Archive for the ‘spirituality and health’ Category

Faith and disabilitiesI’m working on a story right now about a Columbia woman’s journey to find a church home that loves and accepts her as a single mother of two children, one of whom has autism. Her journey has been long and full of heartache, but she has found a congregation that is willing to learn how best to support children and adults with special needs.

Through open communication with her pastors and a willingness to educate her church members about autism, she has found the supportive faith community that she had long been seeking.

  • Are there any readers out there who have faced similar struggles in finding a faith community that supports their family’s special needs?
  • Are there any parents with disabled children who have avoided visiting a church, temple or synagogue for fear they would be misunderstood or even turned away?
  • Is it such an effort for some parents to get their disabled children up and ready in time for church that they have given up due to lack of energy? Or lack of adequate transportation?

If you have asked yourself any of these or similar questions (or know someone who has), I’d love to hear your (or their) story.

I would love to know what, if anything, is keeping families with disabled children from attending worship services and other events in their faith communities.

If you have a story to share, please email me at cesf3f@mail.missouri.edu.

—Courtney Shove

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This weekend saw the proclamation of five new Catholic saints, the latest additions to a long, rich tradition of Catholics who have exemplified faith and loving service or have been martyred for their faith. Pope Benedict XVI celebrated a special Mass commemorating their canonizations today in Rome, calling the new saints “shining examples” of Christian love (as per Catholic News Service’s coverage) and saying they had given of themselves “without calculation of personal gain” (as per the AP’s coverage).

Perhaps the most colorful of these stories belongs to St. Damien de Veuster, a Belgian-born 19th-century priest who ministered to and advocated for Hansen’s disease (leprosy) patients in Kalaupapa, a lepers’ colony on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. Ultimately, he was fatally stricken by the disease himself in the course of his ministry, dying on Molokai at age 49 in 1889. According to the Catholic News Service story, Father Damien, as he is popularly known in Hawaii and elsewhere, has frequently been seen as an intercessor — that is, someone whom Catholics ask to pray for them — for leprosy, as well as HIV and AIDS. The miracle that was used to certify his canonization as a saint was that of a Hawaiian cancer patient who prayed for Damien’s intercession and was cured of her cancer. (A previous miracle, the spontaneous recovery of a sick nun in 1895, was used to certify his 1995 beatification, the Church process by which he was declared a blessed individual and given the title by which he was known before today, Blessed Damien.)

As I see it, the true color in St. Damien’s fascinating story comes from his association with Hawaii. Damien is a cherished figure for Hawaiian Catholics. It is particularly remarkable to read about his lasting impact on Kalaupapa, which is still up and running (although the 25 elderly Hansen’s disease patients living there these days do so by choice under the terms of an agreement with the state of Hawaii, not by forced quarantine). Catholic News Service ran a touching story last month about a woman whose father had been a patient at Kalaupapa late in Father Damien’s tenure there. In a post called “The ultimate honor for a priest who never sought them,” Catholic News Service’s blog has gathered past stories about Father Damien’s impact and the process leading up to his canonization. Examiner.com writer Sandi Yara has a series of stories on Kalaupapa and Father Damien on her Honolulu Affordable Travel Examiner landing page. And Ka Wai Ola, the magazine of Hawaii’s Office of Hawaiian Affairs, has a cover story on Father Damien in its October 2009 issue, lauding him as the “Patron Saint of Native Hawaiians” (which OHA serves).

Today’s other canonizations included St. Jeanne Jugan, a 19th-century French nun and the founder of international religious order Little Sisters of the Poor; St. Zygmunt Felinski, a 19th-century Polish priest who worked among poor farmers in Poland and Ukraine and is seen as an intercessor for the persecuted; St. Francisco Coll Guitart, a 19th-century Spanish priest who founded a religious order called Congregation of the Dominican Sisters of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary; and St. Rafael Arniz Baron, a Spanish Trappist monk who left an affluent lifestyle and studies in architecture to enter the priesthood in the 1930s.

Want to know more about saints? The Missourian ran a Belief in Brief feature a few years ago defining saints and explaining the path to sainthood in honor of All Saints Day, celebrated on Nov. 1.

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Members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, held two sidewalk news conferences Wednesday, one outside of the Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City and the other in front of Columbia’s downtown police station.

