Margie Willers – From Pain to Pearls

Margie Willers wearing a bright red knitted top sitting at her dining table smiling

The Encourager

Please note that since this article was written Margie has passed away. We are deeply grateful for all she gave to this ministry and to the Kingdom of God.

Sitting with Margie in a Care Home in Mt Maunganui I am deeply moved. The co-founder of CFFD (now Elevate Christian Disability Trust) is completely bedbound, unable to sit at her computer, unable to do anything for herself. Her speech difficulties mean residential care situations are difficult, it’s an endless struggle communicating with staff, many of whom only speak English as their second language. But this is not why I am moved.

Margie tells of the birth of CFFD and her story, a story that is as intricately woven into the beginnings of the ministry as Di’s story is. From being called ‘Rubbish’ by one of her first teachers, to becoming an international speaker and writer, Margie’s life is a testimony to the transforming power of God.

Margaret means “pearl”, and Margie loves this picture of herself. Like her namesake, God has taught Margie to turn the sandy irritations of her disability into a beautiful pearl for His glory. Jennifer Rees Larcombe said it this way, “Margie is frequently being told if only she had more faith she would be healed. I can tell you from experience that it takes infinitely more faith to go on serving and loving God in a wheelchair than ever it takes to walk away from one.”

Margie was born in January 1948 in New Plymouth, after her mother endured a three-day labour. The birth itself was complicated and the lack of oxygen caused what was later diagnosed as cerebral palsy. A thorough medical examination at 10 months revealed she had athetoid cerebral palsy, the most severe degree of disability a child could have.

A black and white photo of a young Margie sitting in church

In spite of the negative predictions and slow progress, her mother never gave up on her first child… She encouraged and prayed for Margie, allowing her to explore and create, believing she had a fulfilling future ahead. Her mother gave her the most precious gifts of all, her love and her time.

It became evident that Margie faced some painfully huge hurdles. Even though the medical profession’s advice was to “put her away into an institution and forget about her,” Her mother was determined to help her learn to read, write, run and dance! She believed her daughter had a meaningful future. After joining the Crippled Children’s society her intelligence was quickly recognised and it was felt she would receive the best help by sending her to the Cerebral Palsy Unit attached to Rotorua’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital. So, when Margie was four and-a-half her parents made the painful and difficult decision to send her there for therapy and schooling. The seven years were ones of rigid discipline but they prepared Margie for her future education and gave her a determination to succeed.

In 1959 she returned home and began attending Te Puke Primary School. Despite her difficulties with writing and speech, she soon proved she was as intelligent as her classmates. However, not all teachers understood Margie and her disability made for huge adaptations in an already busy classroom.

One teacher called her ‘Rubbish’, however later introduced her to a typewriter. This proved to be a Godsend, opening doors in reading and writing which her next teacher, Brian Dixon, capitalised on. He saw Margie’s potential and focussed on achievable goals to expand her skills. This eventually led to computers, which has been such a blessing; enabling her to write emails, devotions, talks, and later her two books. A pearl has surely come from the so called ‘rubbish.’

Margie at her typewriterBut Margie’s dream was to be healed, to get out of her wheelchair, to be free of the restrictions of her disability, and to have a useful fulfilling ministry for the Lord. So when the English faith healer, Harry Greenwood, came to town, she and her friend Kathy went to his healing meeting. Here she had an amazing introduction to the power of God to heal and save souls. She also had a vision of a beautiful young woman standing on the stage wearing a beautiful yellow dress! Every part of her body was perfect and co-ordinated. Then she realised that woman was her! She had a microphone in her hand and was preaching a powerful message to the audience before her.

..As the years went by God gave Margie an unfolding vision of what this new ministry would look like.

This encounter filled her with hope, and soon after led her to take a trip to California to hear the great healing evangelist, Kathryn Kuhlman. In March 1975, she flew to LA supported by her friend Molly, with her yellow dress ready in her luggage! Here she met up with her sister Helen. They attended two of Kathryn Kuhlman’s miracle services with great expectations – but no physical healing. She went home devastated, disappointed and feeling a failure – she must have lacked faith not to be healed. It was so painful to pick up the pieces and face the future – still in her chair.

But God. He wasn’t finished with her yet! He had new friends to encourage her and a new ministry for her to fulfil. Margie had known Di Willis for some years. Di was an Occupational Therapist who remembers watching Margie typing at a Paraplegic Conference. Di and Margie soon became best friends. After her disappointment in America, they became like sisters as Margie spent holidays in the Willis’s wheelchair accessible home in Auckland. While attending the Willis’s church she met Joy Smith, a former missionary, now on the pastoral team of that church. Joy encouraged Margie to come to a place of surrendering her life, and healing, to God. Joy saw a picture of doors being opened by Margie’s wheelchair; a revelation of the future ministry Margie would have. These friendships were part of God’s healing process, bringing beauty from the ashes, pearls from the pain.

As the years went by God gave Margie an unfolding vision of what this new ministry would look like. He would use her as she was, with her talents and wheelchair, to open doors that would otherwise be closed. God answered her cry for how to do this through Jeremiah 33:3, “Call unto me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things which you know not.” He led her to attend Faith Bible College, in Tauranga, as a student. This truly was a step of faith as Margie overcame the hurdles of adjusting to the limitations of her disability as she lived full-time on campus for 18 weeks. It was a learning curve for Margie, students and the lecturers, and by no means easy. But she was determined to prepare herself for the ministry God had called her to. It was to be a time of learning and revelation, and a further yielding to God’s purposes for her life. Here she received some clear visions bringing healing of the past non-healing and revelation for the future.

A black and white photo of a young Margie smiling at the camera as she's doing a painting holding the brush in her mouthOne prophetic word was, “The church needs your voice. There are hundreds of people who still live in institutions. They are in wheelchairs… they are angry, rejected by society.…. they will not hear eloquent preachers…… The disabled need a strong prophetic voice from their own ranks that will point them to Christ….. You understand their speech.…… You can identify with them. God has touched your life. He has called you and chosen you to call others to follow the way of the cross. He wants you to be a voice to the church for the disabled.”

It became so clear that Margie wrote, “My responsibility was to evangelise the disabled, and help the church to accommodate them, accept them, relate to them and develop their potential.” She later wrote, “It was not to be a sympathy ministry but an empathy and answer ministry.”

As Margie shared her vision with Di Willis, she discovered that God had laid a similar burden on Di’s heart. Together they prayed, shared ideas and visited people with disabilities in their homes and institutions. Eventually they planned an event in Hugh and Di’s home in Auckland for these folk – their first dinner party, just like the banquet described in Jesus’ parable in Luke 14. They went “into the highways and byways and invited the blind, lame, and maimed to come and dine.” The Willis’s lounge was packed with people –some in wheelchairs, some with white canes, others with slow speech and awkward gait; all there to hear the vision for a Christian ministry for people with disabilities.

And so Christian Fellowship for Disabled (CFFD – now Elevate) was born, a fellowship of people so long rejected and ignored not only by society but also the church. Now they were being welcomed and accepted, as Margie and Di began speaking to church groups, women’s gatherings, Bible Colleges, and included in the life of the church. She would even return to Faith Bible College as a guest lecturer! (She was nominated as their favourite in 1991!)

