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Parallel 7

Building a Mutually Transformative Community: Investigating the Spiritual Care for People with Severe Intellectual Disabilities in Hong Kong Church


Ms. Juliana Ching-Yin WONG
PhD Candidate in Practical Theology
University of Aberdeen

This paper is a practical theological study that aims to investigate the question, “What is the work of the Holy Spirit in the Lives of people with Severe Intellectual Disabilities (SID) who cannot express their faith in words?” The practical theological cycle is employed as the method of enquiry. The situation of spiritual care for people with SID under the evangelical model is first pre-reflectively described. The implicit assumption that the Holy Spirit would mysteriously enable people with SID to come to faith within the cognitive learning model is highlight as the factor leading to pastoral inactivism. Then, the situation is complexified by interviewing three pastors engaging in Christian education for people with SID in three Hong Kong evangelical churches. The findings show that in encountering the limitation of cognitive capacities of people with SID, the pastors shift the spiritual care model from verbal-rational based to experiential-relational oriented. However, an account of how their educative efforts relate to the work of the Holy Spirit remains unknown.


These empirical experiences are reflected theologically guided by the Christo-pneumatology of James Loder. In this framework, the work of the Holy Spirit on humanity is viewed through the Chalcedonian relationality between the Holy Spirit and the human spirit. By convictional knowing evoked by the Holy Spirit, the human spirit experience four-dimensional (the self, the world, the void and the Holy) redemptive transformation and live a Christomorphic lifestyle grounded in the dialectical loving relationality with God. The transformed human spirits are energised to live as perichoretic selves imaging after the life of the Triune God at the corporate level. This transformation is a fundamental structure of humanity, which can even be noticed in the infant stage when linguistic abilities are not yet developed. Therefore, it is argued that people with SID can experience redemptive transformation. Their spiritual growth can be witnessed by their turn from negation to loving actions towards God, themselves and others. Renewed spiritual care practices are to build mutually transformative communities among educators and learners across diverse cognitive abilities.


Moreover, data from the empirical pastoral world disclose that people with SID are deeply embedded in their families. Their selfhood is thus critically revised as self-in-family, which is different from the individual selfhood perceived in the Western world. Critical dialogue between Loder’s theology and Chinese Confucian familial culture is suggested to explore the spiritual transformation in the cultural dimension.   



Juliana Ching Yin WONG is currently a PhD candidate in Practical Theology at the University of Aberdeen. She has completed the Master of Christian Studies at the China Graduate School of Theology and the Master of Theology at the Divinity School of Chung Chi College. She is one of the founding members of the Concern Group for Spiritual Care of People with Intellectual Disabilities. Her research interest is the spiritual life and spiritual care for people with special educational needs, particularly non-verbal populations such as people with severe intellectual disabilities. As a practising speech therapist in the private sector for more than 10 years, she is exposed to a vast population facing various cognitive challenges. She hopes to promote spiritual care practices that integrate well-grounded theology and special education principles fitting to the spiritual and learning needs of people with cognitive challenges.


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