Disabilities and Church - Princeton Theological Seminary

Disabilities and Church

January 15, 2019


The “Disability and the Church” project, funded by a Project Grant for Researchers through the Louisville Institute and led by the Rev. Dr. Erin Raffety and a team of 5 research assistants, conducted ethnographic research with 11 congregations, ministries, and families with people with disabilities in New York City, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania from 2019-2020 in order to gauge challenges and best practices in congregational ministry with people with disabilities.”

Erin Raffety


The research found that congregations overwhelmingly rely on theologies and paradigms of welcome and inclusion in ministry with people with disabilities, but such approaches tend to reinforce power hierarchies between able-bodied and disabled people rather than nurturing the gifts of ministry and leadership among people with disabilities. The study concludes that despite the persistent challenges physical and liturgical accessibility, the biggest obstacle in ministry with people with disabilities in the Church today is ableism. Therefore, the findings from this study challenges and instructs congregations in repenting of their ableism through listening, lamenting, and repenting. The research also showcases how congregations can nurture the call of people with disabilities into worship, ministry, and community life, and be transformed by the Spirit’s leadership of people with disabilities.


“The Disability and the Church” project is the first study addressing ableism in able-bodied churches as a primary obstacle to ministry with people with disabilities. As such, it offers constructive critique and guidance to congregations who desire to support people with disabilities. “The Disability and the Church” project is also the first empirical, practical theological study of congregational ministry with people with disabilities, offering insights from disabled people in the pews and disabled leaders in the pulpit. Finally, “The Disability and the Church” project offers reinterpretations of scripture, pastoral care, worship, and leadership that provide critical insights in to the everyday ministry of congregations and pastors.