I recently learned about a conference in England last summer intended to help people think about how churches can enable disabled people to be more involved in the life and mission of the church. The speakers were disabled themselves or worked closely with people who were–areas like physical disabilities, the deaf, autism, blindness, and learning disabilities, for both kids and adults. People talked about what is hard for them about going to church and how churches can include them better.
What a great idea for a conference! It is my firm belief that the good news of God and the blessings of church should be for all people, no matter what they’re like or what they suffer from. Churches should mirror God’s big open arms to everyone by saying, “We want you to be here, because you’re special, and you can be an important part of this community. And don’t forget that God loves you just the way you are!”
Too often, people with disabilities–whether mental or physical–are left out of social groups or are considered to not be a part of “normal” society. (Deep down, I don’t think anybody is really “normal”; it’s just easier for some to pretend to be.) The keynote speech of the conference emphasized the need for churches to follow Jesus’ example of reaching out and welcoming people who are often excluded from society and how by doing this we enrich the church.
Here’s more of what was said:
The church can make a difference in society, through challenging wider assumptions about success and individualism by the way we form inclusive communities built on relationships of love, enabled by the love of God. We must relocate the “problem” of inclusion from disabled people to the church and its attitudes.
Okay, so if getting people involved, invited, and feeling welcomed is the church’s “problem,” then what are we going to do about it? It’s so sad that too often people with disabilities, or the people who care for them, don’t think that they’d “fit” in a church, or that people would stare at them. So we need to do something about that! How can we fix our “problem” of people thinking that they wouldn’t fit in? How can we be more accessible?
As we think about it, we should remember something that a sweet woman told me about people with autism, which her grandson has: “Each one is like a snowflake; they are all different, and they are all special.”
A simple statement of belief to help churches work for the full inclusion of disabled people comes from the charter of a group called Churches, Inc.:
1. God made everyone in His image and equally valuable
2. Jesus calls me to love people that society overlooks and excludes
3. Without disabled people and their gifts, my church is incomplete
So I will…
1. Act to make my church an increasingly accessible place
2. Encourage my church to make its activities more inclusive
3. Welcome and build community life with disabled people
What great things to say! Let’s try and take those on as a church, so that everyone knows that at Hickory Rock, you’re not just welcome, you are wanted, no matter what you’re like or what issues you have. We all have issues, so we welcome more people who can help us walk with Jesus in spite of our limitations.