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Thankful

One of the greatest joys in my life is working with our teen-agers with disabilities through Young Life Capernaum. Not only do I enjoy hanging out and watching out with the teens, but also, we are gifted with an amazing team, who has taught me about the importance of relationship.

One of our leaders made the observation about disability ministry, the pace is much slower then working with typical high school students, and because some of our friends are difficult to understand, we must take the time to slow down and listen. Slowing down helps many of us build relationships with our friends. These friends are some of the things I am most thankful this Thanksgiving.

As I find my stop at my friends table today, I will be even more grateful for a God who sent His son, so we many all have an eternal relationship with Him. Happy Thanksgiving, may you reflect on the incredible gift of Jesus today.

Transtion

This post is a bit more personal then most of the blogs I write. For the most part, I write about my friends that have disability. I write about faith, disability and the church or I write about policy concerns in the area of disability.

On October 1st, I was told my position in the church, I have attended on and off for the last 15 years, and have worked in for the last five years is being eliminated. The church is moving toward a more congregational-led based model. So, I am in the process of “transitioning” out of my current role. In the work place transition for the most part does not have a negative connotation. For those of us who spend, time with school aged students with disabilities transitions seem to be apart of the conversation. There is always a transition and always a plan for the next classroom, the next school and life beyond formal education. The planning never ends.

The last six weeks, I have thought through my transition and what life will be like beyond my current position and what does God want to do with the rest of my life. Taking the time to hear from God, and moving in the direction of the Holy Spirit is leading sometimes is slower than I personally would like, but, in this time of planning and praying, if the process moved any quicker, I would miss the many lessons my Heavenly Father wants to teach me.

Over the last decade, one thing has become clear; God has given me a unique voice regarding disability and the church. I believe God wants the local church to embrace, people with disabilities, in the same manner he wants the local church to embrace the family with two parents, 2.6 kids, a dog and a mortgage. I will continue to be that voice, as I transition from one table to another table.

It’s holiday time. Many of us are beginning to think about the preparation that needs to happen to make the holidays memorable for our family and friends. Often during the holidays I will host a few large gatherings. Some people ask, how do you bring so many people into your home, are you not overwhelmed. The years I am able to plan and think through the details, I consider it a great joy and honor to have people in my home. I always didn’t do big gatherings; I would host family members and slowly added friends!

Disability ministry needs to be looked at in the same manner. We do not need to have huge gatherings and huge programs, but we do need to plan for individuals who may come through the door. Each family or individual with disabilities has specific needs that most likely someone in a congregation can meet. Sometimes, we will make mistakes, but we are called to serve and love the folks God sets before us.

So, dust of the center leaf for your table, and invite a few more guests to join you during the holiday season. Who knows they may become a part of your church family!

Missed!

This week, I have been attending Inclusion Fusion an online free conference for people who have an interest in both Faith and Disability. This is a great tool for those churches that want to start ministry but do not know how to start or struggle to articulate why a church should do disability.

In his session, Dr. Ben Connor, author of “Amplifying Our Witness”, quotes, John Swinton, “To be included is to be there…to belong is to be missed.” My personal opinion is that churches would say, it is all right for a person with severe disabilities to “be there” in the church, but if that person were not there most would not miss that individual. This translates to the rest of the church body as well. If someone does not show up on a Sunday morning, or for a bible study, do we miss that person? Living in Christian community we should always be aware when there is an empty space at the table and make that person aware he is missed.

Two of my colleagues in the field of faith and disability, Mike Beates and Jim Hukill, often talk about the best ministry you can give someone is the ministry of presence. Many of my friends with disabilities are non-verbal, yet when they enter the room, my day often is made complete.

Are you aware of who is present in your life? Is there someone missing, if so, ask them to join you at the table!

