NNU News

Wesley Conference explores ways to make room for all

February 18, 2020

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Northwest Nazarene University’s Wesley Center hosted its annual Wesley Center Conference Feb. 6 - 7. This year’s theme, titled “Disability and the Church,” explored what it means to welcome those with physical, emotional, and cognitive disabilities into the body of Christ. Drs. Jay Akkerman and Mike Kipp led the two-day conference.

“To be honest, there are some places where the church is behind the broader culture. This conference worked with great intention to listen and engage with those who have dis-abilties or different abilities,” said Dr. Brent Peterson, Dean of the College of Theology and Christian Ministry. “In reality this is an area the church needs to be better in our speech, in our actions, in our physical buildings, and in our imagination.”

Pastors, students, educators, and laypersons gathered at the conference in person and via the live feed online to hear speakers Jeff and Rebekah Hall, Dieter Zander, and Dr. Diane Leclerc.

“The sessions dealt with both the theological and practical in how to listen, love, embrace and care for those across the wide spectrum of disability,” Dr. Peterson said.

Jeff and Rebekah Hall, both graduates of NNU, earned their doctorates in clinical psychology from Fuller Theological Seminary. Since then, they have worked together to advocate for those with disabilities. In 2010, they helped to establish Northwest Neurobehavioral Health, a treatment center that works with those affected by physical, emotional, and cognitive disorders. Jeff and Rebekah are also advocates for congenital CMV prevention, a condition their youngest child was born with.

“As psychologists and pastors, Drs. Jeff and Rebekah Hall shared wisely about their life as parents of a child with a disability,” said Dr. Kipp, associate professor of Youth and Family Ministries. “It was a great start to this year's conference!”

Zander, a pastor, speaker, and musician, suffered a stroke in February of 2008. The stroke affected the left hemisphere of his brain leaving him barely capable of speech and with a crippled right hand. His journey to recovery has been long, but has been aided by his love for photography. It was through the camera lens that he found a new appreciation for life.

According to Zander, “Photography became not only my voice, but my way to worship God. With camera in hand, I began to find grace, hope and beauty everywhere I looked."

Dr. Leclerc, a professor of Historical Theology at NNU, has authored several books including The Backside of the Cross: An Atonement Theology for the Abused and Abandoned, co-authored with Dr. Peterson. The book discusses theodicy for the persecuted and what that means both pastorally and theologically. She also spoke about how being a mother of a son with Asperger syndrome has impacted her life and perspective of autism and cognitive disabilities.

“We celebrate that ALL persons are created in God's image,” Dr. Peterson said. “It is true that not all persons have the same abilities. There remain many hard questions surrounding the "why" of those realities. Yet the Church must follow the pattern of Christ and find ways to love all persons especially those who are too often shoved to the margins or backrooms of the culture and even the Church. With God's grace, fear can be overcome, and love can win the day.”

More details regarding conference talks and workshops are available at https://wesleycenter.nnu.edu/wesley-conference-old/schedule