Writing her autobiography, “Awaiting the Healer”, was another step of faith for Margie. The aim of writing was not to receive accolades but to share with the church at large some of the realities of living with a disability. With her trusty Woody Woodpecker wand, she laboriously began tapping out page after page. It took her three years of painstaking effort, but in 1992 Margie received recognition from NZ Christian Booksellers’ Association and won the Silver Award for that year.

Publishing her book was only the beginning of a demanding schedule with speaking and promotion of sales for the next 18 months. Her life’s story was an outreach which lifted the bar for CFFD and the Christian Ministries for Disabled Trust (now Elevate Christian Disability Trust). Margie’s season as a CMWDT trustee ended in 1990 because of her busy schedule, but as her audiences and readership grew, they gained insight and understanding of the scope of the work amongst disabled folk. People became extremely big hearted and financially supported the growing ministry throughout NZ.

Camps soon became a vital part of the organisation – both on a national level and in the regions. The National Camp at Labour Weekend at Totara Springs, Matamata, became a permanent fixture from 1983. Young and old, no matter the disability or denomination, all who attend have been impacted by these gatherings and Margie has been the speaker many times.

While living in Auckland, Margie had an opportunity to teach Bible-in-Schools. Cherry Lewis, a friend of the ministry, invited her to teach her class at the Carlson School for Cerebral Palsy in Mt Roskill. Cherry wrote to Margie, “You are leaving such an incredibly amazing legacy. Your life as a Christian woman of God is an outstanding example to us all. You once wrote about an outreach project giving you a joy-filled and faith-filled sense of purpose and fulfilment. She said Margie thrived having a project. One project has been painting: from pictures to Christmas cards to pottery and her beautifully decorated stones with a message.

A black and white photo of a young Di and Margie sitting side by side on a stage

Margie and Di speaking in 1980

Margie’s second book “Undaunted Faith,” was published in October 2004 and dedicated at her home church, Beatty Avenue Bible Chapel. This book contains 48 inspirational meditations, anecdotes and short stories especially for the clergy and those in Christian ministry. Margie shares from the godly wisdom she has gained on her own journey with disability.

She lived in the family home until 2018 with carers coming in each day to support her. For the last three of those years, her dear sister Helen was her live-in companion. The demands for Margie to be constantly on the ministry circuit plus attending camps proved to be draining, and slowly this took a toll upon her body, meaning she could no longer appear on the public platform. However, Margie continued to use her trusty Woody Woodpecker to type up her regular devotions and articles for this magazine, blessing many with her ‘pearls’ of encouragement.

Margie continues to be a shining ‘pearl’ as she witnesses to staff and visitors alike at the Care Home. Margie wanted to leave you with this encouragement from. Ecc 3:1 For everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven. Through all the seasons in her life Margie has sought to bring glory to God, as she has allowed him to flow through her. In re-reading Margie’s book, and in interviewing her, I’ve been so moved and reduced to tears at times. Her story truly brings glory to God as she submitted her life to Him in the midst of her trials. May you be inspired by her story and allow God to turn your Pains into Pearls.

By Heather Vincent 
Heather lives in Tauranga with her husband, Brian. They have both been involved in Elevate since attending National Camp in 1985. Her book, It’s All Right Mum!, was published by Daystar in 2004.


Margie (Margaret) Willers, our co-founder, went to be with the Lord on the 7th of February 2023,
aged 75 years. She lived her life in honour of God and in obedience to His call on her life. Margie
impacted many people, through her speaking, writing, co-founding of this ministry and anyone she




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Volunteer Spotlight: Heather Major

The Encourager

I have been involved with CFFD Waikato since the lovely late Edith Morris and her husband Noel hosted a hui* at their house in February 2012 with Di and Hugh about CFFD Waikato being resurrected. The group had been in recess for 10 years as I recall and Athaline Morris (no relation) was the previous leader who had to stop due to her health. Andrea Buchanan and Monique Briggs were the first team to pray and lead, then I joined them later. My late husband Glenn was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 1997. When Princess Diana died, Glenn was recovering from neurosurgery. The world was grieving but our little world had been rocked off its hinges.

When our daughter Rachel was born in 2002, Glenn had two days left of radiotherapy. A year later it became apparent he had some radiation necrosis, which for him meant things like speech, mobility and fatigue were affected. It was a new aspect of our journey.

My mum had heard of Elevate (or CMWDT as it was then) but I wasn’t sure I could handle the idea of my husband being disabled and having a brain tumour. I heard a quote on the radio today and wonder if I was subconsciously thinking at the time that “the certainty of misery (cancer) was preferable to the misery of uncertainty (not knowing what the disabilities would be and how they would progress)”. That fear didn’t last long and going to camp was a huge education for me. Life is for living. Let’s get on with it!

Heather Major and her daughter Rachel

When Rachel was only a toddler, we went to our first Elevate National Camp. Di Willis (co-founder of Elevate) replied to my enquiry about camp, “Oh some people have had to pull out and they were in the lodge, so clearly you are meant to come.” Rachel’s now almost 21, so it seems a long time ago since that first camp. It was memorable because we were getting our heads around the idea of living with disabilities whereas before that we had been living with cancer. Glenn went to his eternal home in December 2011.

I have been leading CFFD Waikato since 2013. Annette Viviani joined me in 2020 to be my co-leader as my other jobs, minister at All Saints Community Church in Hamilton and part-time chaplain at Waikato Hospital, also keep my weeks full.

CFFD Waikato meets every second Friday at 11.45am. Lunch, fellowship and laughter, celebrating birthdays, discussions, praying for each other, singing and Bible study are all part of what we do. We also like to have visitors come and talk to us.

We focus on what we can do, with each member of the group doing something to participate, and with Jesus at the centre of it all.”

Marc Van de Laar, Cathy Harbour and I take turns to lead the Friday meetings. Marc plays guitar and often our friend Tom Kelly plays keys and Rentia DeVries does solos for us quite often.

Highlights for CFFD Waikato over the past few years have been when we hosted Canon Andrew White (Vicar of Baghdad), and when we went to Mt Maunganui on a bus and used the beach mats so we could go onto the beach.

I continue leading CFFD Waikato today, with Annette Viviani, because we are whānau. I can’t imagine our group not being part of my life! We journey life together, with Jesus as our guide. We don’t get hung up on what we can’t do (e.g. I don’t have much time with two jobs). We focus on what we can do, with each member of the group doing something to participate, and with Jesus at the centre of it all.

*Māori term that means meeting

By Heather Major


Get involved!

How can you be involved with Elevate?

There are many ways that you can become involved
with Elevate Christian Disability Trust.

Prayer – Pray for the ministry, the people, the provision, the opportunities!

Promotion – Let others know about us! Give The Encourager magazine to someone who needs it today. Like and share our different Facebook pages and posts. Read our blog articles and share them with your church, friends and whānau.

Practical – Come and volunteer at the Drop-in centre, regional branches, national or regional camps or at the national support office in Onehunga.

Provision – by donation, automatic payment, sponsorship, bequest, or through goods and services.

Contact us at to find out more
or to register your skills/abilities so we can link you
in to our next suitable project or event. Also, get in
contact to find out where we have regional branches
around New Zealand.


To make a donation to Elevate Christian Disability Trust using a
Credit Card please visit
or Internet Banking.

Our bank account details are:
Elevate Christian Disability Trust
Account: 01-0142-0029706-00 (ANZ).
Please include your name and the word “DONATION” as a reference.

