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Two resources specifically for pastors:Christian Reformed Disability Concerns has been a member of Pathways to Promise* since its beginning. One of the pillars of this organization, Rev. Bob Dell wrote a response to Williams suicide specifically as a resource for pastors with some ideas for responding in a way that is helpful for congregations. Dell reminds pastors that the very public nature of Williams' suicide will touch many people in painful ways including people dealing with depression and people who have lost a loved one to suicide.
Also, the Interfaith Network on Mental Illness produced a series of short videos, posted on the Caring Clergy Project website, that were written "specifically for clergy and staff of faith communities. Learn how to recognize risk factors and warning signs of suicide, how to tell if a person is considering suicide and how to respond if you discover they are. You'll also learn how to respond to families after a suicide and how to plan a memorial service for someone who has died by suicide.”
*Pathways to Promise is an interfaith cooperative of many faith groups. We provide assistance and are a resource center which offers liturgical and education materials, program models, caring ministry with people experiencing a mental illness and their families. The resources are used by people at all levels of faith group structures from local congregations to regional and national staff.
Michele, I appreciate your point that no one is immune to challenges and struggles. The difference between each of us is that the struggles we have are different. I hope that others will respond similarly by starting support groups in their own churches.
Thanks too for sharing a bit of your own journey. Your comment reminds me that readers may be interested in hearing from others who also have been affected by mental illness. Disability Concerns created Stories of Grace and Truth (www.crcna.org/graceandtruth) so that people could share prose, poetry, and visual art that arises out of their own journeys with mental illness.
I saw a picture of Robin Williams on a people's magazine today in the grocery store where I often shop and the sadness in his eyes was obvious. He really made me think about the saying that the clowns that make us laugh are crying when nobody's looking. "Un clown triste," is how we sum it up in French. It isn't weak to feel depressed, anymore than it's weak to have diabetes or arthritis. If it were, then we'd all be weak, and truth be told, we all are because nobody's immune to illness in this world, and there is nowhere in the Bible where you can find the words, : "The brain of Christians is immune to disease." So then why do some people who claim to be Christians condemn those who suffer from brain diseases? Count yourself fortunate if that is not your particular cross, but don't add to the burden of those for whom it is.
I am a suicide survivor. I thought about it. I even walked to the edge of a river with the intent of throwing myself in it to end the pain. Mental illness was pretty much a taboo back then. Even worse than now. The reason I'm still alive is that God convinced me not to give up on life just yet, so I didn't and walked back home. And never went back to that particular spot, though I have walked again along a river's bank but not with suicide in mind. I have found relief, and I know I'm fortunate in this, so I've made it my life's goal to help other people who suffer from mental illnesses. One way I'm planning to do this is to set up a Friends for Mental Health support group in the church I attend, and the pastor is supporting me in this. Maybe it's something you could do too if the cause is close to your heart.
Thanks so much for this blog entry Mark. I especially appreciate the link to Anne Lamott's FB posting - powerful words.
What an awful disease ALS must be! Mind you, schizophrenia is not exactly a picnic at the beach but things could be worse. For example I'm well enough to be looking for work part-time now. I would have been well enough sooner, but I wasn't ready for it psychologically then. I was hoping I'd earn enough money from the sale of my paintings to manage that way, but it didn't materialize so I decided to get back into the workforce, and the director of the day center on whose board I sit has offered to help me out with my job search, but he and the staff person who will be helping me out have gone on vacation for three weeks, so I figured I may as well enjoy some more time off as well. This isn't a very good time to look for work anyway. My mom often says we can always find people who are in worse shape than us, and it's true. Look around and you'll see them.
I imagine the disease factored in a lot. But mostly he talked about how his son, Kent, had gone to Israel to study Hebrew and Ed was inspired by his son's passion. Dr. Williams gave Ed an opportunity to address our class about how much he felt he had missed by not paying more attention to the original languages. It was quite inspiring and contributed a lot to my passion for the Bible languages. Anyway, how inspiring to see his "Yogi Berra" Christianity still being lived out a decade later!
