Religion is an important source of strength for many of our members, so we’re asking clergy from different religious traditions to share how their members look at disability. Rev. Dr. John Joseph Mastandrea of the Metropolitan United Church in Toronto, part of the United Church of Canada. He is a certified Labyrinth Facilitator, Stephen Leader, and Spiritual Director following in the footsteps of Ignatius Loyola and Teresa of Avila.
Are there any pieces you’d share with someone struggling with a disability or the strain of caregiving?
For someone struggling with a disability, I would share the story of Temple Grandin.
Temple Grandin, Ph.D., is one of the the most accomplished and well-known adults with autism in the world. Now her fascinating life, with all its challenges and successes, has been brought to the screen with the HBO full-length film “Temple Grandin”, starring Claire Danes, which won seven Emmy awards and a Golden Globe. The movie shows her life as a teenager and how she started her career.
For someone dealing with the strain of caregiving, I would let them know about Circles of Care. Circles of Care are where a team of people, usually family and friends, coordinate care support to offer relief for the primary caregiver. There can be 80 people taking shifts to provide 24/7 care for a friend. Locally, they’re offered by Trinity Home Hospice and Casey House. This Circle of Care is coordinated by the paid accountable staff person.
Are there any articles of faith or scripture that address disabilities?
There are many places in scripture providing strength and addressing mental health issues, issues faced by the mentally challenged, and physical disabilities. Ruth 1:15-17; Isaiah 40:31; Daniel 4:10-12; Matthew 11:28,29.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28,29
Have you done anything specifically to make your faith more inclusive for people with disabilities and their caregivers?
My attitude has transformed to that of authentic empathy. My good friend has a mother with Alzheimer’s. My friend is the primary caregiver and I have been a compassionate presence.
Does your religious group have any formal support systems for the families of people with disabilities or illnesses? What about informal traditions of support?
The Met Care team offers support through a program of intentional phone calling, visiting and letter writing. Our members also provide transportation and other assistance on an informal basis.
What would you like to share with caregivers who have struggled with their faith? What would you share with caregivers whose experience has deepened their faith?
It’s okay to struggle with your faith. There is permission to be angry with God. Thomas Merton was an atheist for years after the death of his, mother, father and brother. Later Thomas Merton became the greatest Christian Mystic of the 20th century. I recommend The Seven Storey Mountain.
I would ask caregivers whose experience has deepened their faith if they would share their story with others.
Recently, I served as an interfaith chaplain for the Panam and Parapanam games. It was a moving experience to get to know the Para-athletes. I’d like to share this letter from a Brazilian athlete:
Dear Parapanam Chaplains at the Multifaith Centre,
Thank you for taking the time to listen to my story as a parathlete from Brasil.
I had a tragic accident in my youth that paralized me from the neck down. Through years of rehabilitation and therapy I am able to use my upper torso.
I thought my life would be forever filled with limitations. Then the opportunity came for me to be a parathlete first in native brasil and later the doorway to international competitions were opened. My event is discuss and javelin, it is with deep gratitude that the invitation came to compete in the Parapanam games. Thank you for your prayers and steadfast leadership.
I may never win but have special gratitude for the opportunity to participate in the Toronto 2015 Parapanam games.
Luis Raffael Rodriques
What sources have helped you celebrate your faith in a way that’s inclusive and accessible? What guidance would you give to other faith leaders?
Some people think they don’t need to do anything to find closure. When you pack it up, grief turns into a volcano. Living emotion and attachment is important. Start by being a presence. No answers required, just compassionate, intentional presence.
Reverend Dr. John Joseph Mastandrea became minister of spiritual growth and pastoral care development at Metropolitan United in 2000. John Joseph cut his teeth in the Etobicoke area of Toronto and now resides in Cabbagetown, he is “connected with the urban landscape, with the internal and eternal song.”
He has Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, Master of Divinity, Master of Religious Education, Master of Arts and Ministry of Spirituality degrees, all from the University of Toronto. John Joseph completed his Doctorate from Chicago Theological Seminary, May 2009. Ordained in 1989, he is a certified Labyrinth Facilitator, Stephen Leader, and Spiritual Director following in the footsteps of Ignatius Loyola and Teresa of Avila. John Joseph believes in nurturing body, mind and spirit. Monday to Friday at the local gym, reading and meditating daily weaves three key components of life. Nurture for self to nurture for others.
John Joseph’s volunteer work for the church and community includes: Chairperson of the Toronto South East Presbytery Pastoral Relations Commission, membership in the Toronto Area Interfaith Council, Police Chaplin to 51 Division, Membership in the Toronto Rotary, Chair Person the Toronto Rotary Community Services Committee and Chair of the World Aids Concert Committee a benefit for Casey House. Volunteer ministry has included positions as chairperson of the Worship and Liturgy Committee of Toronto Conference for four years, chairperson of the Mission Committee of Toronto South Presbytery, chairperson of the Planning and Development Committee and co-chairperson of the Christian Development Committee in York Presbytery north of Toronto, chairperson of the AIDS Committee of York Region since 1998, and member of the Pastoral Care Committee of York Central Hospital in Richmond Hill. He represented Canada as a delegate to the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland, in February 1990.
John Joseph was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Award in 2012 to celebrate the ongoing spirit of his community work in the surrounding neighborhood.
Today John Joseph seeks to meet people where they are and build the capacity for relations between people in a diverse spectrum of society.