A collage of 6 photos of people at different events within Elevate. There are people smiling in a group photo with Di at the centre, there are different people talking and connecting, playing games, speaking on stage and cooking at a BBQ and there's a laughing young boy with his hands in the air riding a zip line. The following words are in the bottom right hand corner: "We would love to hear from you! Have you been encouraged or impacted by one of our articles? Do you know someone whose story would encourage others? Email us at Phone us on 09 636 4763"




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46 Years in Ministry: Hugh and Di Willis

Hugh & Di sitting on their couch looking through a photo album, smiling at each otherThe EncouragerHugh and Di Willis have stepped outside of the spotlights, but don’t call it retirement. The couple is still very much part of the ministry. With Kirsty Armitage at the helm in the role as ‘National Director’ of Elevate Christian Disability Trust, Hugh and Di continue to give her their full support, with all the mana and aroha that this role deserves.

These two co-founders look back at their 46 years in the ministry. We gave them ten words to respond to. In a few lines, otherwise it would become another book.

The year 1976

Hugh & Di's living room. There is a fireplace on the left, a couch in the middle of the room and a cabinet between 2 large windows that look out on the garden.

“It all started very small. The Lord shared the vision with me (Di) to start a ministry with people with disabilities. A little later I connected again with my friend Margie Willers, who had just returned from a healing conference with Kathryn Kuhlman in the United States. Margie came with the hope of being healed from her Cerebral Palsy, but instead God showed Margie she should use her talents, just the way she was.”

The vision was to invite people with disabilities to come together, to run camps, to grow closer to God, and to be included into whatever churches were doing. “It all started here in our living room in Torbay on Auckland’s North Shore, in the same house where we still live.”

1 Samuel 16:7b

“This Bible verse is the absolute key of our ministry. That is what we always quote to new visitors. The Lord told Samuel: ‘The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’. It’s an amazing scripture. God gives skills and talents to everyone, even if it is just the skill to smile at someone. There are no excuses not to use what you have for God.”

Elevate Christian Disability Trust

“It used to be Christian Fellowship For Disabled (CFFD), later Christian Ministries With Disabled Trust (CMWDT), as an umbrella organisation for all the different branches and ministries we do. People found that a difficult name to pronounce. So back in 2012 we were looking for a better name. One of the helpers mentioned how our ministry was about ‘elevating people into knowing Jesus and celebrating life’. That was well said and the verb ‘to elevate’ stuck.”

Evangelize, Equip, Educate, and Encourage,“those are ‘The four E’s of Elevate CDT’. Evangelize comes first. We talk about Jesus a lot. We love to see people grow in their faith. For many of our folks I think that encouragement is the most important. We all have the need to feel included in the Body of Christ, and sometimes churches and families find that difficult. We expect our folks to live their lives according to their capacities. That is where the education and equipping comes in. If I talk to one person, or to hundreds, I just ask God what it is He wants me to say. Sometimes we get new volunteers, who have no clue how to be around people with a disability, at the start. Their eyes are opened, and their hearts.”

The Elevate whānau

“The ministry is like family. We have met thousands of people over the many years. We loved their stories. Yes, it is all about people with disabilities, but in addition, so many other lives were touched. It is amazing, how hearts have been changed, how people came to faith. So many people have given towards the ministry, with their love, their time, their finances, it has been amazing. All glory goes to God. Elevate belongs to all of them. Mind you, we have the CFFD branches at eight different cities in the country, and Joy Ministries as well. The local committees are so committed and wonderful, they do deserve acknowledgements for many years of faithful services.”

“Many stories are very personal. We saw people meeting each other at the ministry and getting married. We saw miracles happen, and people receiving healing in other ways than they expected. I don’t use any names, there are too many that God has brought on our path. And yes, we have lost a lot of dear friends over time. What a grace to know that they are all in Heaven, living an eternal life without pain or sorrow.”

‘The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’.. 1 Samuel 16:7b

173 Mt Smart Road

“Our national office in Onehunga, with the Drop In Centre, is a second home to us. It was an absolute miracle how God led us to get it, over twenty years ago. God told me He would buy us a building, and He did. So many things happened in that building. We had so many visitors, students, politicians, some from overseas. We once had this guy from Romania. He only came once, but he was so touched that he promised to do something similar in his home country. The building had some alterations done to it, and more needs to be done, but it has been a huge blessing over the years. We couldn’t do our ministry without it, and God knew that from the start.”

Hugh & Di on their couch with a photo album open on their laps smiling at the cameraThe Knife Edge of Faith

“That book tells our story. It is such a testimony of how people made the ministry of Elevate to what it is today. The book is about faith, about perseverance, about not giving up, about trusting God to provide. We made lots of mistakes over the years, but despite that, God used our work. We just tried to do what we thought God showed us to do. Yes, we had to live our life with a faith that was on the knife edge sometimes. This is a ministry that totally relies on God, and on its financial supporters. That is not always easy. We experienced that even on the day that the book was launched at Elevate’s 30th Anniversary. We had a bit of a celebration organised, but up to minutes before the meeting would start, we still had not received any copies! Again, it was a last minute thing. We thought, God, do you really have to go to those extremes?”

Elevate National Camp

“Our camps are maybe the biggest blessing of all. Well, no, you can’t say that of course, but sometimes it feels like that. Words can’t describe how important camp is. People love to come. They make new friends and catch up with old ones. They learn more about how to live out their faith. People get saved, some get baptised, and lots of volunteers have an amazing experience in serving someone with a disability. New helpers often say how they learned that camp was not about themselves, it was about serving. So the camp is about learning, about acceptance, about fellowship and encouragement. It’s our favourite weekend of the year. Jesus is there.”

Encourager Magazine

“It started in 1977 as a two-sided letter; 40 copies, that Margie typed with her mouth. Look at it now. We print 5,800 copies; and they get send to 40 different countries. It is amazing how it came together. We asked many people to come up with a name for our newsletter, and the name Encourager is really suited. That is our main purpose. The magazine has encouraged its readers tremendously. It is often received at the exact right time. Other readers are inspired, as the magazine educates them how to engage. The magazine has been God’s work from the beginning. We remember the days we had 30 people coming to our home to fold and collate the pages. The electric stapler would go on for hours. Our dear neighbour heard that sound continue until the early hours of the morning. Rest assured, that work is now all done professionally, at the printer.”

Kirsty Armitage

“We are very, very proud of Kirsty. She is a God ordained person, very capable, very talented, the ideal person to take the helm. Kirsty has been around with Elevate for nine years now, and many people will know her from the camps and our communications.”

Di loves it that Kirsty is also an Occupational Therapist, just like herself. Di realises of course she is a different personality. “Kirsty is probably more orderly, a bit of a perfectionist. Her husband Brent will support her all the way.”

“The best advice we can give her is to put God first. He is still the centre of this ministry. Keep close to Him in prayer, and reading the Word. But also, stay in touch with the different ministries, enjoy the company of all these good people.

Have fun doing the role. A sense of humour is essential, but Kirsty has plenty of that.” Have you read Hugh’s book ‘On the Knife Edge of Faith: Stories Behind the Ministry’? Copies are available for purchase from the National Support Office.

Written by Onne Hiemstra


The Encourager Magazine 174



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Written by Wes Walter*


A large, ‘successful’ church: good-looking successful people. And if you’re female, being blonde (whether by birth or by bottle) helps. If you’re popular in the media, so good. We love you!  