Scott, interesting. So soon after his diagnosis, he began retooling for the next chapter in his life. I assume the Hebrew class was prep for his year of living biblically book. Not a lot of people use the diagnosis of a degenerative disease as a prompt for setting new life goals!
Thanks for sharing this Mark. Ed took (re-took, really) Hebrew with me and others at CTS in 2004 - not so long after he had been diagnosed with ALS.
Well, I can't complain of having experienced that sort of rejection in my congregation, but then the Montreal CRC is the only one in Québec, so maybe they couldn't be too picky. Especially now that our numbers have dwindled siginificantly. Still, I think that some congregations are more hospitable than others, because a lot of people who walk into our church for the first time come back for more, and we have a microcosm of the United Nations attending our services, not just ethnically but all sorts of handicaps as well. We have an elevator for those who can't climb stairs ; we have people with intellectual deficiencies and varying forms of mental illness, yet others with food allergies or Native background and to my knowledge no one has complained of being ostracized in our community.
Michelle, thanks for your note. Most Friendship groups minister not only with members of the congregation but also with people in the community. That's why Friendship is such a wonderful outreach ministry. In fact, I know of a church plant that started with a Friendship group, then expanded from there.
How wonderful that your feel welcome at your church! I know many people living with mental illnesses who do not. What is your church doing that helps you and others integrate into the life of the congregation?
To my knowledge we have only one person with an intellectual handicap--hardly enough to start a group--but we have more people with mental illnesses, and as far as I know we are as integrated in the life of the congregation as anyone could wish to be. For my part, I can't complain of being left out, but maybe you should ask the others.
A resource you might be interested in is Key Ministry's blog, Church4EveryChild, written by Dr. Steve Grcevich. He regularly writes about how the church can include families and individuals impacted by mental illness.
Thanks for shedding light on this import topic!
Shirley, thanks for your comment. Having served on church councils for nearly 20 years, I understand that they have a lot on their plate, and most of them are volunteers. What I have found in the past is that it's really helpful if someone invests the time and energy to investigate the needs and come to them with a well-thought-out plan. That puts most of the responsibility on you, but I think that's the best answer to your question - how does one interest the council? Get a couple of interested people from your church, find out what in your mind would be best for your church, then come to the council with a good plan that the can comment on and, one hopes, approve. Blessings!
These principles I would like to see enacted at my church, with consideration to help the largish senior population with preparedness. There is a lot of information from the provincial gov't for 72 hr, preparedness, and from the Salvation Army on how to be ready to participate in a community emergency. And to be ready to handle a medical emergency when there are a lot of people in the building--worship service, etc., incl. evacuation of the sanctuary etc. How does one interest the Council in the importance of this. Disabilites vary among the folk, of course, yo br included in the planning.
"If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem"
This is true, but the end result often creates a stronger, richer church community. We've found people are surprised at how simple steps toward inclusion can make a significant difference. I hope you find those resources helpful!
Thank you for your response and suggestions. I will check out the resources you mentioned. New situations like this require people to step out of their comfort zone. This includes existing members as well as the new people attending.
You have asked some excellent questions. I checked in with some of my colleagues in the Church Services division here at CLC Network on their advice for you; below are some of their suggestions for you and your church as you strive to be an example of God’s Body.
For worship—If someone is nonverbal, or likes to move around, a great way for them to worship is to have wrist ribbons. These ribbons can be put around the wrist and moved around during singing. Flags can also be available for people who are able to use their hands and grip objects. Instruments can be another option, such as a maraca or finger symbols. Instruments can even be as easy as putting rice inside of a container to shake! Lastly, when thinking about song selections, you may want to incorporate songs that have been previously sung in Friendship class.
In terms of learning more about Jesus and the Bible, specifically during sermons, the pastor could use a few pictures or symbols to portray the main points. It could be projected or put at the front of the sanctuary for everyone to see. It could also be printed in the bulletin. Since you have Friendship class before church, the mentors and mentees could work through the meaning of the symbols together, preparing them for the sermon.