After several alleged church sex-abuse cases have come to light in Missouri recently, SNAP hand-delivered a letter to Bishop John Gaydos of Jefferson City Wednesday. The letter urged the diocese to alert its parishioners to the Rev. Gerald Howard and the Rev. Kenneth Roberts, both of whom have ties to mid-Missouri.

As previously reported in the Missourian, Dr. Mark McAllister of Roanoke, Va., formerly of Boonville, released information about the sexual abuse he said he suffered under the Rev. Gerald Howard in Boonville in the 1980s. McAllister received a $600,000 settlement from the Newark, N.J., Archdiocese, the Jefferson City Diocese and Servants of the Paraclete.

During Wednesday’s news conference, SNAP announced new information about Howard. The network said it had received information from former patients and staff of the now-closed Charter Hospital, where Howard was a youth counselor after leaving Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Boonville.

According to a network news release, SNAP has a letter from one of Howard’s former co-workers, who is now a Columbia police officer, confirming Howard’s employment at the hospital.

SNAP’s letter to the bishop says that Roberts is “a convicted predator from Dallas who is accused of molesting children in Texas, St. Louis and southern Illinois.” Roberts lived in the Jefferson City diocese and retired to Osage Beach, according to a network news release.

According to The Quad-City Times (Iowa), Roberts was ordained as a priest in the 1960s in Dallas and is the author of the book “From Playboy to Priest.” Roberts kept an apartment in St. Louis County while traveling the country promoting his book and lecturing.

A recent lawsuit filed by Christopher Amenn of O’Fallon, Ill., against Roberts was recently dismissed by the Illinois Supreme Court due to a statute of limitations. Amenn alleges that Roberts abused him when Amenn was 13, during a private meeting. At the time, Roberts was a guest speaker at Amenn’s school.

The network says it has a copy of two key documents—a letter from Roberts to the bishop indicating that Roberts is living at Osage Beach, and an “intake form” for pedophile priest cases that is filled out by hand by a church official. The form lists Roberts’ address in Osage Beach.

Members of SNAP are concerned that others may have been abused by Howard and Roberts and urges any victims to call their local law enforcement office.

Food for thought:

Since SNAP’s mid-Missouri chapter was created in May 2009, at least seven victims have come forward about church sex abuse.

Do Missouri victims feel more comfortable coming forth about their abuse now that SNAP has a mid-Missouri chapter?

Whom did victims go to for support before SNAP was around?

Are there any Missouri counselors or support groups out there that can speak to their experience with sex-abuse victims?

And have they seen an increase in reports of sex-abuse cases since SNAP’s mid-Missouri chapter was founded?

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If you drove down Green Meadows Road on Saturday night, you might have seen a small circle of people standing on the lawn of the serenely lit Rock Bridge Christian Church, holding candles whose flames danced in the breeze of the unseasonably cool evening. If you stood on that lawn with them, you might have seen a few cars drive by with their windows rolled down, and you certainly would have heard the drivers of those cars honk their horns and shout their disagreement with the signs a few people in that circle held: “Health care is a Moral Issue,” “Love Your Neighbor: Health care for All,” “No Patient Left Behind.”

As a congregation, Rock Bridge stands firmly in support of health care reform. The small, progressive congregation, which also publicly opposes the Iraq war, registered their candlelight vigil with Faithful Reform in Health Care, an organization dedicated to building a coalition of faith communities that support health care reform. Faithful Reform urged faith groups in favor of health care reform to hold some kind of visible event this weekend, the last weekend of the congressional recess. I learned about the event from a letter its organizers, the Rev. Maureen Dickmann and moderator Roger Carter, sent to the Missourian last week.

The group that gathered at Rock Bridge was small — no more than a dozen. The event was short — no more than half an hour. It was grounded in their Christian faith — they prayed, read letters and testimonials, sang hymns and songs with the words “health care” cleverly inserted. For example, the refrain of John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance” was altered to say, “All we are saying is health reform now.” They also offered each other a sign of peace at the end of the gathering. It was peaceful, apart from some shouts from passing drivers.