But you? You’re in a wheelchair? We’ve got a ramp, and a wheelchair loo [good for storing gear in] – what more could you possibly ask?  

Well, I’d like to feel as welcome as the blonde and the media type who get lauded. I’m not actually asking to be lauded, but rather to be valued, to ‘feel the love’. I don’t. After more than a year, I leave. I don’t think anyone notices. 

For five years I don’t go to church, except when I’m asked to speak. The ‘successful’ church didn’t know I could – I can read only minimally, I cannot write, such is the nature of my impairment. I appeared, to them, as more of a target for ministry rather than one who could actually offer it. So when I go to a church now it is by invitation: they invite me to speak, to challenge, to inspire. Which I do – nationally and internationally. In person, and via various media. And I’m accepted by those who stop to chat, in person and virtually. Thank you for loving me.  



I’m eight years old, and have been variously described as autistic, ‘on the spectrum’ or neuro-diverse – the latter term being increasingly used to recognise the rich differences, abilities and strengths I offer.  

At kids church one day I run around randomly and unpredictably. I don’t mean to hurt or threaten anyone, but kids don’t understand me, and some of their folks are uneasy with my behaviour. So the church bans me from the premises – kids church, big church, the lot. Stay home, and to sweeten the impact (edict, actually) they offer to provide a Sunday babysitter for me at home, meaning the rest of the family can still go. That won’t work – I can easily run down the road to the church only to be told I’m banned. Jesus said, ‘suffer the children…’ Being different, by exclusion I do suffer. Is that really what Jesus meant? My family suffers also, my exclusion excludes them.  

I’m twelve now. God’s ‘representatives’ apparently don’t love me. Does God love me?  


JACK* (again)  

(I know Jill. She is my niece.) 

For five long years I don’t have a church that I can call my church. My church participation is when I’m invited to speak because the host churches (bless them) heard of the ministry I’ve offered nationally and internationally. In serving and giving, I’m sure receiving. Thank you host churches, thank you Lord. 

Time passes. Five long years. During this time, I go each summer to a Christian music festival. One of the volunteers there is a pastor the rest of the time. He greets me and chats, I get to know him year-by-year. ‘I think I might come to your church,’ I tell him. ‘That’ll be great!’ he replies. So I do. Immediately I feel at home, I fit. Why? I’m accepted as I am, loved as the person I am, created by God – albeit not quite the same format as those ‘good-looking successful people’ of elsewhere. Soon I’m asked to lead into the communion part of the service. The pastor later tells me, ‘I will never forget that first occasion, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, it was spectacular.’ He says I’m an encourager. One time I suggested a way of improving something. My idea was adopted.  


IMAGINE (as first imagined by St Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, reinterpreted by J. Lennon in 1971, updated in 2012 by Wes Walter) 

Imagine that in heaven, 

There’s access to the gate. 

Disabled enter, welcome! 

No plan to isolate. 

Imagine all the people  

Living all as one… 


Imagine there’s no barrier –  

It isn’t hard to do. 

No need to discriminate –  

Embrace disabled who 

Know that they are people  

Living life with you! 


You, you may say  

I’m a dreamer,  

But I’m not the only one. 

I hope some day you’ll join us, 

And the Church will be as one! 


Imagine a Church inclusive: 

Everybody welcome here! 

Disabled right there, valued 

Not patronised, no fear! 

Imagine all the people  

Living all as one 


You, you may say 

I’m a dreamer,  

But I’m not the only one. 

I hope some day you’ll join us, 

And the Church will be as one! 




…on the outside edge of our [church, or whatever] community? 

… a little ‘different’ from our ‘average’ participant? 



…demonstrate that we welcome diversity in our community? 

…show genuine non-patronising love? 


…welcome the God-given gifts of those whose life and gifts may be a little different from our standard? 




Writer Wes Walter* is a Kiwi Christian leader with decades of pastoral experience in the local church and wider ministry. He knows both Jack and Jill.  

 *Not my real name 




Beyond Disability Cover Image, green curved graphic design with Elevate logo in top right corner

Everybody Welcome: A guide on how to make your church disability



Want to learn how you can better include people with disabilities? Check out our two essential resources Everybody Welcome and Beyond Disability.

Still have questions? Contact Us!


Contributing to the Transformative Work of the Body of Christ

Written by Coralie M. Bridle 


My eldest son, Samuel, gently led me into the world of sustained theological enquiry. In doing so he has made extraordinary contributions to my life without leaving the confines of his wheelchair. As catalyst for questions, he does not have the vocabulary to pose, he has beckoned me to engage more honestly with my faith and its outworking in real life. As a living icon of Paul’s call to contentment in all circumstances (Philippians 4:10-13), Samuel has embodied grace, patience, and perseverance, from within a physical and intellectual embodiment that some would judge intolerable. As I have journeyed with him in his reality, his contribution to the Body of Christ is, in my humble estimation, simply immeasurable.  

The broad focus of this current series of articles has been the study of inclusion from a biblical perspective. The series has drawn on 1 Corinthians 12 and Paul’s use of the body as a metaphor for how the church is called to honour and minister in union with all members of Christ’s body. No-one on their own makes up that body – nor is it made up of people who all act, speak, think, or contribute in the same manner. We have already considered the notions of unity and honour. In this article we turn towards an examination of the contribution that people living with disabilities make to the Body of Christ.  

Drawing on theological voices from around the globe and my own research within congregations of The Salvation Army in New Zealand, I seek to challenge pastors and congregants to reconsider the contribution that people living with disabilities can make in faith communities. In doing so, I also draw a distinction between contributing in a utilitarian sense – this is not about handing out “appropriate jobs” to disabled people in your congregation. Rather, it is about contributing to the unfolding reign of God’s Kingdom on earth as we seek to understand, worship, fellowship, and participate together as the Body of Christ.  

Experience and research across various denominations of the church indicates that congregations tend to consider themselves welcoming and inclusive but that the received experience of those living with disabilities is somewhat varied (Carter, 2020). For example, when Disability Theologian, Thomas Reynolds took his son (who lives with disabilities) to church— he was met with a wall of misunderstanding. In essence, to be included in that context meant that his son had to act like everybody else. His son was granted access to the church, but it was on their terms. In contrast to this experience of church, Reynolds proposes the notion of “deep access.” He writes:  

Deep access means recognizing difference and diversity, bodily and neurologically, and welcoming it as part of us—not something other and abnormal to be remade in the image of the same as normal. It is not so much a matter of welcoming you so you can be part of us on our terms, but rather so you can be with and augment us differently, on your terms as well. (Reynolds, 2012, P. 218)  

Reynolds goes on to counsel that a “spirituality of attentiveness” leads to the embodiment of deep access in the church. This is important because if we are not deliberately attentive to the disability conversation, then we will fail to recognise and facilitate the contribution that people with disabilities are willing and able to make. Neurodiversity does not remove us from our “image-bearing” personhood and responsibilities. It takes intentional, up-skilled, and often tiring effort to enable “deep access,” for people who are not neuro-typical. The exact same thing can be said for the so-called neuro-typical – we just seem to be more finetuned to their access needs. 