My colleague Barbara Newman wrote a blog about “Sharing Jesus with a Child with Down Syndrome”, which you may find helpful. Also, Barbara has published several materials about including those with disabilities in churches, and there are two in particular that might be useful. The first is the G.L.U.E. Training DVD and Manual, which helps churches implement a planning process to better include individuals with disabilities in the church (you can even apply to get it for free for your church!). The second, Inclusion Tool Box: 52 Practical Ideas to Include Individuals with Disabilities is a DVD that gives churches practical strategies to better include those with disabilities in the church. These resources can be found here.
Please let me know if you have any other questions. Blessings to you as you continue to model God’s body in your church!
Thanks for placing these on the network.
National Public Radio reported on this subject today. An interesting piece, and equally interesting comments that follow, which for the most part are reasonable and respectful of the different sides of this issue.
Yes, Dale is a board member of CBM, and a fantastic advocate for good things! We've just completed our latest Luke14 video - tells some great stories of change that have come about in churches - https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLbLDMtEJw4o7aCbYq531ho8-j75nl3KPB . Also, FYI, the new 2 minute clip of CBM - the parent company is very inspiring! CBM is a Christian NGO seeking to end the cycle of poverty and disabiltiy in the poorest countries of the world - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7kF16HRlU5U
Lindsey, thanks for your note and encouraging words. I had not heard of the Luke14 project, but I have seen the Wierd Glasses People skit before. I love the line when the non-glasses-wearer says to the glasses wearer, "God bless you for your courage. You're an inspiration." This whole skit captures well the absurdity of many things non-disabled people say to people with disabilities. Looks like you are doing good work with the Luke 14 project. BTW, you have the / in the wrong place in your URL. If others want to check it out, they should go to cbm.org.au/luke14. The video on that page makes a powerful case for the church becoming the kind of community that God calls us to be. I really love Dale Sheppard's comment as a man with a disability, "If I'm not welcome at church, then where the heck am I welcome?" Blessings!
Just want to say, from Australia, that I love reading your posts - find them thought-provoking, challenging and relevant. Not sure if you know of the Luke14 project of CBM Australia - luke14/cbm.org.au It has a range of helpful resources for churches. An example is this short clip, that uses an excellent piece of writing by Jeff McNair - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PpuDiRvgYMU
I believe that violence is violence whether it is directed at people before they are born or after. In addition, abortions directed against particular populations, whether babies with genetic differences or baby girls (common in some countries) or whatever, does violence toward that entire segment of humans who have been created in God's image.
What does legal abortions have to do with assaults against people?
that was a very cool promo.. thanks for sharing...
Six-and-a-half plus two years on ...
Shakespeare, who lost a son at the age of eleven, wrote in Macbeth:
"Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak, whispers the o'erfraught heart, and bids it break."
Six-and-a-half plus two years later on this journey we reflect on lessons learnt, decisions made, insights and sorrow that forged and changed - forever.
In the last few days before 2 March 2012, after years of relentless, around-the-clock turning, suctioning, feeding, medicating, we realised that the finish-line was in sight. Catastrophic epilepy was taking its final toll.
My beloved little girl's body was shutting down. She was so tired, and in pain, too much pain. I had to administer morphine.
On the evening of 1 March, Willie realised that it would be the last time that we would have our daily devotional as a family of four. He read Psalm 121. There were tears and pleas for grace, dignity and peace.
In the early afternoon of 2 March, as Ingrid lay in my arms, she was free from pain, convulsions and deterioration at last - a fight she fought valiantly and finished with grace. Our beloved daughter crossed her finish-line and was Home at last.
In Zechariah 8 the New Jerusalem is described - verse 4 & 5: "The LORD of Hosts says this: Old men and women will again sit along the streets of Jerusalem, each with a staff in hand because of advanced age. The streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in them."
My father-in-law passed away a few years before Ingrid was born. He was a school-teacher and qualified as a preacher in the Dutch Reformed Church. He was involved in mission work in the rural communities of the Western Cape - especially after his retirement as teacher. He was a God-fearing man who dearly loved his children and grandchildren.
I know that when Ingrid completed her race, she met him for the first time and that she knew that he is her grandfather, George. And he knew that she is his grand-daughter, Ingrid. The stories they must share!
