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November 6 @ 10:00 am - 3:30 pm

Accessible to All? A Faithful Response to Disabilities

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Accessible to All? A Faithful Response to Disabilities

A Virtual Conference

While persons of diverse abilities and their families live throughout our communities, the church has been challenged to move beyond accommodation to full inclusion.  Imagine how the well-being of everyone in the church would be strengthened by being fully welcoming of persons of all abilities, reflecting the kingdom of God. Working together congregations and healthcare professionals can collaborate in responding faithfully to the challenge of disabilities, considering what can be done together that neither can do alone. This fourth biennial faith and health symposium is provided by North Park Theological Seminary and North Park University School of Nursing and Health Sciences as education for healthcare and ministry professionals in service to the church. The Good Shepherd Initiative is a sponsor.



  • Describe a faithful understanding of being accessible to all for clergy, health professionals and ministry leaders
  • Discuss the church’s unique challenges and opportunities in engaging those with disabilities
  • Discuss the church’s role in supporting and using the gifts of individuals and families living with disabilities
  • Engage in interdisciplinary dialogue identifying possibilities and partners for inclusive faith communities

Target Audience

  • Clergy
  • Clinicians (nurses, faith community nurses, physicians, counselors, social workers, wellness coaches, other health professionals)
  • Church & Community Leaders

Conference Details

10:00–10:05 Greetings and prayer

10:05–11:05 Keynote Address, Ways We Witness: Disability and the Mission of the Church, Ben Conner, PhD

11:05–11:20 Q & A

11:20–11:25 Break

11:25–12:00 Plenary Session, Disability, Intersectionality and You, Angel Love Miles, PhD

12:00–12:10 Response to Dr. Miles, Mike Walker ThD

12:10–12:25 Q & A with Dr. Miles and Dr. Walker

12:25–1:30 Lunch break with optional discussion groups. See presentations tab for more information.

1:30–2:15 Workshops (will be recorded so participants can go back and watch more later)

  • Faithfully Attending to the Intersections of Disability and Pain, Sarah Jean Barton, ThD, MS, OTR/L, BCP
  • Becoming What We Believe: The Import of the Sacraments for Conversion to an Ecclesiology of Disability, Mike Walker ThD and Jesse Slimak, MDiv
  • Embracing the Differentially Abled in Church Community, Shirley You, MACE
  • We’re All in This Together, Tim Lowly and Rev. Sherrie Lowly
  • Here and Not Here: Ministering in Ambiguous Loss, Kathy Schoonover-Shoffner, PhD, RN

2:15–2:20 Break

2:20–3:05 Plenary Sessio, Sketching the Map to Health: Reframing Health as a Sacred Journey with a Shared Destination, L.S. Carlos Thompson, PhD

3:05–3:20 Q & A

3:20–3:30 Closing Comments


Ways We Witness: Disability and the Mission of the Church, Ben Conner

In this presentation, Dr. Conner explores some of the many ways that Christian witness can be reimagined and enriched by recognizing the contributions of people with disabilities.  How can we dis-able (remove ableist biases) from our understanding of Christian witness and open up pathways for more people all across the ability-disability spectrum to participate in this communal Christian practice?

Plenary Talks

Disability, Intersectionality and You, Angel Love Miles

This talk will give the audience an understanding of the foundational aspects of intersectionality, what it is and why it is such a critical framework to use for conceptualizing identity, difference and inequality in order to best serve people with disabilities.

Sketching the Map to Health: Reframing Health as a Sacred Journey with a Shared Destination, L. S. Carlos Thompson

Within various helping professions, much of our time and energy goes into helping persons who are deemed to be unhealthy become healthy. However, there is little time spent critically examining exactly who is considered a person and precisely what it means to be healthy. Within the contexts of this session, then, a robust and communally grounded definition of personhood will be provided that invites us to consider more sustainable and faithful ways of understanding the end goal of our work—health. We will examine personhood vis-à-vis interdependence and healing as the act of inviting others into the acts of embracing interdependence, friendship, and community.


We’re All in This Together, Tim and Sherrie Lowly

Participants will be invited into honoring life with disabilities both individually and communally. By viewing art works, hearing pieces of written word, questions and dialogue, this will be an experiential workshop.

Embracing the Differentially Abled in Church Community, Shirley You

Have you noticed barriers in the church between those who are differentially abled with the rest of the church community? Is there a way to bridge the gap to reflect the Kingdom of God while meeting the individuals’ special needs? The answer is yes. Come and hear how it has been done at Metro Community Church and brainstorm ideas of how to do so at your church as we continue to beat the heart of God for His WHOLE community.