In the early days of life with my son, Samuel, there were times when I honestly felt like the outside world was more in touch with our reality than the church was. I do not say this lightly, nor as an indictment on those who have journeyed with us. The prayerful intercession and practical support we have received during difficult and more settled seasons, is known to God and received by thankful hearts. However, God has used the world beyond the church doors to soften the bristly edges of our reality. Further to that, an increasing awareness of the diverse discourses and models associated with disability, has enabled me to critically engage with some of the potentially unhelpful postures that present themselves within the church setting. For example, here in New Zealand, it is estimated that 24% of the population live with a disability ( While specific data regarding disability does not appear on any Salvation Army statistical measures, anecdotal evidence suggests that congregations within our context do not mirror the wider societal reality. I suspect things are not very different in other denominations. Brian Brock (2021, P. 165), for example, notes that the sociological evidence that people with disabilities are not present in church is overwhelming. 

The reasons for this are, of course, far from simple. However, I would suggest that a robust theology of disability can mitigate against unhelpful responses towards those whom we might perhaps mistakenly consider, “…weaker but indispensable parts,” in Paul’s discourse in 1 Corinthians 12:22. Numerous Disability Theologians have now been used of God to help me wrestle with some of my questions around the notion of contribution in relation to people living with disabilities. Jill Harshaw (2016) has enabled me to see the prophetic role embodied by my son. Jill’s daughter Rebecca, lives with profound intellectual disabilities and similarly to my son, is unable to speak with words. Her investigation of the role and credentials of biblical prophets underlines the possibility that people who cannot speak may be involved in prophetic ministry. An encounter with them can be an encounter with Jesus (Harshaw, 2010, P. 318). 

John Swinton (2012) has helped me understand that human difference is the norm and that in Christ – everyone belongs. He has alerted me to the difference between thin and thick understandings of inclusion (Swinton, 2012, P. 181). For example, participants in my research noted that the “door welcome” at church was warm (thin inclusion) but the move from welcome to a sense of belonging (thick inclusion) in the church congregation was missing. Swinton (2012, P. 183) proposes that the movement from inclusion towards belonging is a movement towards love. In such a movement we can discover a reciprocity of contribution if we are engaged and alert.  

Erik Carter (2020, P. 172) has helped me discover the contours of true belonging. His framework outlining ten dimensions of belonging graphically underlines the desire of every human heart. His research demonstrated that people with disabilities experience belonging when these dimensions are incorporated into congregational life: to be present, invited, welcomed, known, accepted, supported, cared for, befriended, needed, and loved. The notion of being known is significant in the context of contribution to the life of the congregation. It is only as we take the time to really know someone who lives with a disability, to move beyond assumptions and labels, that we will recognise the contribution that they are making to the Kingdom of God. 

The call of Tom Reynolds (2012) towards deep access mentioned earlier, has caused me to reconsider notions of power and decision making in regard to people with disability. This is a move beyond mere presence in our communities, to one of participation. One of my own research participants stated it quite emphatically when he noted that people with disabilities do not want to be consulted solely on where to put the disabled toilets or parking spaces. Rather, they have contributions to make on matters of finance, pastoral care, vision casting, worship planning, and numerous other facets of church and community life. 

Deborah Beth Creamer (2009), who describes the human experience as one bounded by limits, has underscored the mutuality embedded in our human experience; we all experience limits – we all need support – just in varied ways. Disability is not something to be viewed as a negative experience of life. Rather it is an intrinsic and unsurprising part of being human (Creamer, 2005, P. 82). In this sense people living with disabilities contribute a salient reality check. 

Brian Brock (2019), who reclaims early church understandings of disability, urges the church to again see people with disabilities as equal servants of God’s redemptive work in the world. Samuel and I are part of that redemptive work. Of course, we know that this work is completed in one sense (John 19:30), but not in another (Matthew 28:16-20). Further to this, Brock (2019, P. 53) proposes that people who carry the label disabled, in the current age, revive our collective wonder over God’s creative intention for every human being.  

One of the most significant findings of my own research is that people living with disabilities do not equate their disability with disaster. Certainly there are associated hardships, or difficulties, but these do not eclipse their desire and commitment to live ordinary lives. All of the research participants expressed the desire to contribute in a meaningful way within their faith and social contexts. This was not seen as a measure of their usefulness, but as an expression of doing the work of the gospel alongside others. Such endeavour was not without personal cost. Family members highlighted the relentless and chronic nature of many disabilities, calling on congregations to recognise how they can contribute to the well-being of their brothers and sisters in Christ. Brian Brock (2021) names some of the contributions that congregations can make to the flourishing of people with disabilities: advocacy, respite, friendship, discernment, hope, and reconciliation. 

Finally, Brian Brock’s work in reference to the Body described in 1 Corinthians 12 is a salient conclusion to this article. He examines “the peculiar togetherness,” that is the Body of Christ – a togetherness that eliminates notions of us and them (Brock, 2021, P. 201). He writes,  

Paul understands every member of the church as an active giver or conduit of divine love, a giving that is not reducible to any person’s supposed physiological or intellectual deficiencies. (Brock, 2021, P. 202) 


This article is ultimately an expression of hope. As fellow members of the Body of Christ, we are called to cooperate with the Spirit in enabling all people to flourish and participate in the kingdom of God. There is always room for doing things in a more inclusive manner. We do not always get things right. However, acknowledgement of our mistakes is hollow if we do not seek to embrace and engage with those who have a message that needs to be heard for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Simply stated, we are not the ‘Body of Christ’ if difference, diversity, and the neural-atypical do not dwell and minister alongside us. Further, we have not told the story of Jesus, if we do not tell it in a way that connects with everyone longing to know the story.  

The Apostle Paul’s vision for telling this story was so expansive and so attentive to difference that he noted he had, ‘…become all things to all people, that I might by all means,
save some’ (1 Cor 9:19–23). Paul’s approach was creative and flexible. Perhaps also, by attending to timely words of challenge in regard to the contributive capacity of people with disabilities in our communities, we can witness and participate in transformative change for the whole Body of Christ.  


 ~In loving memory of Kevin Bridle~



Brock, Brian. Wondrously Wounded: Theology, Disability, and the Body of Christ. Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2019. 

Brock, Brian. Disability: Living into the Diversity of Christ’s Body. Pastoring for Life, edited by Jason Byassee. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2021. 

Carter, Erik W. “The Absence of Asterisks: The Inclusive Church and Children with Disabilities.” Journal of Catholic Education 23, no. 2 (2020): 168-88. 

Creamer, Deborah. ““God Doesn’t Treat His Children That Way”: Disability and Metaphors for God.” Journal of Disability and Health 9, no. 3 (2005): 73-84. 

Creamer, Deborah Beth. Disability and Christian Theology: Embodied Limits and Constructive Possibilities. American Academy of Religion, edited by Kimberley Rae Connor. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 

Harshaw, Jill. “Prophetic Voices, Silent Words: The Prophetic Role of Persons with Profound Intellectual Disabilities in Contemporary Christianity.” Practical Theology 3, no. 3 (2010): 311-29. 

Harshaw, Jill. God Beyond Words: Christian Theology and the Spiritual Experiences of People with Profound Intellectual Disabilities London: Jessica Kingsley, 2016. 

Reynolds, Thomas E. “Invoking Deep Access: Disability Beyond Inclusion in the Church.” Dialog: A Journal of Theology 51, no. 3 (2012): 212-23. 