We put the last verse (8) of Psalm 121 on Ingrid's grave stone: "Die HERE sal jou uitgang en ingang bewaar, van nou af tot in ewigheid" ("The Lord will protect your coming and going both now and forever")
I know that Ingrid is safe, in heaven. That she finished her race. That she is in a better place, much better than this world could ever provide. This is not said lightly, nor meant as shallow consolation. On some days, this knowledge keeps me going forward.
When Ingrid was diagnosed, we searched for therapies and cures. We soon realised that sometimes the world of medicine is more of an art and not always an exact science. Some offered alleviation, some failed. We did not allow these successes and failures to define Ingrid. To us she will always be our beloved daughter and sister.
In a world that demands payback, obsessed with external clues of prosperity we came to know and live the opposite. We know what self-less service is. We learnt just to give - not being concerned with any kind of reward or validation from the world. This meant many sleep-less nights, cutting finances to the minimum, finding pleasure in the small things in life, many times switching to auto-pilot - getting up and going on, because the LORD asked us to. And we are the better for it.
We share a bond with other families we have met on this journey. We first hand understand and live experiences, insights, tears, joys, sorrows. And they have our highest admiration. And sometimes someone who has not walked a while on this exceptional road, offers misplaced advice - but still, we understand. Before embarking on our path, it could have been me.
We know now what Job meant when he said "I had heard rumours about You, but now my eyes have seen You" (Job 42:5). Because in this moment, when the LORD says "This is My will", you submit.
At times, we stood in awe, witnessing the plans of the LORD unfold before us. At other times, it was unbearable, helplessly watching our daughter in the grip of catastrophic epilepsy. This remains a mystery for now "... now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror ...". That part of the race, which we as parents, could not complete for Ingrid. We hold onto the hope of one day seeing "... face to face ..." (1 Cor. 13:12).
Still, we fought the good fight, we took up the full armour of God, "... having prepared everything, to take your stand" (Eph. 6:13). We finished this race, "... pusue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness." (1 Tim. 6:11). Most of all, we kept the faith - "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness ... For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Cor, 12:9-10).
Soli Deo Gloria, Willie & Anje
Terry, thanks for sharing this fine article. In the past, a lot of people involved in justice work have ignored people with disabilities, even though they, as a group, are the poorest of the poor and the most oppressed of the oppressed in any society. When counting people with intellectual, sensory, and physical disabilities as well as people with mental illnesses, one is talking about 20 percent of the human population. It's so good to see that little by little, this vast portion of humankind (at least 1.3 billion people) are getting ignored less than they used to.
Here's a great article by someone on the autism spectrum about developing Cultural Competency in interacting with people with autism. More good advice for neurotypical people to help our churches to become the communities Christ intends us to be.
Here's a great article by someone on the autism spectrum about developing Cultural Competency in interacting with people with autism. It's the same basic idea as McNair's applied specifically to autism.
Jeanne, I praise God for the loving community at your church. From your description, it sounds like your church, this family, and this young man made decisions about his involvement in church based on his needs and his spiritual growth rather than on what people are most comfortable with. An expression of what a healthy body of Christ looks like!
A now young man with autism has been a member of the church where I am also a member since he was a toddler. The Children's Ministry Director immediately made sure that he was included in many of the children's programs. This was possible because a number of people volunteered to be a one-on-one companion. Throughout the years volunteers have also spent time with this young man during part of the worship service. He begins the service with his family and leaves during the message which is a beneficial to his family and to him as a change of pace for a long morning.
Amen, brother Case! Amen.
I had a person who could not speak! He come to stay with his extened family at my church. He was religated to the basement at the church he formerly attended. He could not talk but he loved the sing of sorts. The first day he attended I thought there was something wrong with the organ and made a mentel note to talk to the organist. To my shame It turned out that it was his singing. We accepted his singing but made one change. He longingly watched the communion elements pass him by. so we had him make profession of faith so that he could partake of communion as well. He could not speak but understood very well. When I asked him during the profesion service "where is jesus"? He pointed to his heart! His family answwerd the rest of the questions for him and I think with him. He was blessed and we were blessed when he became a whole member of the congregation. Acceptance is a beautiful thing in the eyes of Jesus who asks us to accept people unconditionally.
