Since the quarantine began, we, as pastors and churches, have been facing unprecedented challenges.
Like many ministry groups and churches, Jabez Ministries, a ministry to persons with disabilities, has moved online. This has disadvantages and advantages.
The disadvantages first: Besides the inconvenient though necessary “stay-at-home” order, persons with disabilities face additional challenges. Here are some examples.
Consider the obstructing nature of face masks. Hearing-impaired persons, such as myself, can’t read lips through a face mask, and the clarity of voice is interfered with.
Persons with other disabilities report that not being able to see facial expressions hinders their ability to communicate properly with others. Social anxieties increase, and misunderstandings are prone to happen.
I’ve had persons report that they have “shut down” while at work when customers have lost patience over such miscommunications.
To some, social distancing resembles social avoidance. Many persons with disabilities have past and latent feelings of being left out or ignored.
This discomfort is not true of all persons I’ve talked with. Some persons with Asperger’s or similar disabilities report they are comfortable with the distancing to some degree, but those with ADD and ADHD are not all that comfortable with it.
While all agree that distancing is necessary, some of us wish it were otherwise.
Communicating and forming community online creates challenges. Communicating through a machine is an imperfect means of talking to one another.
We’ve experienced that Sunday worship online doesn’t really feel like worship that we’re used to, or a Face Time call isn't like a face to face chat. Imagine, then, having a cognitive disability, learning disability, or hypersensitivity issues and the differences can become many more times a problem.
Speaking as a hearing-impaired person and having processing and learning disorders, I was a bit daunted by the prospect of having to do ministry with others who also have disabilities. We began with Facebook Messenger and phone text messages. It works but it has its limitations. These are poor substitutes for personal communication.
My reluctance to use video chat rooms is based on experiences involving time delays, poor video reception, difficulty reading lips over a screen, and confusion between what I could hear matching up with what saw. Those aren’t insurmountable issues, and I did not have a reason to face them until now.
That brings me to the advantages: connecting online has allowed us to form a new kind of community. While it took some doing, I’ve been able to overcome my initial insecurities thanks to a group effort put forward by Jabez Ministries Leadership team, Team Jabez, and others involved in this ministry.
We must pay attention to the needs of all who participate. We are mindful of things such as back lighting, background noise, the person’s face being clearly seen, no rapid movements that cause the person’s phone to freeze or skip, and whatever else is needed to keep this community comfortable and communicating.
I would even say that some of the more introverted members of this ministry have shown themselves to be a bit more open and willing to share.
As all of us involved in this ministry have become more comfortable talking and meeting online, we’ve formed groups that meet at designated times and committed ourselves to online pastoral care to address the fears and the boredom we’re all facing.
Because of these positive things that have come out of this time of quarantine, I find the words of James resonate with me daily:
James 1:2-4 (NIV) Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
All of us face challenges that we didn’t have until a few months ago. The quarantine has forced certain things upon us. The future is not clear. So, then, how do we adapt to the current situation as pastors and churches?
Unfortunately, some things we have to accept as is. Social distancing is necessary. The best thing we can do for persons with disabilities in this culture of isolation is new to most of us. But to some people with disabilities, it’s not so new. Be patient. Communicate well and often. Be reassuring.
Have video chats with persons with disabilities. And when you do, make sure the light is in front and not behind you. Don’t try to multitask, and make sure you device is in a stable position. Jerking movements are distracting.
In more public settings, speak clearly, remember you’re speaking with a mask on that will affect your pitch and clarity. Also your physical expressions are restricted.
Consider wearing a see-though mask. There are sites were these can be purchased.
These recommendations are painted with a fairly broad brush. Each disability affects each person differently. There are many variables to consider. Don’t be afraid to ask what would help.
Let us continue to pray and persevere in these times and mature in the grace that God has given each of us.
Below: Joyce Borger, director of CRC Worship Ministries, wearing a clear face mask. Photo used by permission.