Lynell Bergen is the Outreach Coordinator for Hope Centre Ministries. She wrote the following article for our May newsletter.
Whenever we talk about inclusion, we are also talking about exclusion. We have all had experiences of feeling excluded, such as when a group of people are talking about a shared experience you weren’t a part of. It is good that these people have shared experiences that they enjoy talking about, but if they only talk about experiences you haven’t shared, you don’t really feel included in the conversation.
When we gather to worship on Sunday mornings, we have a shared language of faith, and that’s a good thing. But we have to be careful that this shared language ~and the sheer number of words we use~ doesn’t exclude those who are not comfortable with volumes of words, or who don’t understand the “language” of church.
While it is impossible to create a barrier free worship experience, there are simple ways that we can help to include a variety of people in our worship times. We can use meaningful visuals and word images during messages. We can invite people to participate in singing using rhythm instruments or by moving their hands or bodies to the sounds they hear.
We must also recognize and use the gifts of all people whom God brings to our churches. Everyone wants to feel needed and gifted. And everyone is given gifts by God. Taking time to learn what those gifts are, and how they can be used in the church, will benefit the whole congregation. We can also step out of our comfort zone, to get to know, as individuals, some of the people in our congregation who live with disabilities. They may have labels like “autistic” or down syndrome” but they are more than their labels- they are individuals created in God’s image.
God wants all of his children to come to his house to worship and share together. But God also requires us to welcome and engage each person into the family of faith so that they can feel valued and blessed.