A conference exploring the intersection of faith and disability held in Niagara Falls, Ont., brought together 250 people to explore ability, belonging, and community. “Life to the Full” was presented by Disability Concerns, a ministry of the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America, and Christian Horizons, a Canadian organization serving persons with exceptional needs.

The conference included workshops, keynote address, a concert, and an inclusive worship service that tied together all that had been learned and experienced.

“There were powerful times of connection and sharing, and communion together on the final day was a true expression of our unity as the body of Christ regardless of the countless traditions and denominations represented there,” said Keith Dow, manager of organizational and spiritual life at Christian Horizons.

Paulina Bouwman, a member of Jubilee Fellowship CRC in St. Catharines, Ont, who uses a wheelchair for mobility, was one of the attendees who looked forward to a time of reconnection that she first experienced 20 years earlier at “At the King’s Table,” a conference that partially inspired “Life to the Full.” At the conference she said she felt normal. “Most congregations have a few members with a visible disability. At [the conference], I was in the majority,” she said. She also enjoyed the “chance to see my buddies again—the person who drove me [to the conference] saw that I got probably 10 hugs in 10 minutes.”

Beth VanStaalduinen, a member of Providence CRC in Beamsville, Ont., attended with two other members of her church who recently formed a disabilities team. She said, “I’m really glad that I decided to go because I feel like I have a lot to bring back and share. We have some ideas for starting points and some great tools and resources to help us.” 

Both Christian Horizons and Disability Concerns typically put on their own smaller conferences each year as learning opportunities for their advocates and ministry partners. Partnering for a larger conference helped reach more people. “One of the things that’s a real challenge for people involved in disability advocacy is that their work can feel kind of lonely,” said Rev. Mark Stephenson, director of Disability Concerns. “When they can get together with all these other folks, that networking component is the most important of all.”

About the Author

Alissa Vernon is the Banner’s regional news correspondent for classis Niagara.