Faithfully Attending to the Intersections of Disability and Pain, Sarah Jean Barton

From both a faith leader and healthcare provider perspective, this workshop will propose and explore practices of faithfully attending to experiences of pain among people with a wide range of disabilities. We will first survey some of the unique circumstances and challenges of living with pain from a disability perspective. In response, we will investigate practices that can support us in attending more faithfully to those we care for with dual experiences of pain and disability. We will consider clinical, pastoral, and ecclesial contexts for care. Particular emphasis will be given to practices related to narrative and prayer, with a focus on ecumenical Christian engagements of the Stations of the Cross.

Ambiguous Loss, Kathy Schoonover-Shoffner

Ambiguous loss, a term coined by psychologist Pauline Boss in the 1990s, refers to the incomplete, uncertain, and devastating loss experienced by those in close relationship with someone who goes missing. Ambiguous loss is more devastating than permanent loss, such as occurs in the death of a family member, because loss remains unclear and indeterminate. Grief and confusion relentlessly continue related to myriad unknowns and lack of closure when a loved is physically present but psychologically absent (i.e., Alzheimer’s disease, addiction, chronic mental illness, serious brain injury), or physically absent but psychologically present (i.e., immigration, missing soldiers, kidnapping, adoption, sometimes in divorce). This session will explore ambiguous loss, how to support those experiencing it, and identify important concepts for moving toward resilience.

Becoming What We Believe: The Import of the Sacraments for Conversion to an Ecclesiology of Disability, Jesse Slimak and Mike Walker

Conversion to Christianity is not a one-time event; rather, it is a central, ongoing, and multifaceted aspect of the Christian life, involving both individual and corporate repentance (metanoia). Thus, in the hope of creating a church that is accessible to all, this workshop will explore conversion specifically as a movement from believers’ often-unrecognized ableist perspectives towards a biblical, inclusive ecclesiology. It will focus on the central and necessary role of, and experience with, the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion, and a sacramental understanding of Christian life, as facets of the process of conversion.

Lunchtime Discussion Groups

  1. Leaders: Kathryn Porten from the Covenant Ability Network –  We will provide an overview of Covenant Ability Network (CAN) residences, explore where the church is in regards to serving this population’s spiritual needs, and discuss the charisma and mutuality of this ministry. Our focus will be on adults with Intellectual Disabilities, which includes Alzheimer’s, Autism, Down Syndrome, etc.  We expect to share information that will spark interest and curiosity within you and will provide opportunities for follow-up discussions.
  2. Leaders: Debbie Abbs and students from Access InterVarsity – (description coming soon).

Keynote Speaker

Benjamin Conner

Man wearing glasses in grey suit and blue dress shirtBenjamin Conner, PhD, is Professor of Practical Theology and Director of the Center for Disability and Ministry at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, MI. He is also the creator and Director of the Graduate Certificate in Disability and Ministry and the Disability and Ministry D.Min. program, the only two programs of their kind at an ATS accredited institution. He worked in youth ministry for 20 years, several of those ministering to and with young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and currently serves on the Mission-Wide Board of Young Life Capernaum. His writings include Practicing Witness: A Missional Vision of Christian Practices (Eerdmans, 2011), Amplifying Our Witness: Giving Voice to Adolescents with Developmental Disabilities (Eerdmans, 2012), and Disabling Mission, Enabling Witness: Exploring Missiology through the Lens of Disability Studies (IVP Academic, 2018). He is also an occasional horse-leader, side-walker, stall-mucker, and general support for his wife, Melissa, who runs Renew Therapeutic Riding Center.

Plenary Speakers

Angel Love Miles

angel milesAngel received her doctorate in Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland College Park and completed her postdoctoral fellowship in the College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She specializes in intersectional research, and is a published scholar, professional speaker, teacher, and advocate on issues pertaining to identity, social justice, and inequality, especially as they impact women and people of color with disabilities. Her article entitled “Strong Black Women” African American Women with Disabilities, Intersecting Identities, and Inequality was published in the February 2019 Gender & Society special issue: Gender, Disability, and Intersectionality.

L. S. Carlos Thompson

L Carlos ThompsonCarlos was born in the Latin American costal port city of Cartagena, Colombia. After being adopted by a North American family, he was raised in Fargo, North Dakota. Carlos has earned a B.S. in Church Ministry from Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida; an M.A. in Religious Studies from the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida; as well as both an M.Th. in Ministry and Mission (Practical Theology) and a Ph.D. in Divinity, from the University of Aberdeen, King’s College, in Aberdeen, Scotland. He is also serving as the Assistant Professor of Church and Community Theology, the Director of the Friendship House Community, and the Director of the Friendship House Fellows Program at Western Theological Seminary.  Carlos identifies as a Charismatic-reformed Christian who lives with congenital Cerebral Palsy. Thus, the lived experience of disability informs and shapes Carlos’ current research around the faithful development of Christian Communal Theology.

