This article was originally published in Breaking Barriers.
The Reformed Church in America is just beginning to catch on—and catch up—to the Christian Reformed Church’s prophetic focus on disability concerns. After giving occasional consideration to disability issues over the past several decades, we in the RCA are grateful to be welcomed by the CRC in this promising partnership of inclusion, including the joint production of this outstanding newsletter.
From my perspective, our churches are “breaking barriers” by responding to the Holy Spirit’s activity in this way.
When the RCA reengaged its discussion about people with disabilities a few years ago, I was pleased. The decision had nothing to do with me; but, as a person born with a disability, and as an advocate for people with disabilities, I was cheering from the denominational sidelines. Then, last summer, my job of 15 years evaporated, prompting me to apply for this new part-time role as the RCA’s first coordinator for disability concerns.
I live with a disability that limits movement in all of my joints and has led to a half-dozen major surgeries. My mother, who learned she was a “carrier” many years after a younger brother and I were born with our disability, often wished she could wave a magic wand and trade places with us. I appreciated her sentiment, usually responding with something like, “I know that’s how you feel, Mom.” But if she were alive today, I would say, “I know—but no thanks.”
The reason: I am not as interested in surrendering who I am as I am interested in fully becoming who I am made to be in Christ.
Mine is but one specific disability among thousands, and I am but one person among a billion worldwide who lives with a disability, yet each of us is loved by God and gifted to serve others. Is there a place for us in the church that Christ died to redeem?
Breaking barriers to inclusion—affirming that “everyone belongs, everyone serves”—is one role of this newsletter, but I also appreciate how the newsletter’s name applies to our partnership in other ways:
- The respective offices of CRC and RCA Disability Concerns can model for our two churches a partnership that overcomes the structural barriers that have kept the CRC and RCA apart for too long.
- As two churches we can model one aspect of living into the good news of Jesus’ reconciling work, described by the apostle Paul in Ephesians as breaking down the “wall of hostility” between us.
- In the vulnerability of acknowledging our own weaknesses and our mutual need for one another—individually and denominationally—we can affirm that we are stronger together.
My family’s roots are primarily in the RCA; the roots of the family I married into are in the CRC. Sixteen years ago, as ministers ordained in the RCA, my wife Cindi and I were invited to preside at the baptism of her nephew at Pillar CRC in Holland, Michigan—the church of Cindi’s baptism, which was RCA until the 1880’s. Many in our family saw this invitation as a barrier-breaking step.
The same Holy Spirit who reconciles us to God and one another also calls and equips us to serve others in ministry. As this CRC-RCA partnership in disability concerns unfolds, I look forward to seeing barriers broken as congregations engage all of God’s people to follow Christ in mission.