Yes, wisdom and discernment. Grace and patience. Truth and love. We all have our weaknesses and challenges. Barb Newman says that we're all puzzle pieces with green and pink parts. The green parts are things we're good at, and the pink parts are things we're not so good at. What a safe and delightful fellowship a church could be if EVERY one of us lived that out. The people with the greenest green parts never became prideful and were always willing to be ministered to by others. And the people with the pinkest pink parts always knew that their gifts were encouraged and well received by other members of the congregation.
Harold, ouch. So true. If only we in the church could practice with each other the rich beauty of the words we sing, "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me."
Another discussion going on the Network right now is about the church's tendency to shut people out if they don't have strong social skills. The author of that article, Jeff McNair, ends his article with the painful and powerful reminder, "We do well to remember that social-skill deficits are not sin, but rejecting someone due to social-skill deficits is sin."
Hey Mark. Another issue that rears its ugly head is when a person with a significant disability engages in inappropriate and destructive behavior that labels them in a way that is not very flattering. They develop a "reputation.", especially in the church community. Now it becomes very difficult for them to find a secure haven in the very community that should be providing that safe and secure family. I can understand why this is, but it does make it difficult. The person with the disability can pick up very easily on this and that in of itself can make it next to impossible to reach out to these people. Harold.
Thanks Mark. That's helpful. I think the incessant talker is a tricky one because there are so many different kinds of a talking person that pushes the boundaries of social acceptance. The person who makes political comments assuming the listener is "on their side." The person who talks with a critical or negative attitude is a way that drags a conversation down. The person who doesn't necessarily talk too much, but who whose comments are off topic or tangentel to the direction of the conversation. The argumentative talker, etc. Lots of room for wisdom and discernment.
Doug, this is a great example, and a common one. I would suggest that no one is "driven away" by a person who talks too much, but they choose to walk away and stay away. It may be lack of verbal discipline, but as likely as not there could be many other factors involved in someone talking too much. So what can be done? Clearly, individuals need to help this person understand in a loving way that their not allowing others to get a word in edgewise is preventing them from hearing from others and learning from others who also have important things to say. Then those loving individuals would need to ask permission to give some sort of prompt when they are with the person who talks too much to remind them to stop speaking so that others can speak. As McNair says, the people who can adjust their social style need to do so to be able to lovingly interact with those who find this more difficult.
This call to adjust our social style is not a call to abandon setting boundaries on what we will and will not accept as appropriate behavior. But it does call us to lovingly help people understand how their behavior affects others and to help them learn new and socially more effective behaviors. We might be tempted to say, "That's not my job," or "It's none of my business." But in the body of Christ, mentoring and being mentored are both called for in the pursuit of learning to love in a Christlike way.
The hardest part about this is that it requires a lot of patience, but then imagine how we try God's patience every single day. If God is so patient with us, should we not also demonstrate some patience with others?
Example of social deficit? Some people talk too much and drive others away, or drive them crazy by their lack of verbal discipline. What would grace and truth look like in this scario?
A thought. By trying to set the disabled apart from "the regular" by NOT acknowledging that the media will see the disabled as one extreme or the other in the same way they see "the regular", we actually do set them apart. The media does not consider the "pitiable" regulars news either.
Elly, regarding your second point, God led me to the calling I have today as the Director of Disability Concerns through our oldest daughter, Nicole, who has severe multiple disabilities. Similarly, my wife is now a Special Education teacher after getting trained first as a German teacher. God used her as his instrument, just as we each pray that we'll be used by God to further the kingdom.
Where I struggle is that when the media talk about people with disabilities they are somehow set apart in the stories either as "inspirations" or as objects of pity. Either way, they are set apart from everyone else as a "them" as opposed to "us." That's why I have mixed feelings about "inspirational" pieces about people with disabilities. On the one hand, inspirational stories help us see that disability does not have to limit people to their stereotypes. (Wow, a woman who is blind can sew beautiful quilts!) On the other hand, these inspirational stories imply that a person with a disability only is valuable if he/she is inspiring. The truth, as you say, is that every one of us has gifts and talents, and every one of us is a "regular person." None of us needs to have our worth measured by whether we inspire others. We all have great value as God's image bearers.
