Have you ever been asked, “Why do you go to church?”. Think about that for a moment…. why do you go. Why do you go to the particular church where you attend?
Today I thought about that before even getting out of bed— why go? It’s not that I’m admitting I don’t want to go— in fact I really do love going to church– but why do I go?
As I thought about that question I began a list of answers:
- I go to be fed. My work involves me giving a lot of myself and in order for me to maintain the spiritual health I need a good diet– I need to be fed. Church is a food group in a well balanced spiritual diet.
- I go to worship. Church is a time to connect with God– to give ourselves to him… again and again. In a world that tells me everything is all about me– I find it important to be in a place that challenges that mind-set and helps me re-focus. Worship is NOT about me– it’s all about God and starting my week with that perspective is very important.
- I go to connect with others to be part of community. I enjoy visiting and connecting and find it comforting to know that there is support within that community. Fellowship.
- I go to serve. God has given me many gifts and talents. As I have grown in understanding of how to use those gifts, I have been blessed in many ways. Yes, there was a time I felt awkward and even fearful of speaking in front of people– but gifts grow and God equips. Church for me has been a place where many of those gifts have been nurtured and encouraged. Using those very gifts within a church community is a way of giving back to God and acknowledging him as the giver. There is a lot of joy that comes from serving God and using what he has given for his glory.
Church is a combination of these—- learning, worship, fellowship, serving.
BUT– what if I lived with a cognitive disability? Many of the individuals who I have grown to love through my work at HCM live with fairly significant cognitive disabilities. How would they answer the question? What does church look/feel like for them?
- Learning— are they fed in a typical service? Sometimes, yes. Sadly however we rely heavily on words— words that don’t have concrete meaning: faith, grace, forgiveness. . . etc. Sometimes the words do coincide with very concrete images– but those images don’t match the meaning and can be very confusing: washed by the blood of Jesus (imagine if you could only take that literally?!) Words– we have a lot of responsive readings and for those who can’t read it is hard to follow along. How do people with disabilities connect with the message— is there something concrete for them to see, smell, taste, feel? How do you experience a sermon– not just hear the words?
- Worship— how do we typically ‘give ourselves to God’ in worship? Through singing and prayer (and yes, I know worship is so much more than that). Often this is an aspect of church that people with disabilities love. Singing and praise. But what happens when the songs are sung quickly or where many new songs are introduced? Is there room for my friends to participate in the ways that they feel comfortable? Some play instruments– but do they get played at church? Is there room on the praise team for someone who sings off key but loves to do actions? Are other expressions of worship welcome– dancing, flags/scarves, clapping?
- Fellowship— when the fellowship hall is busy and noisy it can be overwhelming. Often people communicate by asking many questions and that can be difficult for some. I find most churches are eager to welcome by saying ‘hi’— but how do we go beyond that? There are so many people left on the periphery…. where would my HCM friends be?
- Service— Do we engage individuals with disabilities in service? Are they presented with opportunities to grow in their gifts and then give back to God in service to him? I know this is hard for some people to picture. Often we see people with disabilities as individuals who need to be served by us. Church should also be nurturing and encouraging their gifts– in fact learning to do service is an important part of faith formation. It is important for the individual but also important for the church. Do we really “have the grace to let you be my servant too” (The Servant Song).
I really believe that churches have so much to learn from their members with disabilities. Vulnerability, authenticity, honesty are words that come to mind.
Hope Centre Ministries does what we do because sadly there are many people who live with disabilities who are not part of faith communities that recognize their giftedness. Many people are welcomed and yet not included. We hear more stories of frustration than we do of celebration.
This is why we are working to build our ‘Support for Churches’ repetoire. We want to respond to the needs of churches– to build partnerships and encourage and support churches who wish to grow in their understanding of what inclusion means.
What area does your church need to grow in?