First, I want to thank Tim Vermande for faithfully sending out a “weekly reader,” so to speak, of insights from around the web (to receive this e-mail, join the United Methodist Association of Ministers with Disabilities group at Yahoo, or follow the Disability Ministries Committee page on Facebook) . Each installment opens my eyes and my mind, and often my heart, to someone or something new. But recently I was saddened to read a post by a young man named Matt, “Ten Reasons People With Disabilities Shouldn’t Go To Church.”
It brought me back to a place I had been a few years earlier, where I couldn’t seem to find a place to fit in. It seemed I wasn’t wanted in the choir, or in the pulpit, or even in the sanctuary. Even my service dog raised complaints because his tags made noise. But I am in a new place now, in a church that worries about how to meet the needs of each person who enters the doors, and to make sure the doors are accessible to everyone.
It reminded me of my friend Bridget, who quit going to her church when the priest refused to make the restroom accessible. Bridget is a paraplegic and doesn’t have much choice in restrooms. Her priest’s vehement, and very public, stance on accommodation made her feel unwanted and abandoned.
I thought of my friends Sean and Dan, who for a time were driven 40 miles to my parish in Independence, where they knew they would be welcomed and comfortable. But the realities of getting up and getting ready for a 9:30 church service 40 miles away were tremendous, and impossible to maintain on a regular basis. It was a shame they had to travel so far for a church home.
Some of the reasons Matt states for staying away from church are meant to be humorous, but some are not. People with disabilities may be a minority within the church, and may carry baggage. We may look different, or make other people feel uncomfortable. We are probably in the minority. But are these reasons to stay away from all that church can give us?
I looked at photos from the early days of the ADA movement this week. There were people, mostly in wheelchairs, chaining themselves to doors and crawling and scooting themselves up the Capitol building steps, protesting in front of non-accessible buses. Why isn’t church worth that kind of effort? What can we do to make it so?
I was glad when they said to me,“Let us go to the house of the Lord!” Psalm 122:1
Dear Lord, I am so grateful for you, and your presence in my life. I am so grateful for the church family that I have here, that calls me and prays for me, and smiles at me and squeezes my hand and my shoulder, conveying your loving touch. Help us to spread that loving touch beyond our church doors, so that others know they are not alone, and long to become part of our community, rejoicing when we go to your house.
How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. . .
Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise. Psalm 84:1,2,4