Alban Weekly | We thought we'd done enough to welcome people with disabilities in our church. We were wrong.

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PRACTICAL WISDOM FOR LEADING CONGREGATIONS
 We thought we'd done enough to welcome people with disabilities in our church. We were wrong.
 
A PASTOR REFLECTS ON A CHURCH'S JOURNEY TO BECOME A PLACE OF WELCOME
Our church had a problem: One of our congregants couldn't serve communion.
She is one of our spiritual leaders. She is especially wise when it comes to the importance of communion. She knows how much it matters to share a holy meal together, how much it matters that no one is left out.
She can't tell us that in words. Instead, she lets us know through the agitated movements and sounds she makes when she's worried that no one is going to serve her. She lets us know in the amazing smiles and squeals she makes after she receives the tiny piece of bread dipped in juice that she can safely swallow. The joy she finds in communion is contagious.
But there was no way to get her wheelchair up the eight steps to the platform where our communion table stood. There was no way to get our monumental communion table down the eight steps to the floor. There wasn't even a good way to install a mechanical lift, given the architecture of our sanctuary, originally built in 1891.
Our church had a problem: Our congregant couldn't serve communion. Or light the candles. Or bring up the offering. A lot of other people couldn't do those things, either. We knew that something had to change.
Who belongs in a church, or in any Christian institution? Who should be welcomed by our spaces and our practices? Who should be empowered to lead? Surely Jesus would not limit his welcome to those who are able-bodied or neurotypical. This is a lesson we have been trying to learn for many years at West Concord Union Church, where I have been serving as pastor since 2009.
Continue reading from Hannah C. Brown »
 
FROM THE ALBAN ARCHIVE: 
MINISTRY WITH PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES
A Place for Everybody: A Church at the Intersection of Faith and Disability 
First Reformed Church in New Brunswick, NJ, is one of the congregations described in Amazing Gifts: Faith, Disability, and Inclusion. The book tells stories of people with disabilities, their family members, and their congregations who have taken actions to make their parish, church, synagogue, temple, or mosque more inclusive of children and adults with all types of disabilities.  
 
Read more about First Reformed Church »
Broken People Walking Toward Wholeness 
The Rev. Claire Wimbush, who was born with spastic cerebral palsy, wonders what it means to be a Christian with a disability. In this 10-minute video, she explains why the wounded body of Jesus shows us a kind of wholeness that does not depend on physical perfection.
 
Watch the interview with Claire Wimbush» 
Learning from (Dis)ability
An Alban author reflects on his own journey as an able-bodied man writing about people with disabilities, their families, and the communities of faith that embrace them. 
 
Read more from Mark I. Pinsky »
 
FROM THE ALBAN LIBRARY
Amazing Gifts: Stories of Faith, Disability, and Inclusion
by Mark I. Pinsky
Amazing Gifts: Stories of Faith, Disability, and Inclusion was published in 2011 by noted religion writer Mark I. Pinsky. Pinsky gathered stories from churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples across the country, "stories of people with disabilities and the congregations where they have found welcome." He has taken special care to include the widest range of disabilities, including non-apparent disabilities like lupus, chronic pain, traumatic brain injury, depression, and mental illness. There were 54 million American with disabilities as of 2000, and that number has increased significantly with the addition of wounded warriors from the Afghan and Iraq wars and an aging population. 
The author emphasizes that his purpose is to not to write a resource manual on accessibility and inclusion. Rather, Pinsky seeks to share stories of how people with disabilities have experienced their faith in the context of their disability, and how congregations have gained when they value the gifts that people with disabilities bring along. 
"This book," notes the author, "is for congregational leaders and others who may have no expertise or personal experience with disability, but who make the congregational decisions about accessibility and inclusion."
Learn more and order the book » 
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