A little while ago I listened to Rev Joel Boot as he gave his final speech as interim executive director. The first thing I thought was it takes a special person to do that job and we should thank God for the job Rev. Boot did. As I was listening I found myself wishing I could someday visit the church where he would be preaching. What a gifted speaker. I really appreciated his sharing about his granddaughter with disabilities. What a joy it was to hear how she had ministered to him. It was also good to hear how our denomination is slowly becoming more diverse, not just at the congregational level, but also in our denominational offices. He also reminded us how much we are living in a hurting world; people being persecuted for their religious beliefs, ethnicities, struggles with gender issues. We were told to reach out as the body of Christ to everyone.
But, as someone involved with Disability Concerns as a regional advocate for people with disabilities and their families/caregivers, unfortunately, I was also reminded how far we still need to go to be inclusive with our neighbors who also happen to have disabilities. Even after mentioning his granddaughter, Rev Boot never mentioned reaching out to the 25% of our population who have been affected by various disabilities. How are we doing as individual congregations? How often do we hear included in our congregational prayers, prayers for those affected by mental illness? How many worship services have we been in where we were blessed by a person in a wheelchair leading us in worship? What questions come up when a congregation looking to call a new pastor, find out that a member of his/her family has a developmental disability? What about on the denominational level? While we are making significant progress in ethnic diversity, how many of our employees have disabilities? Maybe in future synods, we should have an advisory panel of people with disabilities.
I am convinced that if we are going to see a significant change of attitudes, our leaders — pastors, elders, deacons — need to first admit their need for attitude adjustments. Then they can encourage the ministry leaders and the rest of the congregation to begin to adjust their attitudes and then invite our friends and neighbors with disabilities to experience the same joy we have as members of the body of Christ. We all need to take passages like Luke 14 and 1 Corinthians 12 and learn how we can apply them as we reach out to people with disabilities and their families/caregivers.
May God forgive us for our times when we choose to ignore our neighbors and even our fellow members with disabilities and may He bless us as we reach out and love them in the name of Jesus.