VOTER IDS + ZOOM LINKS will be emailed to AC members Tuesday (June 6)

Greater NW Pride: Lessons from Camp Hope


Lessons from Camp Hope


On Aug. 17 and 18, 2018, I had the joy of re-connecting with my advocacy roots at Camp Hope, a Camp for twenty-one adults with intellectual disabilities held in the beautiful surroundings of Camp Magruder. When I was 18 years old, I began work as a “recreation therapist” or youth group leader with a group of young teenagers who were all labeled as living with Down Syndrome, who lived in a nursing home in Spokane, Washington.  This successful experience led me to get me into the field of music education/music therapy at the University of Kansas, followed by my work for two years as a music therapist with young people who were considered autistic alongside children with intellectual disabilities in a public school that was making its first steps towards mainstreaming. I then went to Princeton Seminary asking the question: how does God make God’s self known to others if one is unable to process language (spoken or written or signed), like others in a linguistic-dependent faith community? 
Ever since, I have been welcomed by those labeled “disabled,”and learned many lessons from many in various groups of people with disabilities (from ARC to Not Dead Yet groups) about the smart politics of being labeled and considered an “outsider”, “marginalized”, and “under-represented” minority group, and the destructive power of ableism. Some lessons of advocacy that I learned from those in the community of people labeled by the world as “disabled”: First, I learned “not about us without us,” and the importance of having those whose lives are being discussed in the “room” where and when decisions are made. Second, I learned about my role and function as being an advocate “with” people with disabilities, and not “for” or “to” people with disabilities.  Third, I learned to honor the pilgrim path that each person is on in terms of his or her relationship to the Holy, however it is understood or known, be it through words, dance, music, art, play, movies, or simply being quiet. It is in these ways that those, whom the world calls “disabled” aren’t necessarily “disabled” in the purview of God’s love, and the label just doesn’t matter, let alone make sense.
I take these lessons to heart as I quickly remembered them and those who taught me the art and practice of advocacy as the LGBTQ Advocacy Coordinator of the OR-ID UMC Conference. As I entered into Camp Hope last week, encountering the lives of people with disabilities and an incredible staff of volunteers, some who have been gathering with those who are at the core of Camp Hope for 25 years, I quickly re-learned some more lessons: to “go with the flow” and make creative name tags out of small disks of wood with others; re-learned the art of dancing with someone in a wheel chair with others; and the joyful challenge of going at someone else’s pace of life and joining in a partnership with them rather than always going at my own ferocious pace, not aware of what else is happening in the world. For these gifts and graces, which I can and will incorporate in my work as the LGBTQ Advocacy Coordinator, I give God thanks.

Brett Webb-Mitchell
Rev. Dr. Brett Webb-Mitchell is an openly gay Presbyterian pastor in the Portland area serving as the part-time LGBTQ+ advocacy coordinator for The Oregon-Idaho Conference of the UMC. He can be reached at brett@umoi.org. Become a subscriber to the Greater NW Pride blog to get Greater NW Pride in your email box!