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Welcoming and Inclusive: Actions for Churches in response to people with disabilities and mental health issues


When: Saturday 29 July 2023, 9:15 am – 5 pm

Where: Salvation Army Centre, 1010 Whitehorse Road, Box Hill or Online

Cost: $40 for Metropolitan participants/ $25 concession and non-Metropolitan participants/ $10 online participants. Catering provided.

Both Federal and Victorian Governments have been part of significant reforms in relation to mental health and disability. Most significant has been the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. However, despite these reforms, too many people with disabilities and mental health needs still face abuse, neglect, exploitation and discrimination. These issues have been highlighted by numerous Parliamentary inquiries and the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.

Theological response to people with disabilities and mental health issues have also shifted, becoming more aware of the impact of our theology and language on Christian perspectives and responses to disability. Many churches have also made efforts to be welcoming and inclusive. At the same time, people with disabilities and mental health issues still struggle to find churches that make them feel welcome and fully included.

The conference will provide opportunities to explore how congregations can be more welcoming and inclusive of people with disabilities and mental health issues. Together we will also explore the ways in which churches can be part of advocacy for further reforms by governments.


Key Speakers


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Rev Dr Andy Calder

Disability Inclusion Advocate

Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania

Andy has previously held roles as chaplain at Prahran Mission, and senior chaplain at Epworth HealthCare, Richmond.

Prior to ordination in 1995 as a Uniting Church deacon, Andy worked in a range of community and government contexts in program delivery, policy development and advocacy with people with disabilities.

Andy is committed to ensuring people with disabilities are full and equal participants in all activities of the Synod. His PhD explored the spirituality of adults with an intellectual disability.

Andy is also Director of the Uniting CPE – the John Paver Centre, a Clinical Pastoral Education provider.


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Colleen Pearce

Public Advocvate

Dr Colleen Pearce has been Victoria’s Public Advocate since September 2007.

In this role, she is the guardian of last resort for adults with disabilities in Victoria. Under legislation, she is also chair of the Community Visitor boards.

Colleen fearlessly advocates for the human rights and interests of people with a disability and a mental illness, and is outspoken on the significant issues of abuse, neglect and exploitation.

Colleen has more than 30 years’ experience managing community and health services in both the government and non-government sectors.

She is a board member of Connecting Home, an organisation established in response to the recommendations arising from the Stolen Generations Taskforce Report.

Colleen is a proud Yuin woman from southern NSW.





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Major Christine Pickens

Major Christine Pickens has been a Salvation Army Officer for over 32 years in a variety of ministries in corps and social work. Over the last 16 years, the focus of her work has been in the Emergency Relief sector and in delivering training.

Christine is part of Eva Burrows College Vocational Training Stream and delivers a variety of different accredited and non-accredited training programs and is responsible for Positive Lifestyle Program Trainers across Australia.



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Rev Amanda Nicholas

Coming from her own lived experiences and passion for creating a genuinely educated and meaningful faith encounter, Amanda is passionate about educating and resourcing individuals and communities of faith in accessible and inclusive liturgies and practices within the dynamics of the Body of Christ seeking to be known as inclusive communities across the expanse of culture, gender, sexuality, neurodiversity and more.



Zak Hanyn

Zak is of proud Moroccan descent, who lives in Naarm and works on the lands of the Wurundjeri people. He has had a long and complex journey of moments of joy and great loss due multiple chronic medical conditions. He has an enduring faith that has sustained him through most of life.


Joanne gardiner

Joanne Gardiner

Dr Joanne Gardiner currently works as a GP at Cohealth Collingwood, Geelong Head to Health, and is a Refugee Health Fellow at RMH.

She has worked with refugees and asylum seekers since 1995, and has been involved in teaching GPs and Allied Health about Refugee health, and has worked in policy and service development to support humanitarian entrants and asylum seekers




9 am Gathering & Registration – Tea and coffee will be provided on arrival

9:15 am Introduction – Acknowledgement of Country and opening reflection – Rev Sandy Boyce, Executive Officer, Victorian Council of Churches and Kelly Skilton, Younger Generations – Digital and New Communities, Uniting Church in Australia

9:30 am Keynote address – Theological reflection on disability and mental health – Rev Dr Andy Calder

10:30 am Morning Tea

11 am Keynote Address – What reforms are needed to ensure people with disability and mental health challenges can lead flourishing lives? – Dr Colleen Pearce, Public Advocate Victoria

11:30 am Panel Session – What role should the Christian community be playing to welcome and include people with disabilities and mental health issues?

12:30 pm Lunch

1:15 pm Workshops – 1st Round

2:15 pm Workshops – 2nd Round

3:15 pm Afternoon tea

3:45 pm Reflection – Discussion on where to next and what participants will do as a result of the conference

4:45 pm Closing Worship – Kelly Skilton

5 pm Finish – After conference drinks and nibbles



Workshop Options

Please list your top three workshop options (in order) when registering. Workshops will be run based on the number of participants, and will not run if not enough participants register interest. Each workshop will aim to look for a specific way forward in each area.

The workshop options are:

1. Addressing abuse and neglect of people with disability – Progress by the Royal Commission – Natalie Clements, Social Justice and Policy Coordinator, Queensland Synod, Uniting Church in Australia – Online workshop only

2. Designing a protective systems that works for people with disability and mental health issues – Mark Zirnsak Senior Social Justice Advocate, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, Uniting Church in Australia

3. Rethinking our theology on disability and mental health – Rev Andy Calder

4. How can congregations be more inclusive and welcoming of people with disability and mental health issues? – Including examples of congregations that have created welcoming environments – Chelsea Church of Christ, Mooroolbark Salvation Army Corps, St Andrews Alphington-Fairfield Uniting Church

5. Getting Young People out of Residential Aged Care – Dr Di Winkler, CEO, The Summer Foundation. The workshop will outline the plan for the Summer Foundation to stop the flow of young people with disability or mental health issues being placed in residential aged care once and for all.

6. Responding to mental health issues in the criminal justice system

7. On Captions, Clarity and Sign: A perspective on speech – Adrian Jackson and Laura Weatherall. Adrian has the lived experience of a hearing loss and navigating this experience in church, work, education and social contexts. Adrian is a member of a local Baptist congregation. Laura is both a qualified Primary teacher and an accredited Minister for Churches of Christ. One focus area for Laura has been in the teaching of Auslan.

8. Neurodiversity Inclusion – Rev Amanda Nicholas

9. Invisible Illness/The Spoon Theory – Zak Hanyn

10. From Diagnosis to O.A.M. – A Personal Autism Journey – Daniel Giles O.A.M. and his Dad, Daryl discuss their journey with Daniel’s autism through their combined lenses of lived experience.

11. Flexibility and Support, assisting people with disability to navigate the system – Marina Jacob, General Manager, Vine & Branches Disability Services


To register, click here

Please register by Monday 10 July.




If you have particular access needs or need assistance to register contact:

Alicia Torres

Centre for Theology and Ministry

29 College Crescent, Parkville, Vic, 3052

Phone (03) 9340 8815

Email: [email protected]