Stephen Taylor Two years ago, I came to seminary plagued by a big question: “Why am I here?” Today, I have my answer: I am here to be a voice for the largest minority group in the world. And it was Candler School of Theology that gave me the chance to see how my gifts and talents will be used to heal a broken world.

Who is the largest minority group in the world? It’s the Special Needs community – including people who have limited sight, or mobility, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, wounded veterans, children and adults on the autism spectrum…and me. I was born profoundly deaf, and spent decades of my life believing I would be no good to God unless I was healed. That was the message I found at church as a boy. It was bad theology. But I didn’t know that. So, when my 12-year-old prayers went unanswered, I walked out.

I’m not the only one to do that. The vast majority of people in the Special Needs community (nearly 90 percent) abandon church. Many report a feeling of deep isolation. Seven in ten families with special needs wind up divorced. And less than five percent of American churches have a special needs ministry. The church has to do better!

What makes Candler so unique is its emphasis on hands-on learning. I took advantage of one of the school’s paid summer internship programs in May 2015, and was partnered with an Atlanta-area church that wanted help developing a Special Needs ministry. Little did I realize what a life-transforming decision it would be for me to intern at Mount Pisgah United Methodist Church. I had a permanent job by the end of that summer. More than that: my passions for ministry were ignited, as I watched dozens of families with special needs flock to the church, desperate for the doors God was opening for them. While most American churches are trying desperately to keep from shrinking, my ministry at Mount Pisgah is flourishing.

Since I started at Mount Pisgah, a number of opportunities have presented themselves, both within the church and beyond. The North Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church has begun to take notice of our ministry and to ask questions. I am joining the board of a disability nonprofit with wonderful facilities that is desperate for renewed vision. I’ve also been leading conferences and seminars on how churches can be more welcoming to this important community. Most importantly, I am dreaming big about a ministry that would provide a voice for those with disabilities. It seems like I was born for this.

As I look back and reflect on what it means to choose Candler for seminary – back in those days when I wondered, “Why am I here?” – I can’t help but see that Candler gave me an opportunity not only to find my call, but also to receive affirmation of my call. I now wonder at the question. The answer is all too obvious. The world has a profound need. The CHURCH has a profound need. And, frankly, the church needs me.

Top photo: Stephen leads worship during Disability Awareness Sunday at Mount Pisgah UMC on October 9, 2016.