How Is Your Church Doing With Accessibility?

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The ADA turned 20 on July 26, 2010. Let's keep talking about the affects of the Americans with Disabilities act on churches. How has your church been doing at including people with disabilities? What barriers still need to be overcome in building architecture, or in programming and communication, or in peoples' attitudes?

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My church makes sure that the building is accessable. Beyond that, not much.

Has anyone thought about anxiety disorder and the way we traditionally do profession of faith?

Yes.

We've discovered that the beloved way that we were doing things created a barrier to some and actually kept people from taking the step of professing their faith.

We had the regular practice of having the person stand in front of the congregation, respond to the vows, receive a remembrance of the profession of faith, give a testimony if they so desired, and then be welcomed by anyone in the congregation as the congregation sings 1-3 songs. All of which could be tremendously meaningful--for some. For others, it was terrifying.

So we decided to tailor it individually to the person professing. We've had people simply stand in affirmation of the vows; we've had a husband/wife elder team stand next to the person as she responded to the vows; we've dropped the communal welcome in many cases--and we let everyone know that we can adapt anything to make it an affirming rather than a threatening experience.

We still need to find a way of publicizing this generally to the congregation. But moving away from a "one-size-fits-all" attitude has helped. I think too that when people see the church accommodating its practices to the needs of those in the Body, they catch something of the Spirit of Christ who did the same for each of us.

Guide

Beautiful! Yes, one size does not fit all. This reminds me of a pastor friend of mine who had a parishioner who was a retired police officer. The officer always sat in the back row of church, and he never made a public profession of his faith, even though he was a believer and supported the church in many ways. Finally, one day my friend heard the reason why the officer never made a public profession: "You have to stand in the front to profess your faith. If I professed my faith, that would put me a long ways from the exit, and I just couldn't do it." My friend assured him that he could make his public profession of faith from the back row. Soon after, the whole church celebrated his public profession.

Thank you both for your replies. It seems to me that while there is a willingness to adjust in order to meet the needs of specific individuals, there is still a large pressure from the institution to maintain the status quo. I sense fear of change, fear of losing the meaning or truth behind the profession. It is almost a bit of an initiation and if you can't do it, well, then you don't cut it, you must not be really serious about your faith. There is a feeling that you have to make it a bit of an event in order to make sure it is not "too easy" and to weed out the people who aren't really serious about their commitment. The problem of course is that if you have social anxiety, advocating for yourself and explaining your needs even to a smaller group of just elders, could be really trying. And so those people tend to remain hidden in the woodwork, unless someone really searches them out and figures out what is going on, and helps them to navigate the situation through advocacy. And how rare is that? In the 5 years I've been in my present church, I know of one person that was helped around and through the rules. But how many more are there?  

Dear Friends ,hope all is well  am apastor in kenya ,counseling disabled a,living with them and have established aministry in kenya for the deaf and is having aheart for other disabilities,the church seems to be very far from this,am wondering what to do, have in the past prayed and is willing to unite with many so atht we can do the reahbilitation and inculsion together,hope you will wellcome me in this forum, am amried and live with my family.

god bless you all.

Rev Tom Ochuka

PO.BOX 19529

CODE 40123-Mega city

Kisumu

Kenya

Dear Tom,

 Welcome to the site.  We are extremely glad you have joined us!  Please give us some more details on your ministry so we can see how we can help.  

God bless you

Ken

Guide

Pastor Ochuka,

Thank you for your comments. To begin, I highly recommend that you be in touch with Samuel Kabue, who is the director of the Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network and lives in Nairobi. If you need help in contacting him, please feel free to email me at [email protected]. I would encourage you to explore this Network site as well for ideas for ministry with people with disabilities, and also see the Disability Concerns' website.

I had the privilege of teaching in Kenya at the Theological Education in Africa conference last August held at St. Paul's University in Limuru. I met many wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ from Kenya and the surrounding nations. Besides good memories, I brought back a wonderful song which we now sing in my congregation here in the United States: Jabulani. Perhaps you know it. You may want to read the reflection I wrote about my time in Kenya as well.

God's blessings,

Rev. Mark Stephenson