Swinton, John. “From Inclusion to Belonging: A Practical Theology of Community, Disability and Humanness.” Journal of Religion, Disability & Health 16, no. 2 (2012): 172-90. 




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Honouring One Another

Written by Fiona Sherwin 

In recent years I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about inclusion and belonging. While the two terms are used synonymously at times, there are notable differences between them. Including others is an important practice. It’s an act of kindness and hospitality, but to include others only scratches the surface. When we include others we notice someone’s presence, but it is not necessarily an invitation to participate beyond the margins, I would describe it as a step aside to provide a space for them to enter.  To belong somewhere though goes deeper, it suggests that there is a desire for connection and for knowing. It suggests that each person is needed, and that we want to participate with them in a deeper way. I want to contend that when we belong somewhere, and when that belonging is known, then honour is found.  

It is important to acknowledge how I have joined the conversation of disability and belonging. I presently do not identify as disabled, but I have been welcomed to participate in the life of disabled people. When I was a little girl, my Mum used to be the weekend charge nurse of one of the IHC hostels and she used to take me to work with her. The residents became my friends. When I was 15, I went to my first Elevate camp at Totara Springs. Everyone participated fully and I loved it. Each of the activities were mindful of inclusivity and involvement, and everyone was needed for the camp to run well. As an able-bodied person, I was invited to gain new insights, which have subsequently informed my understanding of what the church should look like and should be.  

My buddy at my first camp was blind. While my task was to guide her, she in fact guided me to see the world in a unique way. I was her eyes, and she would ask me what I could see – I became mindful of space and details for which were important for her to know so that she can experience camp in a fuller way. In the years that followed, all my cabin buddies have invited me to participate in camp in diverse ways and invited me to participate in ways that has at times challenged my pre-conceived ideas as to what is or is not possible. Rowan Williams, the previous Archbishop of Canterbury states that when we come into the presence of others, we are able to see one another with how God views us – that is “an eternal and unflinching, unalterable love”(Williams, 2016, sec. 844). Because of each person, I was invited to see God at work in my life as well as in theirs, and that has been a gift to me. 

When I was 17, I went to work in the community as a disability support worker. I was still at school then, but I took Saturday shifts. I loved working with the folks who I was caring for, in fact, they became an important part of my life – I would describe them as my family, and so caregiving and community support became my vocation. I briefly stepped away from working in the disability community when the Lord called me to Youth Work at my church, and to enter theological study, but the Elevate National Camp continued to be an important part of my annual rhythm.  

I found myself in 2011 invited to engage once more with the disabled community with work at Laidlaw College. The College identified that there was some much-needed work to do both internally with our own practices, but also, how to help churches realise the work they need to do to become places of belonging for people with disabilities and mental health challenges. This in turn gave me the opportunity to theologically engage with the area of disability, my thesis that emerged in my Master of Theology explores what churches would look like if they were true communities of belonging for people with disabilities. I suggest that in the vision where all belong, then all are equal, and therefore, each person is an honoured member – not necessarily for what they can do, but simply because they are present and participating in their own way.   

When I consider our churches, I believe that there are elements missing, and I think the church needs to sit up and take notice. We are missing people – particularly the disabled community. If there are disabled people in congregations, are they included in real ways, or do they remain on the margins? If they remain on the margins, then we have only attended to the surface level inclusion practices. While some churches do try to find ways to include people with disabilities, it can be seen at times to be acts of charity, and therefore, while there is inclusion, there may not be the depth of belonging. If they do belong, then the significance of how they are present is evident.  

Disability challenges people’s perceptions, first on what it means to be human, secondly, what it means to be whole, and thirdly, what it means to participate fully in the community for which God calls them into. Tom Reynolds, a Canadian Practical Theologian, notes that disability challenges assumptions on what a person can or cannot do – and for changes for churches to occur, then these communities need to adjust how people with disabilities are viewed (Reynolds, 2012). A change of perspective, therefore, would bring an awareness of the place of each person, then each person is recognised as an essential part of the body. In her just released book My body is not a prayer request, Amy Kenny reflects on how people have viewed her disabled body, pushing back against the assumption that because her body is disabled, she must want to be “fixed” by God. For her, this theory could not be further from the truth. I appreciate her honest telling of her experience where she wishes that people could see her as a full image bearer of God, and that they would turn from the narrative that she is worth less because her body works and moves differently to others (Kenny, 2022). To recognise each person as an important piece brings honour to their place and to their calling to their participation to the body of Christ. Kenny goes further to say that assimilation (as in we all need to be the same and look the same, and function the same), should not be how belonging should occur (Kenny, 2022).  

The Apostle Paul uses the body metaphor several times in his letters to different churches. In his letters to the Roman and Corinthian churches (Rom 12:3-8 and 1 Cor 12: 12-31), Paul outlined expectations for the ekklesia (church) – his focus was on unity. He likens the church to be that of a human body – each has its place and particular function and role within the whole. Each part is needed with equal importance. As biblical scholar and disability theologian, Louise Gosbell notes: “…just as the human body requires all its diverse parts to work together for the greater good of the body, so too the body politic needs to work together with all the various members playing their part.” (Gosbell, 2019, p. 281). She goes further to note that “[n]ot only does the metaphor encourage all people of differing abilities and gifts to play their part, but even those considered ‘weak’ and ‘unpresentable’ are considered ‘indispensable’ for the adequate functioning of the Body of Christ.” (Gosbell, 2019, p. 282). By recognising that each person is needed as they are, for who they are, then that is where a welcome shift can occur, where the margins can be removed, and honour and belonging to something bigger becomes a realised part of the Mission of God. Paul’s focus in the latter part of 1 Cor 12 highlights the value of the parts of the body that seem weaker. Without these parts, the body loses function and integrity (Dewey & Miller, 2017). Without these parts, we only can come to know God in a limited way.  

For the body to realise its need for interdependence then the deeper act of belonging is required. Belonging offers an invitation to participate in life with one another in a richer way – the need for each other to flourish is recognised. When each person is recognised as valuable and worthy, then each person is recognised as co-ministers to one another. The Psalmist declares in Psalm 133:1 “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” Belonging, therefore is profoundly relational – we are called together, all differently able, all differently gifted to participate and grow into the body of Christ. I firmly believe that when we come to that place of knowing, then honour and worth in the God given vocation of each person is found. As John Swinton notes, we come to see who each person is and who God is calling them to be when we encounter one another – this is to be received as a gift, rather than merely looking at what can be achieved (Swinton, 2020).  Each person carries with them distinct value. When we are willing to set aside expectations and at times order in order for people to participate in the body of Christ in particular ways, then I believe that there will be an embodiment of welcome, honour, and therefore an active participation of transformation into the love of Christ, who is the head of the body.  

When we gather together, we should have a sense of expectation for God to work by ministering to and with one another – no matter age, ability or otherwise. I passionately believe that each person will be honoured for who they are, as they are when churches are places of deep belonging and where mutual flourishing will occur because each person becomes the co-participants in the Kingdom of God.  




 Dewey, A. J., & Miller, A. C. (2017). Paul. In S. J. Melcher, M. C. Parsons, & A. Yong (Eds.), The Bible and Disability: A Commentary (pp. 379–425). Baylor University Press. 

