Disabilities and the Gospel: An Interview with Stephanie Hubach

EDITOR|CHRISTINA FOX

Editor’s note: the following is an interview with Stephanie Hubach about her new role at Covenant Theological Seminary.

Christina: What is your new role at CTS? How is it different than the role you had before at MNA?

Stephanie:  My role at MNA (for almost 10 years) was serving as the founding Director of MNA Special Needs Ministries—our first denominational ministry initiative whose mission was “to engage, educate, equip and encourage PCA congregations, presbyteries and permanent committees or agencies in the ‘hows and whys’ of ministering to and alongside people touched by disability, and their families.” The purpose of the organization was firmly rooted in “making the gospel—the good news of the coming of Christ’s kingdom—accessible to all, in word and deed.” I transitioned from the founding Director role in 2016, and since then, it has been renamed MNA Engaging Disability and the new director is now Ashley Belknap. Be sure to look this vital PCA ministry up on Facebook or to go to their new website at www.engagingdisability.org!

My new role, as Research Fellow in Disability Ministries with Covenant Theological Seminary, has a different, more narrowly focused mission, but it still has the same purpose. In partnership with Covenant Theological Seminary, my new mission will allow me to “contribute to the conversation on disability, family, culture and Christianity while also serving as a dedicated personal resource to the seminary’s faculty, staff and students.” But my ultimate ministry purpose remains the same—“making the gospel accessible to all in word and deed.”

I long to see our Presbyterian Church in America ministry leaders and pastors well-equipped in the arena of ministry to and alongside of people with disabilities and their families. I have taught courses at Covenant Theological Seminary in the past, and have a profound appreciation for the staff and community of the seminary. That’s why I am thrilled to continue to add to the resource materials available to pastors, ministry leaders and congregations. In addition to research and writing, I will be available to the Covenant Theological Seminary faculty and students as a resource on disability-related issues. Just as disability knows no socio-economic boundaries, it also knows no specific academic disciplines! There are disability-related contexts for every aspect of a seminary education. This new role is a natural continuation of my ongoing involvement with the seminary and my personal interest and strengths in writing, teaching and in exploring new disability ministry topics.

Christina: What is the focus of your practical theology research project this year?

Stephanie: I’m so glad you asked that question! My area of focus this year (and likely for several years to come) is on the topic of “transition” which in “disability world lingo” I would describe as “the period from when a person with a developmental disability becomes a teenager into the period in which they experience establishment in adult life.” Being the parent of a 25-year-old with Down syndrome I am in a different place in the spectrum of “disability across the lifespan” than I was when I had an elementary aged child with special needs. As a result, I find myself pondering questions like these, many of which will influence the work I do and the materials that come from that work:

  • In a culture that values autonomy and power over interdependence and vulnerability, how—as Christians—do we help cultivate communities where people with disabilities are welcomed, valued and genuinely respected across their lifespan?
  • Do we understand the cultural forces that influence thinking inside and outside of disability circles? Are we able to apply the gospel to those modes of thinking as they currently are, and as they change?
  • Do we have an apologetic for disability that allows us to enter the arena of secular conversation without losing our moorings when we encounter the cultural assumptions taking place behind the actual discussion? Are we able to “hear” the real questions, discern the true needs, and feel the authentic pain behind the proposed positions?
  • How do we continue to learn to think about disability—not so much as the “other”—and, instead, see it as a more notable expression of the human vulnerability we all experience.
  • How do we think about “connecting points” of practical kingdom ministry to people with disabilities outside the walls of the church? In the areas of…
    • Employment options
    • Social engagement
    • Continuing education/skill development
    • Mentoring for physical/emotional/mental well-being
    • Counseling services (For example: Who knows how to counsel adults with intellectual disabilities in the community, from a Christian perspective, and will do the hard work of creating materials towards that end by developing expertise and application? Who knows how to counsel siblings who have brothers or sisters with disabilities—in the context of their unique needs?)
  • How do we think about disability across the lifespan as it relates to members of the body of Christ?
  • Within our covenant communities, how do we practically assist families in the process of “transition” from school age into young adulthood and on into the aging process?
  • How ought we to think about this period in general, from a biblical and covenantal standpoint?
  • How ought we to understand the effects of “transition” on various family members and on the person with intellectual disability?
  • How ought we to work within the systems both inside the church and available in the culture to promote appropriate interdependence between the person with a disability, their family members, the local congregation and supportive services in the community-at-large?
  • How ought we to help parents, siblings and supportive others obtain a “second wind for the second half” while recognizing and navigating how significantly all the roles change?

ChristinaHow can people follow the work that you are doing with CTS or offer to be part of the qualitative research that you are conducting?

Stephanie: First, let me define “qualitative research” quickly before it freaks people out! It’s not scary at all. In fact, it’s pretty relational. A little web search provided this definition, which I think is helpful: “Qualitative research typically is exploratory and/or investigative in nature. Its findings…cannot automatically be used to make generalizations. However, it is indispensable in developing a deep understanding of a given thematic complex and sound rationale for further decision making.” In other words, qualitative research is in-depth research conducted with a smaller population of people to plumb the depths of the complexity of a challenge at hand. That’s what I want to do in order to better understand the challenges of transition for families touched by disability—and then to apply a practical theology of disability to address those challenges at the familial, pastoral and congregational level. That practical theology could come in the form of magazine articles, workshops, a book project—or all the above.

If you have any interest in participating in any of the research I’ll be doing (or know anyone who might be!) or in following the outcomes, or in being on my mailing please contact me at Steph.Hubach@covenantseminary.edu. You can also find me at my personal website at www.stephaniehubach.com.  In the next few months, I will be looking to connect with families, 1) who have a family member with a developmental disability who is in the midst of transition or 2) whose family member with a developmental disability has effectively transitioned into adult life. Any inquiries, volunteers, or suggestions are welcome!

Christina: What is your hope or goal with this position?

Stephanie: My continued passion is to see people with disabilities and their families come to know Christ and be forever changed by his saving reign in their lives. Hand in hand with that, I also long to see the Church continue to look more like Jesus as we come alongside of people with disabilities in truth and grace—not only as extenders of truth and grace towards people with disabilities and their families but as recipients of truth and grace from the hands of people with disabilities in our lives. My hope is that, the work that I do with Covenant Theological Seminary will have practical value to the seminary faculty, to future pastors and ministry leaders who are in training there now, and to those who have moved on to local ministry contexts, and to families touched by disability and the congregations in which they dwell.

Christina: Anything else you want to share?

 Stephanie: Living with a person with a disability isn’t only a challenge to be explored—it’s also an amazing blessing to be enjoyed! My younger son Tim (who has Down syndrome) creates cooking videos that we post on my Facebook page (Stephanie Opdahl Hubach). If you’ve never spent a few minutes with “Chef Tim”—just “friend me” and I guarantee you you’ll have some fun. My personal favorite is “Hunk-a-hunk-a Meatballs.” But you can decide for yourself!

About the Author:

Christina Fox

Christina received her undergraduate degree from Covenant College and her Master’s Degree in Counseling from Palm Beach Atlantic University. She writes for a number of Christian ministries and publications including Revive Our Hearts, Desiring God, Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and Ligonier Ministries. She is the content editor for enCourage and the author of A Heart Set Free: A Journey to Hope Through the Psalms of Lament   and Closer Than a Sister: How Union with Christ Helps Friendships to Flourish. Christina also serves on the advisory board at Covenant College. She prefers her coffee black and from a French press, enjoys antiquing, hiking, traveling, and reading. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and two boys. You can find her at www.christinafox.com, @christinarfox and on Facebook.

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