Several thoughts come to mind on this topic, Mark. We are all people first, and persons with gifts/talents and disabilities second. That applies to both abled persons as well as those with disabilities. There are "regular people" and those with special talents and gifts among abled persons. Why should there not be "regular persons" with disabilities as well as those who have special talents and gifts? In fact, God has often used their disabilities to help them discover what their gifts and talents are. And isn't that the responsibility of all of us - to discover the talents and gifts God has given us, and to use them for His glory and for the benefit of our neighbours?
One additional thought: how many people have discovered their gifts and talents through their association with persons with disabilities? I'm one of those people. When I returned to work after being a stay-at-home mom for seven years, I started working in a nursing home as a care aide until I could take a refresher course to get my R.N. registration again. I worked in this facility for over 23 years learning from my residents with dementia, mental illness and physical disabilities on how best to journey with them and meet their needs. This led to my becoming involved in the Disability Concerns ministry, with a special interest in advocating for those with dementia and mental illness, which I had time for when I became physically disabled myself and could no longer work. I have a nephew who is studying to become a neuroscientist partly because of his interest in what is happening to his father's brain and life as a result of drug use. God has given each of us talents and gifts, and it is our responsibility to discover and use them. That applies to everyone, both abled and disabled. And isn't it great when we can discover our gifts through our relationship with each other?
Jeff, thanks for this explanation and challenge to all of us who believe our own churches are "friendly" without realizing that we exclude people from relationships because they are not able to follow the social rules of our church.
You also raise an interesting question in your suggestion that "the reason for the exclusion of persons with disabilities from churches is social skill deficits." Do others of you have examples of people pushed to the margins of a church because they have social skill deficits?
I think universal social design is a relatively new idea. In physical enviornments, universal design implies changing the enviorment such that physical accessability is facilitated. If I use a wheelchair, I have no ability to access a setting where there are only steps. I do not have the ability to change into someone who can use steps. So those in the environment change that environment by putting ramps in so that I have accessiblity. Social enviornments have developed such that there are certain social skills that are requisite for the environment. If I haven't those skills, I will be relegated to low social status and prevented from entering the social situation. Universal social design would imply changing the social rules of an environment that would allow for those with social skill deficits to participate in the environment. Let me provide some examples. If I am someone who has Tourettes syndrome, I cannot help that I make vocalizations. Typically, church worship services require me to sit silently (most denominations). Therefore I will change the worship enviornment so that someone who makes vocalizations is permitted social access (the social ramp is my rejecting my insistence on silence during a worship service). Other social skill "deficits" evidenced by people with autism or intellectual disability in other social environments might be imagined. People with Asperger's syndrome have told me that they have been told they are "wierd" by others because of their minor social skill deficits. These deficits need to be overlooked when people do not have the ability to understand social setting demands and change. The environment changes instead, broading what is acceptable in order that more people can be included.
It is arguable that the reason for the exclusion of persons with disabilities from churches is social skill deficits. In the same manner that the physical environment needs to change to include those with physical disabilities, the social environment needs to change to include those with social skill disabilities.
In Mark 7, Jesus says "You have a find way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions." Later he says, "Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that." Our social skill rules are simply traditions that might be changed for the greater good of including persons with skill deficits into our social enviornments. If we reject people with social skill deficits, we have sinned not they. Universal social design would seek to broaden the range of acceptable social skill such that people are not rejected but that the community learns to love, accept, integrate those with social impairments.
Pam, great questions. Although Jeff's blog entry, Universal Design and the Christian Church, does not exactly answer your questions, it provides a lot of what you are wondering about. Mark
Thanks Harold. You keep up the good work of advocacy too!
Thank you for these words Mark. These are the type of "stereotypes" that are so prevalent. It makes our jobs more difficult sometimes. Our experiiences are so different. I think talking about it often and creating awareness in our churches are key to making the diffference. Keep up the good work!
What ARE universal social-design principles? Are you talking about a change in attitudes, or does this include actual differences in what or how we do things in regard to events and programs?
What "social ramps" are helpful?
There is still some work to do.