Those with Disabilities at GC79: Dispirited, then Motivated

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By KC Robertson
Diocese of Los Angeles

Truth be told, the moment I will remember most vividly from GC79 will be when I went into the revival service as a beloved member of the Episcopal family, only to exit as a dispirited outcast.

I went with friends, snapping videos and craning my neck in every direction to take in the incredible site. It was euphoric. But that euphoria quickly turned into dispiritedness due to the lack of accessibility provided for my type of hearing loss. The leaflet was inadequate. The short video had no closed captioning. Eventually, I had to move to the middle of an aisle, turn off my hearing aids and depend solely on reading the lips of our ASL interpreters in order to participate in the revival.

Somewhere in the midst of this, tears began to well up in my eyes. My joy started to dwindle. I was isolated.

I like to believe that those of us with disabilities are the original participants in the Jesus Movement. We help to make up the very tapestry Christ wove together with his message of what it means to be beloved and accepted, with no exceptions. We are the original recipients of Christ’s radical welcome.

And yet, our time at General Convention has put salt into our wound. This is our reality: The Episcopal Church is still failing to provide a radical welcome for some, including those of us who are deaf and/or with disabilities, those of us with alternative capabilities. We “are not on the receiving end of that radical hospitality,” as Karma Quick-Panwala, deputy of the Diocese of California, testified.

My time here has been marked by innumerable moments of joy in witnessing the Body of Christ coming together for adorations, discernment and friendship. The abundant, tactile life of the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement is everywhere. And yet, isolation and inaccessibility have also marked my time here, and the time of many of my friends—an isolation that is very preventable.revival_web_portrait.jpg

Ironically, I give thanks for that isolation.

I give thanks for the frustrations and tears several of us have grappled with, because it has made us more motivated to address the “all” in “we welcome all people” – more motivated to continue the slow and steady process of advocacy.

I give thanks for those tears of exclusion running down my cheeks at the revival, because that was the “aha moment” that spurred a dear friend of mine to introduce me to fellow advocates.

And I give thanks for being made a dispirited outcast, because I have witnessed the gathering of some remarkable people, both with disabilities and deaf, who have banded together to say we’ve had enough of feeling dispirited.

We are motivated to further the opportunities, information, resources and theological foundations needed to allow deaf people and/or those with disabilities to not just simply survive in the Church, but to thrive in forwarding the Jesus Movement. We are motivated to work to correct our Church’s lack of radical welcome for those with disabilities or hearing loss, so that we might continue to be the very tapestry of the Jesus Movement. As such, we can convey the message of what it means to be beloved, accepted, active members of the beautiful Body of Christ.

KC Robertson has been the proud owner of hearing aids since she was a kiddo. She is a postulant of the Diocese of Los Angeles and a seminarian at Virginia Theological Seminary.

From Center Aisle’s archives: God of Life, See Our Prayer: Deaf Episcopalians Demand Real Inclusion by Gail Goldsmith

Photo credits: Crystal Hardin (Robertson headshot), Celal Kamran (revival)

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