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Tiō: Centre for Disability Theology and Ministry


Welcome to the Centre for Intellectual Disability Theology and Ministry at BBC - the first of its kind in the UK and Ireland.

The Centre emerged out of a solid foundation of academic and practical work carried out by two of the College faculty and a number of graduate students over several years.  Following more than a year of groundwork the Centre was launched in 2015. It is a hub for sharing ideas, skills, practices and possibilities. 


Our Passion Our Vision Our Mission
To ‘honour the indispensable’ parts of the body of Christ [1 Corinthians 12.22-24] - in the spirit of the ancient Greek root word tio: to intentionally honour, to lift up, to advance To see Christian communities enriched through the inclusion of people with disabilities To inspire and support churches, families and individuals through teaching, research and advocacy


What does the Centre do?

Connect Teach Research Advocate
Bringing together theology and praxis, academics and practitioners, families and churches, individuals and organisations - locally and globally Offering opportunities at all levels for theological learning relating to disability and ministry Contributing to scholarship in this field as an agent of change Providing theological perspectives on disability to impact church and society


What is 'intellectual disability'?

For over 70 years Belfast Bible College, has served the global Christian community in receiving from and sending students to many countries of the world.

In describing ‘disability’, many of these countries and cultures have differing understandings and use of terms.

As a Centre we have chosen the term ‘intellectual disability’ as one which has increasing currency across the world and one which provides a helpful framework of reference. Contemporary definitions generally specify three criteria that must be present before a person may be said to have an intellectual disability:

  • a significant impairment of intelligence
  • a significant impairment of social functioning
  • an age-of-onset before adulthood

While the Centre may engage with ‘disability’ as a broader human condition, it is primarily seeking to offer expertise, experience and education with a focus on ‘intellectual disability’ and as such provides a unique contribution to, and resource for, church and society.


Studying God Together Programme

Make friends, learn and grow as you take part in our interactive courses

This is a unique opportunity for adults with intellectual disabilities to engage creatively with Christian theology in a third level College context. The programme for 2015-16 has two courses, each run for 6 weeks on Friday mornings in both semesters.

The courses are designed, developed and delivered at BBC by Rachael Mackeral - whose experience, research and passion for making the Bible and Christian teaching accessible has created a unique programme – offered by no other college in the UK and Ireland.

The courses provide an innovative and interactive learning experience led by an experienced team.

On successful completion, our students graduate at our College’s Celebration of Studies held at the end of each academic year.

Please click on the Access Learning page for further details.


Enriching Church Programme

Think more deeply about how your church can support and develop relationships with people with intellectual disabilities and their families

No 1. Inclusion and Support

This introductory course is a starting place, a meeting point. There are two plenary sessions and three simultaneously-run workshops. It is designed to form questions, to provide insights and to share experiences as a catalyst to help individuals and Christian communities to move towards a fuller reality of inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities and their families. This course is designed for church leaders, parents, carers and those already involved, or wanting to begin, disability ministry. The total running time is normally 4 hours (including registration, break, a brief presentation on the Centre and evaluation space). While the preferable format is one continuous event it can also be presented in two linked events.

Please contact the Centre at BBC for further details and costs. We look forward to discussing the best way we might serve your church or group of churches.


Postgraduate Programme

Study at postgraduate level in the subject area of disability theology and ministry at BBC and enjoy the benefits of learning at a Constituent College of Queen's University Belfast, one of the top universities in the UK with a strong international reputation for innovative research

Master of Theology (MTh) Programme

From September 2015 you can study (full-time or part-time) for an MTh in the area of disability theology and ministry. Previous candidates have graduated with distinction having completed research in inclusion, Bible usage, adoption, human rights, history and eugenics.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Programme

We offer PhD supervision at PhD level in the subject area of intellectual disability, theology and the church. There are full-time and part-time study options.

Dr Ian Dickson (Centre Director) and Dr Jill Harshaw (Researcher and Lecturer), both members of the fulltime Teaching Faculty at BBC, have the qualifications, expertise and experience to provide you with quality supervision.

Please contact Ian or Jill for an informal discussion about your ideas and the possibilities of fulfilling you study ambitions at BBC.