Gosbell, L. (2019). A Disability Reading of Paul’s Use of the ‘Body of Christ’ Metaphor in Romans 12:3-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. In Romans and the Legacy of St Paul. Historical, Theological, & Social Perspectives (pp. 281–327). SCD Press. 

Kenny, A. (2022). My body is not a prayer request: Disability justice in the church. Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group. 

Reynolds, T. E. (2012). Theology and Disability: Changing the Conversation. Journal of Religion, Disability & Health, 16(1), 33–48. 

Swinton, J. (2020). Disability, Vocation, and Prophetic Witness. Theology Today, 22(2), 186–197. 

Williams, R. (2016). Being Disciples: Essentials of the Christian Life (Kindle). SPCK. 




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Church Unity in the Love of the Trinity

Written by J. Immanuel Koks

I can’t think of a time when the unity of the church here in Aotearoa and around the world, has been put under this much strain. It seems like a constant hammer pounds on a wedge between those who are sympathetic towards progressive concerns and those who sense the need to hold on to conservative beliefs. Bang, bang, bang. Then the pandemic hit, and our government felt forced to take measures to protect the population. Lockdowns, masks, and vaccine mandates were all part of the Covid-wedge. Once again, Christians found themselves on different sides of this divisive wedge. The government and media kept pounding us with constant messaging about keeping safe, self-isolation, and the possibility of life-threatening illness. I personally think these messages were justified. But, the unfortunate flip side is that they taught us to fear each other: we don’t know if the person next to us has covid or not. So, this time, the great government sledgehammer kept whacking the Covid-wedge into place. Crash, crash, crash. While, mostly, this wedge is not of our making, it has driven us apart.

While disabled people are not to blame for this division because many of us have increased health vulnerabilities, we were part of the justification for the Government’s Covid-19 protection measures. Therefore, we found ourselves near the pointy edge of the Covid-wedge. Speaking for myself, as a person with cerebral palsy, I know I struggle with even basic life functions when I get sick. I am no more likely to get sick than others, but I was worried about how sick Covid could make me if I got it. (The good news is that I completed this article with a mild case of Covid and was not as sick as I could have been.) Therefore, I was quick to get the vaccine, I am careful about wearing masks, and taking other precautions so I could limit my likelihood of getting it. Because our church held vaccine-only services, I felt safer going to church. Nevertheless, I empathise with the disappointment that unvaccinated people feel when they were told to watch the service online or go to “vaccine-status unknown” services I acknowledge, therefore, that the decision by our church kaitiaki (eldership team,) to hold vaccine pass only services was yet another whack on the Covid-wedge.

Whether we agree with their choices or not, there is real hurt and disappointment on the part of those who believe our freedom was at stake with the vaccine mandate. The government-imposed vaccine mandates and vaccine passes brought about really difficult consequences for an individual’s “health decision.” For some, consequences included losing their job, and many others were excluded from everyday aspects of their lives. I think especially of those people who missed out on family milestones, birthdays, weddings, funerals, etc. There is no doubt that the choice not to get the vaccine, was a difficult decision.

Someone close to me is anti-covid-vaccines for health reasons, and what I said about freedom does not even begin to deal with the fear and concern that some people feel about the vaccine itself. Some of those people who have chosen to be vaccinated have been judged, condemned, and ostracised by those who are anti-covid-vaccine. While we may, or may not, agree, people with a variety of positions need our love, care, and respect as they try to navigate a very difficult situation. Whatever one’s experience and beliefs on these issues, we can all agree it has been as hard as it has been divisive, not only in the church, but beyond it as well. So, now more than ever; we need to think about unity in the body of Christ.

But, like many difficult aspects of our Christian walk and Christian thought, church unity is one thing that gets much harder, impossible even, when our priorities are wrong. If the primary focus is on what we must do to achieve unity, we risk going down the uniformity rabbit hole – where we settle into the grove of mixing only with those who are most like ourselves. I am guilty as charged; I find it too easy to gather around friends who think like me and feel defensive when people disagree with me.

When I think of the writings of St Paul, the fight for unity quickly comes to my mind. In fact, I would suggest we know what we know about Paul’s theology of salvation, his understanding of the church, or his understanding of the Holy Spirit’s gifting because he believed the church should be united.

Consider the fractious relationship between the Jews and Gentiles. Jews believed everyone needed to obey God’s law as they were told in their beloved Hebrew Scriptures. But the Gentiles did not come into a relationship with God by obeying the law. Paul’s response to this tension was emphatic. Welcome each other in because neither Jew nor Gentile save themselves by what they do. Rather, every one of us is saved by grace alone, because of Jesus’ faithful life as a first-century Jew, his death on Calvary, and his resurrection in Joseph’s tomb. Unity, I want to suggest, arises when we celebrate together the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus around the table of the Lord. This does not mean that other theology is not important. But our faith needs to be in his faithfulness, not in our ability to faithfully believe the right doctrine. Just as our works do not save us, our grasp of church doctrine does not save us either. Though theology can be a rich, ever-abundant supply of spiritual nourishment. However, knowing the details of doctrine should never take the place of simply trusting that the love and grace expressed on the cross are enough for us. In fact, this is liberating indeed, because God’s grace and love will always escape our fullest grasp.

In this, there are profound implications for the way we minister with those who have cognitive impairments. We know the evangelical insistence that “whoever believes in him (the Son, Jesus) shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16.) As a self-confessed theology nerd, I love the nitty-gritty of Christian thought. Yet, I am relieved that I am welcomes in God’s love and grace, despite all my misunderstanding. In fact, I am convinced that the same Jesus who welcomed the little children, will welcome us all in our inability to understand him fully. He welcomes us all even though we cannot live up to the high level of holiness that he desires of us. He also welcomes us in the limitedness of our understanding. After all, we are told in Jn 3:17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” This all leads me to believe that those who trust Jesus with a very simple faith, though they may not understand even the first principles of church doctrine, are just as welcome in God’s loving, gracious embrace, as any theological giant we must wish to name. Perhaps even more so.

As the church grew, it followed the sacrament of baptism. Baptism is a sign that every person, no matter how different they were from each other, is included in Christ. Since, when a person gets baptised they are united with him in his death and resurrection. Indeed, this grounded their unity because baptism was a way of recognising that all shared the same faith in the Trinitarian God who saved them. Paul told the Ephesians to

“be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:2-6.)

Paul knew that unity came through the church coming together in the shared worship of the God who saved them through his work as three persons in the world. Paul knew it was the one Spirit who held the church together. All of us worship the one Son, our Lord, Jesus, who though he is God became human, to live, die, and rise again for us. We’re united as we come to know the one Father of us all who loves us so much, that he sent his Son to save us, and gives us the Spirit to enable our flourishing. In the first four centuries, the early church knew that belief in one God, who was Father, Son, and Spirit, was the only way that they would remain united. But anyone who has done any study of Trinitarian doctrine will know that it’s hard work even to begin to get a handle on what is ultimately a mystery. Therefore, the theologians of the early church struggled to come to, and maintain, a unified understanding of God. These struggles played out in letters sent here-there-and-everywhere in the known world, and in long, large councils with representatives from all around that world. Why? Because they knew the only way to be united was to put our faith in the one God who saves us through his Son.

