A mother and her adult son were worshiping at a church. They were a hesitant about attending worship because they had been asked to leave a previous congregation. The son’s behaviors were not always in line with what people expected. The son, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder, was having a difficult morning at their new congregation and cried out loudly a number of times. Eventually, the pastor stopped preaching and asked them if they were okay. Then he prayed for them, and the son found peace; worship continued.
The pastor behaved kindly, but how would congregation members react? Would they tell the mother she needed to keep better control of her son? Would they suggest they find another church? Praise God, the members of this congregation gathered around mother and son after the worship service and reassured them kindly. “You are welcome here.” “Don’t let this keep you from returning.”
This welcome was so different from the way they were treated in previous congregations that they chose to stay. In fact, recently, the son was baptized, and the mother made a public profession of faith. They had found a church home.
Through the apostle Paul, God paints a vision for his people in 1 Corinthians 12 as one body, together in Christ. No one excludes another. (The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!”) No one self-excludes. (Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.) In fact, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable to the healthy functioning of the body (1 Cor. 12:22).
Surely, being asked to leave a previous congregation was painful for this mother and son. The church that asked them to leave hurt itself even more than it hurt this man and his mother. Churches that exclude people with disabilities have lost indispensable parts.
Christian Reformed Church (CRC) Disability Concerns helps churches become healthier communities by learning to follow the biblical model for community in which everybody belongs and everybody serves. This mission pushes against centuries of history and against deep-seated and often unexamined prejudice against people who live with visible and “invisible” disabilities that may be physical, visual, auditory, intellectual, and/or emotional.
I pray that someday people in churches will so embrace God’s vision for biblical community that this vision will be part of the culture of each congregation. Each congregation will clearly portray the guests assembled at the great banquet of Luke 14:15-24. People with and without disabilities will be able to get in and take part; and those with disabilities will join in numbers even greater than their proportion in the larger society. Each congregation will meet or exceed the guidelines and standards of accessibility and participation required by law in the rest of society. They will accept full responsibility for doing their part in meeting the spiritual and physical needs of the people and families with disabilities in their communities.
Until that beautiful time, both CRC Disability Concerns, and our sister organization, Reformed Church in American (RCA) Disability Concerns, encourage congregations to set aside the second or third Sunday in October to think especially about working to become communities in which all people, especially people with disabilities, belong, participate, and serve.
What is your church doing to fully engage everyone? Are you setting aside a special Sunday for this purpose? Find resources — including sermon ideas, litanies, devotionals, and videos — to celebrate Disability Week on the CRC Disability Concerns website and this Network site and share with us how your church celebrates disability Sunday/week in the comment section below.
This article was first posted on the CLC Network blog, Making Us Whole, on Oct. 9, 2014.