Students can benefit from the Special Collection on intellectual disability, theology and the church housed in our Library on Campus. Year on year we plan to add to this resource, making it one of the most extensive in thecountry

Open Access Writing

J N Ian Dickson, ‘Unexpected Revolutionaries: Intellectual Disability and the Future of Theological Education’, The Theological Educator, October 2011
Unexpected Revolutionaries
Unexpected Revolutionaries Reflections on Intellectual Disability

Jill Harshaw, ‘Prophetic Voices, Silent Words: The Prophetic Role of Persons with Profound Intellectual Disabilities in Contemporary Christianity, Practical Theology, Vol 3, Issue 3, July 2010, 311-329
Prophetic Voices Silent Words The Prophetic Role of Persons with Profound Intellectual Disabilities in Contemporary Christianity
www.maneyonline.com/doi/abs/ 10.1558/prth.v3i3.311

Jill Harshaw, ‘Autism and Love: Learning What Love Looks Like – a Response’, Practical Theology, Vol. 5, Issue 3, December 2012, 279-286
Autism and Love
www.maneyonline.com/doi/abs/ 10.1558/prth.v5i3.279


Getting Involved

Ability Sunday

Ability Sunday

Part of our mission and design is to connect college and church in a closer way. In addition to our Enriching Church Programme, members of our team would be delighted to visit your church, preach at services, meet with leaders or just chat informally about how the Centre might be of help in moving towards a fuller inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities in your Christian community. Please contact the Centre at BBC to discuss how we can help.

Find out more at www.prospects.org.uk/abilitysunday

Church Ministry

Church Ministry

Members of our team are involved speaking at various churches on Ability Sunday – 13 September 2015. Over 200 churches across the UK are actively working in partnership with Prospects to make the gospel accessible to people with learning disabilities. Ability Sunday is one day in the year when churches can recognise the abilities of people with learning disabilities and teach by example what it means to be fearfully and wonderfully made.

Beverly Graham: bgraham@belfastbiblecollege.ac.uk

Prayer Breakfast

Prayer Breakfast

The Centre is planning to host a number of Prayer Breakfasts in the next academic year. These are designed to provide an informal meeting place to give updates on progress and to pray together.

If you would like to be kept informed of the dates and arrangements please send your contact details to Beverly at bgraham@belfastbiblecollege.ac.uk

Church Ministry

Conference 2016 – Honouring the Indispensable

Our Inaugural Conference is planned for 10 - 11 June 2016 on Campus at BBC.
Our Theme is 'Honouring the Indispensable'
Our Keynote Speaker is Jeff Mc Nair

Jeff is a Professor of Special Education at California Baptist University, where he has worked for 26 years. He directs the Education Specialist Program in Moderate to Severe Disabilities and the entirely online MA Program in Disability Studies. This program has two tracks - ministry and policy. Jeff also works for the Joni and Friends Christian Institute on Disability. He serves as Director of the Policy Center, which includes the role of Senior Editor of The Journal of the Christian Institute on Disability. He has authored many articles and several books, travels widely and speaks at conferences and training events on a range of disability issues in society, education and Christian ministry. With his wife, Kathi, he has been personally involved in ministry to/with adults with intellectual disabilities at their local church for nearly 40 years.

For more information and book see the Confrerence Event page.

Jeff is a keen blogger... check him out! http://disabledchristianity.blogspot.co.uk/


Meet the Team

  • Paul Coulter
    +44 (0)28 9030 6175
    Paul Coulter

    Paul teachers practical theology and mission at Belfast Bible College and oversees the College's Access Learning programme, which includes all courses that are not validated by partner universities. He is a medical doctor by professional background and has experience more recently as a Board member of the Patient and Client Council for Health and Social Care in NI. He has a long association with Prospects, primarily as a leader and teacher in their Lisburn (Causeway) ministry group and as a member of their NI Regional Development Group.

  • Ian Dickson
    +44 (0)28 9030 6392
    Ian Dickson

    Ian Dickson is Director of the Centre for Disability Theology and Ministry at Belfast Bible College. Formerly Principal of the College, Ian has a background in pastoral ministry and theological education. He teaches, supervises, writes and speaks on intellectual disability, theology and the church. He is married to Yvonne, a Special Education and Music Teacher, and they have a son Ross (age 12) and a daughter Amy (age 10), who has Down syndrome.

  • Dr. Ivan Bankhead

  • Rachael Mackarel

  • Donna Jennings