The passion these people showed for health-care reform and that passion’s deep roots in their faith was particularly striking to me. After the vigil, I spoke briefly with the woman who held the “Health care is a Moral Issue” sign, and she said: “We stand together as a church in this belief that caring for each other is our moral obligation … We felt so strongly about this that we needed to make a statement. More people should speak out. So many people feel for others’ misfortune but don’t speak or do anything.”

She also told me Saturday’s event was particularly timely, given the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy, a staunch universal health care advocate, whom she called “our leader,” saying, “Because we have lost him, who was such a marvelous speaker, we all need to step up and speak for him and speak for everyone.”

Later, I sat down with Dickmann and Carter in the church’s worship space. Both tied the need for health care reform to Biblical teachings about caring for the less fortunate, both in the New Testament (“Jesus told us to care for all of God’s children, ‘the least of these'”) and in the Old Testament (“It was about taking care of the widow, the orphan, the stranger, the alien”). Carter, a Social Security disability lawyer, spoke from his experiences with clients desperate to secure adequate health care, and Dickmann told of the “vitriolic,” fear-based anti-reform rhetoric she said she encountered while attending Sen. Claire McCaskill’s town hall meeting in Moberly. Both were passionate about providing health care for all Americans and said they believed the church was morally compelled to make a visible statement to that effect. The conversation — and it felt like just that, a conversation, rather than an interview — was interesting, and I didn’t want it to end.

I attended the event as a starting point for a longer story on Columbia faith communities’ role in the health-care debate, and I am particularly interested in these communities’ faith-based justification for supporting or opposing health-care reform. When I asked Dickmann and Carter what they might say to faith groups that oppose reform, Dickmann appeared taken aback.

“I’d really like to know what kind of argument there would be for being against health care reform based on faith,” she said.

However, I know the arguments are out there, on both sides; as I report this story, I am searching for communities that have spoken on both sides.

So I enlist your help again, dear readers. Has your faith community taken a stance on health-care reform? What stance does your church take, if it has one? Why does your church hold that position? (In the event that this provokes discussion and debate in our comments section, as I sincerely hope it will, I ask that you stay on topic and be respectful.)

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I’ve been thinking of writing about Columbia’s First Church of Christ, Scientist for a while now; I’ve visited the church twice this summer and have spoken with members of the congregation about upcoming events. But I’d rather do something less newsy, and more thematic.

What would people reading this blog and/or the Missourian like to see for coverage in this area?

I was thinking of looking into some of the stereotypes associated with the faith (mainly, a dissociation with anything medical) and getting a view from congregants of the validity of these views. Would this interest any readers?

Thanks for your help!


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When you think of a pastor, a gentle grandfatherly figure might pop into your mind. On the surface, this is Pastor John Yonker. But on the bike, he is anything but gentle.

This morning, I accompanied Yonker, pastor at First Christian Church in Columbia, for the first few miles of his ride. When I say morning, I mean REALLY morning. As in 6:30 am. When I told Yonker that I wasn’t used to feeling the cooler, pleasant temperatures of this hour because I am usually sleeping, he simply laughed.

Yonker is training to ride from Columbia to Indianapolis, Indiana, for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) General Assembly in July. One might think that this 380 mile ride would require more endurance and less speed, but this did not stop Yonker from putting the pedal to the metal on this particular morning ride, when we were traveling between 15-20 mph. And when I say we, I mean Yonker was riding at those speeds a few hundred feet in front of me.

At first, I thought Yonker’s only goal for his ride was to raise money in pledges to give to the church’s annual offering for Reconciliation, a mission that focuses on raising awareness in regards to racism. Now I know that above all he is quite the athlete, ready to tackle a physical feat that will give him personal joy and satisfaction as well. It is simply unfortunate that my vintage Schwinn and I had to be put to shame in order to see that Yonker is more than just a kind-hearted pastor.

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It seems that it’s easy to find news stories about people who feel persecuted for practicing the religion of their choice.

The latest might be a Minnesota woman who has put her religious practices in the spotlight by refusing medical treatment for her teenage son, who has cancer. The story has been in the headlines for days as authorities search for the pair.

A USA Today story recently examined the tension between states trying to protect children and the parents who seek religious freedoms. It’s clear that we’ll be hearing more about this tension that exists in our country.

How do you think courts and state officials should handle these type of situations? Should parents be allowed to make health decisions based on their faith?

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