What's the best way to include people with disabilities in the full life and ministry of the congregation?

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Many churches are actively seeking to include people with disabilities in the full life and ministry of the congregation. What is the best way you have seen inclusion happening in your church or a church near you?

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As Friendship Ministry leader, I've tried to incorporate members of my adult class into different areas of ministry in our church. We've participated in worship services by singing songs and reading Scripture passages. Our class has been involved in greeting and ushering before the service. Several of them have helped in our monthly Hot Meals ministry to the needy in the neighborhood. One person has signed up to be included in our new small group program. Finally, recently our elders conducted family visiting. We included the group homes where several of the class members, who are members of our church, live. Even though they might be at different functioning levels, they are like the other members of the church in that they love to participate. Their favorite way to participate is by coming to the church potlucks!
The more they participate, the more they are accepted and included by the rest of the congregation. Steve

Guide

Steve, thanks so much for telling your story. It shows that being INTENTIONAL about inclusion can change the entire culture of the church for the better. I'm delighted to hear that Friendship isn't just a program that happens on a weeknight at your church, but has become a vital part of your church's ministry.

While growing up I remember my dad telling us kids that --- should we ever see anyone at school who didn’t have a friend, we were to go over and befriend that person.  And we were always to be kind to those who have handicaps.

So when three deaf girls joined my all hearing 6th grade class, I knew in my heart what dad would want me to do:  befriend them.  And that is what I set out to do.  At the age of 12, I went to an evening class (which was actually taught by one of the deaf girls’ mom) to learned sign language.  With one of my older sisters helping me, I went to class and learned and practiced sign language for quite some time.  After lots of practice, I made three new friends. 

Not long ago, I had a sign-language conversation with one of my deaf friends of forty years ago.  She and I were back in our home church and we had to opportunity to reconnect our lives after all this time.  What was amazing to me and to others standing nearby, (including my deaf friend’s mother) was how well I could remember how to sign.  I’m sure that was a God-thing.

Why was it so important to my dad that I included and befriended persons with special needs?  Although he never said it, I knew.  It was about the love he had for his own son who was born severely handicapped.   Joel, who now would be 59, didn’t live beyond three months of age.  But his short life brings a strong and healthy message:  love people, especially those who have special needs.  I am still gripped by my mom’s story of how she took a five pound baby home from the hospital who died three months later --- at the same weight. 

My dad met his own handicaps and disabilities during the last several years of his life.  Because of Parkinson’s disease, my dad’s own ability to walk, to care for himself, and to live independently caused him to be the recipient of his own teaching:  be good to those who need a friend, especially to those who have handicaps.  We as family did the best we could.

Three years ago my dad was set free.  His time was over – his suffering ended – his handicap was healed.  Yes, God called him home.  His homecoming was special, I’m sure, because he was reunited with his son – his son he hadn’t seen for 59 years. 

I imagine Dad and Joel, standing tall and standing strong – reuniting – fellowshipping – and befriending each other – all the while… 

Standing in the presence of the One who healed them.

 

Judy De Wit

 

Guide

Judy, What a beautiful story. Thanks so much for sharing this. Mark