In theological language, we say that during this period, the church fathers were struggling for the catholicity of the church. (Note, the small c catholicity: I am not talking about the big C Roman Catholic church which emerged because of a massive split between the Eastern church—now known as the Eastern Orthodox Church—and the Western church that began in 1054.[1]) To recognise that we are members of the catholic church is the first step towards unity. Because it is saying, no matter what our differences, if we believe in the same God, Father, Son, and Spirit, and if we believe in the same grace that the triune God invites us to participate in, then we are all one church in Christ.

This is not to minimise the importance of those issues that divide the church into different denominations, but it is to say that those are secondary to the things that bind us together. It means that I can sit with my Roman Catholic aunty and recognise a fellow believer who loves the same Lord that I try to love. It means I can recognise my taxi driver, who is also an Orthodox Priest, as a fellow child of God, even though some of the things that we disagree about are not trivial in the least.

This emphasis on Father, Son, and Spirit is why, when St Paul turns to the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12, he once again grounds it in what will come to be known as Trinitarian language. He writes, “there are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work” (1 Cor 12:4-6.) After this, Paul describes the different gifts of the Spirit, and how we all need each other, to work in our own gifting, which the Spirit purposefully gives to each unique member. But the point is, though the church is wonderfully diverse, and the Spirit enhances that diversity by giving us each unique gift, we are united because it is the work of the one God.

The Eastern Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas makes a point that brings us full circle. In western churches, birds of a feather flock together. We can go to a church that most aligns with how we think because of the wide array of denominations, and our cars mean we can easily travel some distance to church each week. Traditionally, in the East, the church placed a lot more emphasis on going to your closest church. That means the diversity of the local neighbourhood gets reflected in our church, including having to rub shoulders with those who perspectives are different from our own. So, for Zizioulas, maintaining unity in the local congregation, with all its diversity, is key to maintaining the catholicity of the church.[2]

So, how do we maintain the unity of the church? I know this sounds as simple as it is deep and wide. It is to stop trying to be the glue that binds the church together, by our own strength and knowledge. Rather it is to press into the Spirit and let him be the bond of peace as he gives us all his love, (1 Cor 13). We grow in unity when we come together around the person of Jesus, and focus on how his life, death and resurrection are for us. We can deal with our differences, even the differences of physical, cognitive, emotional, or social ability, when we keep on convincing ourselves that Jesus died for us in our weakness, as much as he died for anybody else in what we might perceive as their weakness. The other glue that binds us together is to know that it has always been the Father’s will to gather us all to himself in love. God the Father created me, you, and our neighbours, for a relationship with him, in Christ, through the Spirit.

So, I want to suggest that we allow the unity formed in Christ, to become a bit more real to us when we put the triune God, at the centre of our worship. When we gather to celebrate what he has done for us and when we go in the power of the Spirit out into the world. Therefore, I can think of no better way to do that than to celebrate the Eucharist (Communion or the Lord’s Supper) as the centre of what binds us together as a church. It is at the table of the Lord that we celebrate Christ, who died for each of us individually, and for the church as a whole. Furthermore, that meal is also a chance to look forward to the wedding feast of the Lord. When the church, the bride of Christ, will be cleansed of all that divides her, and will experience the fullness of communion with our God.




[1] “Great Schism,” The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church

[2] John Zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church Contemporary Greek Theologians, (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985), 254-57.




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Do Not be Ashamed of the Gospel

“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time” 2 Timothy 1:6-9 (NIV)

The Encourager

Paul suffered so much and still he’s able to say ‘No, don’t be afraid to share the Gospel, remember what God has done for us.’ Christ died for us! So, we shouldn’t be ashamed of the gift that God has given us. Here in New Zealand, we don’t suffer for the Gospel as much as some who live in other parts of the world. So, we have less excuse to hide away and be fearful. At the end of the verse, it says God called Paul to be a preacher. God might not call you to be a preacher, but He calls you to be His hands and His feet. He will use you no matter your ability.

Kim Clark


Why would I be ashamed of exciting news? Think about it. We would not be ashamed to tell people that we’ve achieved something or something exciting has happened. We would be quick to tell people. When I got my job at Elevate, I was so excited! I told all my friends and family. I put a post on Facebook. I even wrote an article about it. But we aren’t always as enthusiastic about the Gospel and our relationship with Christ. We may mention that we’re a Christian or go to church, but do we share about salvation, Christ’s death and resurrection, or the transformation in our lives?

Sharing our testimony with others is powerful. It can be an invitation for people to know Christ and start a relationship with Him. As Paul says in Romans 10:13-15, how can they believe if they have not heard. We need to tell people about the Gospel in order for them to believe. We can’t afford to be afraid of sharing the Gospel and telling our testimonies. Take courage, use your gifts and share the Gospel.



Manuele Teofilo


A sound mind is knowing when a storm or problem comes my way, I am ready for it. Not because of me but because my God is for me. The Bible says that if God is for me, or for you, who can be against me. So, people take that and apply that into your life. Whatever situation, problem or storm that comes your way God is for you. So have no fear. Don’t fear the world or what’s happening around you.

Gods’ promises are yes and amen. So, when God says I’ll give you a spirit of power, love and a sound mind, then glorify and say, ‘Yes Lord, please, I receive that’. But to have that you have got to want it. You know it’s like serving God not because you have to but serving God because you want to. If you really want what God’s applying to our life, just open your heart, open your hand and say Lord I receive that.

Prayer: Lord, I thank you for this reminder that your spirit in us gives us courage, love, and a sound mind. You give us the strength and the power to share the Gospel. That’s what you have called us to. Help us to be courageous and enthusiastic about your Word. Help us to tell our friends, family, workmates and those we meet about you. To you be all the glory. In Jesus name, amen.

Lani Va’a



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The Difference Between Inclusion and Belonging

We often hear the words ‘inclusion’ and ‘belonging’ when talking about welcoming more people with disabilities into our churches and ministries. But the difference between these two is not always clear. As it’s December, let me use a Christmas example to try and explain. 

Most of us will have different Christmas traditions, such as a certain time to open presents, reading the Christmas story or dressing up in our best and going to a Christmas service. Whatever our unique Christmas traditions are, one tradition that many of us have in common is gathering with close friends and family. You might have an aunt who always brings the pavlova, someone else their ‘famous’ glazed ham and that one person who will always laugh at the bad Christmas-cracker jokes. 

When close friends and whānau gather, there is likely to be a number of inside jokes. If someone is not able to make it, their absence is deeply felt and their typical contribution is missed (especially if they bought the pav!). This is belonging. 

If someone new came along one year, they would most likely be welcomed and invited to join in with the fun and games. They may contribute to the conversations or bring a yummy dish to share. By the end of the day, you may even look back and think that was fun having them come. 

But they wouldn’t get the inside jokes or understand the specific nuances of your whānau’s unique traditions. If they did not come again next year, there might be a moment when their absence is noticed, but it won’t be with the same deep longing that grandma’s absence would bring. Their contribution will not likely be missed either. Your Christmas celebrations will continue as they have every other year. This is inclusion. 

You see, someone can be present, made to feel welcomed and included in the activities, but until they are truly a part of the whānau, where their absence and contribution are missed, they will only ever be included.  

God offers all of us a part to play in His family (Romans 12: 3-13). We as the church and wider Christian community need to honour God’s desire and actively extend this invitation to everyone in our church. Only once people are able to join in on the inside jokes and contribute to the Christian community, will a sense of belonging be possible. 

By Siobhán Jansen 

Training and Seminar Coordinator