Creating Safe Environments for the Marginalized

Over the past few weeks I have been preparing to deliver a subject entitled Diversity and Ministry, which will take place 11 to 15 July.  The categories of diversity within local congregations, school classrooms and local communities are numerous and present many challenges to ministry, as we attempt to provide safe and inclusive environments for all of God’s people as encouraged in Scripture.

The idea of a safe and inclusive environment has occupied my thinking in the preparation phase, especially in regards to those with physical and intellectual disabilities.  A specific trigger that has ignited my reflections in recent weeks was the delivery of a lecture to trainee teachers at Tabor on the foundational factors for positive engagement with parents who have children with disabilities. Out of this came a question from a student who was keen to transfer the information into a youth program in their church.

Providing physically safe environments/communities is usually done satisfactorily but there is much more involved.  As communication, participation and social engagement are core components of community activities, facilitating and creating environments where these occur for those with limited social skills, speech and literacy abilities or intellectual processing skills becomes crucial to providing safe environments.

Here are some of my tips for best practice:

  • Reflect biblically and theologically on the motivation to engage with people with disabilities, especially in the light of Romans 15:7 which compels us to accept one another as Christ accepts us.
  • Discuss needs, interests, degrees of independence, abilities, goals, areas of interest, boundaries, activities they love and what they can bring to the relevant group and teach others, in conversation with relevant stakeholders, such as parents and carers.
  • Engage stakeholders associated with the people such as parents and carers and Put scaffolding in place to provide emotional, intellectual and psychological support structures, and equip leadership with knowledge, skills and attitudes to strategize, act accordingly and tackle difference.
  • Ensure the presence of inclusionary practices within community activities such as one on one support, the provision of mentors, the clear delegation of tasks ahead of time, provision of alternative ways to participate, clear communication and feedback pathways through mutual dialogue (including parents of children with disability), and provision of regular encouragement.
  • Monitor and review the practice and delivery of inclusionary practices.
  • Cater for other mediums of communication to allow people to express their unique voices and experiences, especially with the advantage of contemporary technology.
  • Invite, encourage and give permission to people to participate rather than wait for people to volunteer and communicate, especially knowing that many on the margins lack confidence and capacity to engage openly in such contexts
  • Tackle and address the barriers that impede and hinder leadership to engage people on the margins.

An example of inclusionary practice is the Flinders University “Up the Hill” Project which my son has been part of for nearly three years (click here for the website).  Participating in the program has allowed him to fulfil his dream of undertaking tertiary education through auditing 4 undergraduate subjects.  Flinders provides a mentor to accompany him in the subjects, and to help with social activities and preparation of the end of semester presentation to peers and supporters. He has gained knowledge and grown in confidence, and this past semester saw him attempt a 1,000 word essay for the first time.

For more conversation and consultation on this topic I am happy to engage with you or you are welcome to enrol in the intensive in July by emailing Sam Owens (


David Turnbull

Senior Lecturer

Coordinator – Intercultural Studies Program, Tabor.

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