by Stephanie Answer
About 12 years ago my husband and I got connected to the CCD philosophy when we attended CCDA’s first Immersion in 2011. We knew, at that moment, we had found our people. It was encouraging to be in a room of folks who were embodying and practicing this philosophy of ministry. I remember feeling like we finally had language to put with what had been inside us for so long. It was energizing to be with others with whom we did not have to explain ourselves. It was helpful to listen and learn from other seasoned practitioners who have informed our ways of being and doing in our neighborhood.
Since then, CCDA Conferences have become family reunions for us. We love time to gather together and learn from each other, to be encouraged and connect with our friends who have become family. As we grew from a newly married couple to a young family with kids, Conference and CCDA has also become a place for our children to grow up in as well. We love to see our kids with other “CCDA babies” and value the relationships they have built over the years and the voices that help shape them.
One part of Conference that we also enjoy are the networking sessions. These sessions give an opportunity to connect with other like-minded CCD practitioners in a few different ways: affinity, region, topic of interest, etc. It’s a great space to make new connections (or deepen existing ones) for support or collaboration. It can also be a think-tank of sorts to help imagine, process, reflect and challenge you in an area you have been thinking about or that is of interest to you.
Last year at Conference in Charlotte, we hosted a networking session around Neurodivergence and CCD. This topic was of interest to us as our son, (6 years old), is neurodiverse. He is autistic and non-speaking. He uses an AAC (augmentative and alternative communication, in his case, an ipad with speech app) to communicate. As we have journeyed as CCD practitioners, this intersection of disability and CCD as well as neurodivergence and CCD has been a new space for us to navigate as a family. Sometimes the ways in which we live and engage in our community have been challenging due to our son’s needs. It is not always practical or in his best interest to attend and engage in all the things we may want to as a family. Not a lot of places and spaces are set up to receive him in a way to support his needs while allowing him to show up as his full self and engage in a way he wants. The world is not structured for the disabled or the neurodiverse in most cases, it seems.
However, we see how God has used our son to shape the very spaces of community and church we helped create. We began a neighborhood church right before we found out I was pregnant with our son. So, our church grew right alongside him. As he grew, we adjusted how we showed up and structured our worship gatherings. This basically resulted in throwing all the “rules” and expectations of church out the window and creating a space where our son, and others who would join later, would be safe, be loved, and be able to be an active participant in church and community, offering their gifts to bless others. I really feel our son has directly helped shape the culture of our church to be one that is authentic and where you can truly come as you are.
The intersection of neurodiversity and disability while practicing CCD feels somewhat complex and nuanced. We were interested in finding out if there were other families or individuals who might be navigating a similar path. At the same time, we are also trying to grow in our own understanding and advocacy for disability justice. We were interested in convening some like-minded people to think about how CCDA is, and could, engage in the work of disability justice. We also wanted to think about how individuals who are neurodiverse or disabled may experience the Conference itself. Could there be ways that CCDA and Conference can be a more inclusive space for our neurodiverse and disabled siblings? Who else is doing this work that we can learn from? Who are the voices from this community that can give leadership and direction to our association? So, we hosted a networking session last year and met with a small group of people who were also interested in exploring these things. We all acknowledged that this was a beginning exploration of this topic but everyone was happy that CCDA was thinking about this. Our networking session came up with a few ideas that we shared back with CCDA leadership and we look forward to continuing to grow in this area.
A few ideas mentioned from our networking session were:
- Workshop or main session on disability justice – intro level to help understand the landscape of disability justice.
- Workshop on advocacy for disability justice i.e. ways to engage, move toward solidarity and practicing allyship.
- Invite neurodiverse and disabled individuals to be main stage speakers, participate on panels, etc.
- Think about ways to make the conference space more inclusive and supportive for people – i.e – keep speakers’ names on the screen during their talk, provide ear plugs for people, have interpreters, offer a sensory sensitive overflow room – lower volume, lights dimmed, ability to move around vs. sit still, etc. (A second overflow room for families/children was mentioned as helpful as well but wouldn’t be a good combo with sensory sensitive room!)
- Virtual spaces seemed to create access for people to participate that might struggle in a group setting so keeping in mind a hybrid or virtual option for people.
As you can see, this just began a bigger conversation, but it was encouraging to start the discussion and we have been encouraged by how CCDA has been open to exploring these things with us. There are lots of opportunities to grow. Networking sessions at Conference can be a great way to build relationships and work together within our CCDA family.
About Stephanie Answer
Stephanie is a CCD practitioner living in Kansas City, MO with her husband Darryl and two children, Jaidyn and Kian. She and Darryl started New Community Church in their home in 2016. New Community is now a network of spiritual families across the Kansas City metro. Stephanie serves on the leadership team of New Community and is involved in neighborhood engagement and special education advocacy. She loves spending time with her family and friends.