An Ethnographic Approach to Pastoral Care with Persons with Disabilities and their Families

“Taking ethnography and people with disabilities seriously in furthering the church's ministry of pastoral care ”

Team Members/Contributors

Erin Raffety Princeton Theological Seminary Contact Me

About this project grant for researchers

This project responds to the isolation persons with disabilities and their families feel from the church by conducting ethnographic research to better understand the needs and gifts of people with disabilities in daily life. This project also responds to an empirical lacunae in scholarship regarding persons with disabilities and the church, seeking to use ethnography to inform deeper, richer pastoral care. Hence, the aim is to take seriously the voices, experiences, and contributions of people with disabilities within their own family environments and cultures in order to enable the church to connect with, learn from, and better minister to people with disabilities. Over nine months, we will conduct participant observation with 8-10 families and churches in the northeast, both observing families in worship and Christian community, and "going home with them" in order to study what lessons the subculture of the family has to teach the church when it comes to communicating and connecting across differences. Indeed, this project reconnects home life with church life, forging dialogue between the two, making theology practical and pastoral. This research will be used to inform and develop new models for pastoral care for persons with disabilities, which we will share with the families and congregations in the study and will ultimately contribute to a book on the topic. Studying how people with disabilities are “known” and valued by others in their own environments and how they also contribute and lend insight into their family cultures can help us understand how pastoral care may become a ministry with people with disabilities rather than a mere ministry to them. Accordingly, such studies will expand our knowledge of God, complicating our propensity to make God in narrowed human images, and thus furthering more equitable, just, and comprehensive ministry of the church in North America.