Workshop Presenters

Sarah Jean Barton

Sarah Jean Barton headshotDr. Sarah Jean Barton is Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy and Theological Ethics at Duke University. She completed her masters and doctoral theological education at Duke Divinity School and her clinical training as an occupational therapist at Boston University. Dr. Barton’s research interests include theology and disability, research in collaboration with people experiencing intellectual and developmental disabilities, bioethics, and liturgy. She is a practicing occupational therapist and holds a current board certification in pediatrics. She publishes, presents, and lectures across disciplinary contexts, including Christian ethics and theology, occupational therapy, disability studies, and medicine. Dr. Barton is an active lay leader and preacher in The Episcopal Church.

Sherrie Lowly

Sherrie and Tim LowlyRev. Sherrie Lowly is an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church and a master’s level trained Pastoral Counselor. Sherrie has worked as a family and individual counselor and as a local church Pastor. Newly retired from church ministry in 2020, Sherrie is now focusing on writing, care for her daughter Temma, as well as care for their new house. Sherrie and Tim’s daughter, Temma Day Lowly, now thirty-six years old, lives with severe and multiple disabilities since day #2 of her life when she had a cardiac arrest. Temma has led both Tim and Sherrie more deeply into their vocational work and she remains at the center of their home and life, creating a community of care around her.

Tim Lowly

Sherrie and Tim LowlyArtist, curator, musician and teacher Tim Lowly creates highly lyrical work revolving centrally around his profoundly other daughter Temma (born 1985) – who has cerebral palsy. In Tim’s artworks, Temma’s life is representationally recorded and celebrated. Born in Hendersonville, North Carolina in 1958, Tim spent most of his youth in South Korea, where his father served as a hospital administrator and his mother taught music and puppetry. Tim and his wife Sherrie and daughter Temma live in Chicago. Tim is affiliated with North Park University in Chicago as gallery director, professor, and artist-in-residence.  He is represented by Koplin Del Rio Gallery.

Kathy Schoonover-Shoffner

Kathy SS headshotKathy has worked clinically in oncology, critical care, cardiology, behavioral health, and nursing administration. She has served with Nurses Christian Fellowship USA, a ministry of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA, as editor in chief of the Journal of Christian Nursing since 2004, and as National Director of NCF and its student, professional, and publication ministries since 2016. Kathy’s husband of 38 years, an internal medicine primary care physician, fell off their garage roof October 2018 and suffered a severe traumatic brain injury with diffuse axonal injury. In 2019 she discovered and began researching ambiguous loss as part of her search for personal wholeness in the journey with her best friend who remains here and not here.

Jesse Slimak

jesse slimak headshotRev. Jesse Slimak is ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church and is the pastor of Bethany Covenant Church in DuBois, PA. He also currently serves as adjunct faculty at Northern Pennsylvania Regional College teaching religions and philosophy. Before entering the pastorate, he served as a chaplain at an assisted living program for individuals with traumatic brain injuries and in hospice. Jesse now serves as an on-call chaplain at Penn Highlands Hospital in DuBois, PA. Jesse has been a long serving member of the Covenant’s Disability Resource Committee. He was instrumental in writing the Covenant’s 2016 Resolution on Concern for People with Disabilities. Jesse has an B.A. in psychology (in the liberal arts honors program) from the University of Detroit Mercy, and an MDiv from NorthPark Theological seminary. He has a passion for the empowerment of those with disabilities being agents of ministry.

Mike Walker

mike walker headshotMike Walker is a theologian of disability from Summerside, Prince Edward Island, Canada; he completed a doctorate in theology at the University of Toronto in May 2018, and a postdoctoral fellowship in theology North Park Theological Seminary, through the Louisville Institute, in summer 2020. Mike has numerous church-related publications and presentations to his credit, and is currently searching for other opportunities inside and outside the academy.

Shirley You

Shirley You headshotShirley You is the Pastor of Special Needs at Metro Community Church in Englewood, NJ. Shirley is a certified special education teacher in New Jersey and has taught in the public school system at Bergen County Special Services. She also served as a chaplain at the Arc of Bergen and Passaic Counties for adults affected by disabilities. Shirley’s passion is to serve individuals and families who are differentially abled to thrive in community while connecting them to the larger church community in learning and growing together in relationships. She has developed a core team of leaders as well as a team of volunteers as “buddies” in supporting individuals and families. Shirley is big on education and believes we can all start by growing in knowledge together.

Registration Fees

General: $45; North Park students, faculty, and staff: $25; Church group: $95 (one access code for group viewing)


Refunds are possible through October 31. No refunds will be given after November 1.

Planning Committee

Mary Chase-Ziolek, PhD, RN, Professor of Health Ministries and Nursing, chair

Linda Duncan, DNP, RN, CCRN, Gretchen Carlson Professor

Renee Nicholas, MA, RN, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship

David Kersten, DMin, MDiv, Dean of North Park Theological Seminary

Elizabeth Pierre, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling

Mike Walker, ThD, Our Doors are Open Project

Jesse Slimak, MDiv, Bethany Covenant Church

For more information contact:

Email:  faithandhealthsymposium@northpark.edu

Phone: 773-244-5240


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