Photo: Julie spends some time with former residents and Friendship House Director Carlos Thompson (right)
Julie Myers was the first WTS student to graduate with a Graduate Certificate in Disability and Ministry (GCDM) alongside her Master of Divinity in 2017.
Three years earlier, she had been reluctant to begin seminary, turning in her application one day before the due date. At that time, she had just begun working at Benjamin’s Hope (a living community for adults with disabilities), but her church recognized her gifts of ministry and encouraged her to attend seminary.
At WTS she took as many Disability and Ministry courses as she could simply because they interested her. She was later surprised to realize she had enough credits to earn the GCDM. After graduation she was ordained and worked at Mars Hill Church in Grandville, MI as their special needs coordinator before eventually returning to work part-time at Benjamin’s Hope and at Western’s Friendship House while she completes a Master of Theology (Th.M.) degree.
The Ralph and Cheryl Schregardus Friendship House is the seminary housing where students live in apartment pods with young adults with cognitive disabilities (Friends) and learn from each other. As resident advisor, Julie does administrative work, schedules house events, attends meetings, and makes herself available for the Friends.
She moved into the Friendship House this past March, along with her two teenage children—the first family to live in the house since its formation in 2007.
“I love living in the Friendship House with my kids!” she says. “I am in the final stages of a divorce, and although it has been difficult, God has blessed us abundantly over and over again.”
Living among those with different challenges and gifts has been eye-opening and enriching for her children.
“They are learning to practice hospitality—and in a healthy way,” she says, keeping an open-door policy to the residents while learning how to set boundaries for self-care.
In 2016 Julie was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease called Sarcoidosis. “Essentially, it can attack any organ in your body and cause it to work against itself,” she explains. Previously in remission, the disease flared up at the end of the summer, right as classes were set to begin.
“The timing could not have been worse,” she says. “I don’t remember much about the first days in the hospital except for what the ER doctor said: ‘Ma’am, your calcium levels are higher than I have ever seen in my career… your blood is beginning to crystalize, and your kidneys and liver are beginning to shut down. We are trying the best we can to stabilize you.’ I heard what he was saying, and I knew it was serious, but I couldn’t focus on much. All I felt was an incredible sense of peace from God. He was there beside me, holding me, keeping me alive. I wasn’t afraid.”
Eventually she recovered enough to return home, but she has to take high doses of steroids and other medicine to keep the disease in check. The side effects are significant, but this is the only treatment for Sarcoidosis, as there is no cure.
Julie was worried about keeping up with schoolwork, but WTS staff and faculty have been very supportive. Her own work around disability and ministry reminds her to be kind to herself, listen to what her body needs, and set realistic expectations. She realizes she is now living into what she has studied so long.
For her Th.M. project, Julie is examining how people with cognitive disabilities experience and process grief and trauma. She is hopeful that her Th.M. coursework will give her the research and writing experience she’ll need to join Dr. Ben Conner’s Doctor of Ministry Disability and Ministry cohort next June.
Julie would like to continue living and working in the Friendship House until she completes both the Th.M. and D.Min. degrees. She wants to write about disability and ministry and hopes to teach in an undergraduate or seminary setting some day.
In regard to her own chronic illness, “I feel confident that God’s got this,” she says. “He is the Great Physician and healer. I will be forever grateful for the place I am in now, even though it may seem like my life is in turmoil (which it is!). This has brought my children closer to the Lord, and we are thankful for all of our blessings.”