Through the roof

Most people who have studied the gospels of Jesus are aware of the man who was lowered through the roof to see Jesus. Over the years this story has become a personal favorite. The Message says:

After a few days, Jesus returned to Capernaum, and word got around that he was back home. A crowd gathered, jamming the entrance so no one could get in or out. He was teaching the Word. They brought a paraplegic to him, carried by four men. When they weren’t able to get in because of the crowd, they removed part of the roof and lowered the paraplegic on his stretcher. Impressed by their bold belief, Jesus said to the paraplegic, “Son, I forgive your sins.” Mark 2: 1-5

This story is a great reminder that as believers we need to be intentional about removing barriers so people can have access to a relationship. Many churches are willing to make modifications to the physical building, but do not take the same posture when working to enfold persons with disabilities into church community. The story is about four people being intentional, to bring a man who by societal standards would have been shunned. Like many of us, this man needed help in order to be introduced to Jesus. Some of us have huge obstacles to overcome before we have an encounter with the one true living God, this man had the obstacle of being a paralytic and a barrier of large crowds between him and Jesus, yet, none of this was a deterrent. Instead, they were bold and willing to take a risk, they raised him down through the roof. It was not just the man’s faith Jesus was impressed with, this passage tells us Jesus was impressed with their faith.

Bringing people with disabilities into the life of the church does take intentionality, it does take others to advocate for them and their families. So what stops your church from including people who may different then you? How do you create space at the table for all?

Writing a blog has not been high on my personal priority list over this past year. Mainly, because I have been busy with a PhD program, and working with my church to help them to see beyond the need for just programs that include people with disabilities. Specific programming is a great beginning, but churches really need to think beyond programming and think about what it is to have all members of the church family to feel included.

We live in a complex society today, with many people feeling as if they are being marginalized, including those living with disabilities. Churches are working harder then ever to include all people into their faith communities. Yet, there is a group of people most churches do not intentionally plan for, those with disabilities. Many can speculate as to why this group of people can be over looked, but today I am choosing to believe, most church leaders are not aware of the many complex needs in the community of people living with disabilities.

When churches hire key staff positions, such as a Pastor of Family Life, Children’s Pastor or a director of assimilation, it is not an instinct to ask about the skills needed to include people with disability. This is sad, since those with disability are the largest unreached people group in the US, in fact, in the world. There are people who are able and willing to assist churches as they formulate plans for including all into the body of Christ.

The next few blog entries will be dedicated to meeting the needs of people with disabilities in the context of church. Stay tuned as we continue to create space for all at the table.

Amazing Gifts

One of the greatest joys of working with Northland over the years has been to sit under the leadership of our Pastor Joel Hunter. Joel is passionate about Jesus and about people collaborating for the expansion of the Kingdom of God. When I think about Pastor Joel, I think of his as an inclusionist! He has the ability to reach across borders to people and groups who normally are not included in Christian community, those with disability and different faiths are welcome.

Northland Church is honored to host an information presentation for the just published book, Amazing Gifts. Mark Pinsky will be joined by a panel of special guests from across Central Florida, whose stories are included within this remarkable interfaith book. Together, they will share insights discovered along the way on how including those with disabilities within the life of a congregation ends up benefitting and blessing us all.
Amazing Gifts is the Alban Institute’s newest publication, authored by one of the nation’s premiere religious writers, Mark Pinsky. Throughout the book, Mr. Pinsky shares stories of everyday people from across the country, from places of worship of all sizes, and from congregations of all faiths, which convey the message: Including people with disabilities is not difficult – with thoughtful planning we can successfully include all of God’s people. In practical yet inspirational ways, each story provides helpful perspectives on how to better welcome everyone into the house of God. For as Mr. Pinsky found during his time spent with persons presented in the book, “Learning how to recognize the gifts and talents of children and adults with disabilities can transform congregations and their leaders.”
The panel discussion on the book Amazing Gifts is open to all media, special guests, and those interested in learning more about building upon your own congregation’s efforts towards welcome and inclusion. The presentation is Saturday afternoon, March 3, from 3:00-4:15 p.m., at Northland Church’s Main Worship Center at the Longwood Campus (Room 4209). At this free event, with light refreshments included, you will:
Receive a first-hand overview of the book from the author and heart-touching insights from the panelists;
Have the opportunity to meet the author, Mark Pinsky, and panelists whose stories are found in the book, Amazing Gifts;
Visit with others in from Central Florida’s interfaith community interested in or already including persons with disabilities at their worship sites;
Be able to purchase a copy of Amazing Gifts and have it autographed afterwards.
Be welcomed to attend Northland Church’s 5:00 p.m. worship service as special guests, just after the presentation.