

  2. Thanks for this reminder of our oneness in Christ and the opportunities for ministry partnerships as we love and support those who need our care.

  3. “No single denomination is the sole repository of all revealed truth.”

    How true~! Growing up in a community w/many different churches I quickly learned that EACH one thought it the ONLY real Christian church.

    In my tiny head I thought the thoughts of Rev. Werth’s words but when I voiced that thinking I was told I was wrong….by ALL the churches.<:)

    Thank you, Rev. McManus for writing this and Rev. Werth for saying it.

    So pleased to know of your work with my some of my favorite people,
    Rev. Betty.


  4. “We are all one in the body of Christ regardless of our denominational labels.” BEAUTIFUL! Thank you Rev. Betty for your warm insight in the way things should be in Christ.

  5. Wonderfully written and expressed, succinct and to the very core!

  6. I want to thank everyone who read and commented on my reflection in this posted blog. I am touched and uplifted to see so many agree we are all God’s children who want to live by the creed to love one another while embracing our uniqueness and many different gifts.

    My prayer is that we keep this dialogue going and keep this spirit alive in our hearts as we interact with people every day.

    God’s peace to you all!

    Pastor Betty

  7. Thanks, Pastor Betty! I’m so proud of Bethesda Lutheran Communities for stepping out of its comfort zone to best serve spiritual needs. There are three things to remember: mission, mission, mission.

  8. Thank you for the words that feel so right. God help us to live them.

  9. Amen Betty!! Keep up the great work! Thanks for sharing

  10. Thanks for your work Betty, uniting all people in Christ.

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