Belonging to the Body: Beyond Sunday

Written by Evan Clulee

A photo of two women smiling and talking outside, one has an intellectual disability. To the left are the words in black: "Belonging to the Body: Beyond Sunday" and then below that in brown: "Christian Leader's Articles"


John Swinton said, “To be included you just need to be present. To belong you need to be missed.” (From Inclusion to Belonging. Pg 184, line 6). I agree with John, and it is a powerful and important distinction.

This speaks volumes to me. Being missed by the community, or group in which we are involved, speaks of connection, community, and a depth of relationship between community members, where simply, if you are not there, people notice, and you are missed. An example of this is when I participated in a cell group where members were particularly close… the leader said to me, “we missed you last week, are you OK, is everything all right?” 

I’m glad for this Elevate CDT series Belonging to the Body – Beyond Sunday, because I think in terms of Christian faith, the church and disabled people, too often the talk is about “getting disabled people into church”. Why must we be so focused on what happens between the four walls, for only two hours on a Sunday morning? There’s far more to life, and fullness through the whole week, than just two hours in one building, once a week. My heart has longed to see disabled people fully valued in society, fully belonging to a faith community, and supported to live the lives of our choosing.  

I’m encouraged by faith communities increasingly talking about ‘doing life together’. Some of this refocusing has come about because of the challenges of the Covid period, where for a time we couldn’t connect with our faith communities (not face to face), and churches had the opportunity to reimagine how we ‘do church’ together. How we support community members more, being more relational, meaningfully connected, and supporting the body throughout the week – to grow in our faith in Christ but also to value the friendships. To walk alongside each other through whatever life might be for us, both the easy times and the challenging times. Isn’t this what the church (Body of Christ) is meant to be about? 

Here’s two faith communities I once belonged to, that were great at supporting the community members, and where I felt a deep sense of belonging, I felt valued and valued the friendships built.  

The first was Titirangi Baptist Church, where I was part of this faith community while living in west Auckland. A few things stood out to me about this faith community that was different from other churches I’d been involved in. First was the small groups and the opportunity to form deeper friendships, Charles & Joanne Hewlett were our cell group leaders. Having two disabled children, they understood disability and belonging, but more than that, they facilitated our spiritual growth and connection to each other. It was a key part of me feeling a strong sense of belonging to TBC. There were many other meaningful friendships built in this small group, friendships that last to this day, such as with Angus & Alana Ramsay. I am forever grateful for this time, and the friendships made.  

What stood out is that anything the church community did, I was invited. I remember the day Hudson Deane invited me to his place for lunch, which I gratefully accepted (in stark contrast to the experience of many disabled people who attend church who have never been invited to another church members house). Funny thing was Hudson and Rosemary’s house had many steps and was not accessible! Hudson, still wanting me to join them for lunch, asked if I’d be ok if some people assisted me up the stairs. I said I was fine with this so Hudson and friends made this happen. End result was I got to meet more people, deepen friendships, and have a good feed! 

I was also struck one day at Titirangi Baptist Church when a leader asked my opinion on a church matter. Although I can’t remember what the topic was, I do remember feeling valued that my opinion was sought (I was reminded of many other faith communities I had been part of where I wasn’t asked anything at all – like I wasn’t important or didn’t matter). You don’t ask questions of a person if you don’t value the answer, or don’t value the person, and the converse is true. I was valued enough at TBC that my opinion was sought on a matter. This for me is a true marker for a place of belonging.  

At Titirangi Baptist Church I took up an opportunity to serve through the missions committee, which was a strength and passion of mine, to encourage the body to see what God was doing in our world and join with Him in His activity. Serving on this committee strengthened my place of belonging to this faith community. Great friendships were formed with Joe Ayres, Rob and Rachel Ayres, and John and Ann Roche, friendships that have continued through the years. You’ll note I have deliberately named some individuals, as I think it does come down to friendships made, and the people we choose to walk alongside. I want to honour these friends, especially for the impact they have made on my life, and that we value their friendship. 

The second faith community where I felt I truly belonged was the Lincoln University Christian Fellowship group. Many deep and lasting friendships were made there: Dennis Arthur, Paul Humpreys, Mark Fryer, Deborah Boyd, Chris and Raewyn Hogarth, Trevor Ray… it’s a long list of friends who supported each other through university. I wouldn’t have made it through university without the support and encouragement of many from our LUCF. I must also mention Alistair MacKenzie, who was the TSCF (Tertiary Students Christian Fellowship) rep at the time and supported our Christian Fellowship group through our university years.  

Many of us in the Christian Fellowship lived on campus close to each other, and in later years some of us flatted together, this brings a closeness in community that facilitates belonging and it’s easier to form friendships. We saw each other a lot during the week. Remembering also for many of us it was our first time living away from home, and we sought support to learn together during these formative years. It was very much like we simply did life together. Yes, we attended cell groups together, sometimes attended church together and we had our regular LUCF meetings. Many memorable times were had with weekends away and camps a couple of times a year. All of this facilitated us to grow in our faith in Christ. But it was more than the sum of these activities, we were friends first and foremost – we liked hanging out together. In recent years I’ve valued coming back to the Christchurch region and renewing friendships with university friends who live in this area… some of the deepest friendships I have are with friends formed at university, and we continue to support each other through life.  

If we look at the life of Christ, He did life together with his followers. He chose 12 close disciples (but I’d add to this because many women and other people followed Jesus closely). They were close to him throughout the week, literally following him around, learning from him, and later reaching out to others because of the teaching and support to do so, doing as Jesus had taught them. We also see Jesus reaching out to people on the margins, people that were forgotten. He sought people out and included them. We are familiar with the stories of Bartimaeus (Mark 10), Zacchaeus (Luke 19), the woman at the well (John 4), and other stories such as in Luke 7. But sometimes I think we miss the simple things; Jesus having meals together with his followers and the depth of connection that comes with sharing a meal. I’m struck by the story after Jesus’ resurrection where He provided breakfast on the beach for the fishermen (John 21) and subsequently reaffirmed Peter (and reconnected with his other close disciples). This to me speaks of acceptance and belonging. Jesus longs for us to be with him in right relationship.  

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.” (John 14:1-4, NLT) 

I’d encourage all of us to find our places of belonging, to do life together with our friends, support one another through our life journeys, and grow in our faith in Christ together. If we find a supportive faith community, we can perhaps invite others to join the same place of belonging.  

Which neighbours do you feel you should connect with more? Which disabled people in your communities do you feel would value your friendship and regular contact? Who do you know in your community that is struggling and could do with your support right now (this is a two-way thing)? Let’s value each other throughout our life journeys and support each other to live a full life!  

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep His promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:23-25, NLT)

Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honouring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!” (Hebrews 11:9-16, NLT)




John Swinton (2012) From Inclusion to Belonging: A Practical Theology of
Community, Disability and Humanness, Journal of Religion, Disability & Health, 16:2, 172-190, DOI: 10.1080/15228967.2012.676243



Evan has worked across the disability sector in various roles over 30 years, including being CEO of an intentional Christian community supporting people with an intellectual disability. Evan holds a degree in Applied Theology from Carey Baptist College, Auckland. Evan has first-hand experience of mission, and development alongside disabled people in the Philippines, South East Asia, and the Pacific region. These experiences of being alongside people living with disability, grew a desire to serve and support disabled people across the world. Evan lives in the Waimakiriri region with his wife May. He enjoys keeping active, participates in wheelchair basketball, enjoys the outdoors, and travel.



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