Posts Tagged ‘disability’

Having a place to worship and belong is important to many people, including those people living with disabilities. But we must never lose sight of the Big Audacious Goal, which is to introduce people to Jesus! The goal for those of us working in disability ministry is not inclusion, but I do believe people becoming active members of a congregation can be a by-product of a person coming to Christ.

So, my fellow workers in the kingdom, I challenge you to remember why we do what we do and that is to bring people to Christ and to help them grow deeper in their walk! It is not about inclusion or a person with a disability, it is all about Jesus!


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Recently, a fellow ministry worker was sharing with me some of the new things she was doing in her very traditional church. One of those new things included helping a bunch of very cool adults (I have met them, they are a fun bunch) with intellectual disabilities participate in the sacrament of communion. She was sharing some of the staff and volunteers concerns.
Can they really take communion?
Yes, they understand what it is to be in relationship with Jesus.
Do they understand the significance of the sacrament?
Yes, they have been taught and we have practiced in our classroom?
What if…something goes wrong?
I snickered and stated something may go wrong. Then my mind drifted…

I over the years I have worshiped in places where it was customary to move out of the pew and move toward taking the elements. As a child, the small white wafer was placed on the tongue and I swallowed the wafer, and there was never an issue. But because, of safety, a wafer is now often placed in ones hand. This can often bring me to a place of dread, will I be steady enough to pick the wafer or bread up, will I drop it…. What will happen…and the juice… Over the years, I may have worn more juice then swallowed it.

Because of my hand coordination my preferred method is intinction, a method where the bread is dipped in the juice or wine. Because it is bread, so the pieces are normally larger and I have better control over these things. But oh…those small little cups, that are often over filled. I see the tray coming and I want to run or hide, or have the cups pass me by…I have dropped full trays…and have left places of worship with red stains on my clothing, feeling mortified, ashamed and left out of one of the most important traditions we have as Christians! I have had better meaning people point out the stains on my clothing, bringing more embarrassment. I have cried on many occasions, feeling it was so unfair this beautiful sacrament, had been marred because of my physical limits…

I began to tell my colleague about spilling and her very quick wonderful reaction was the blood of the Lamb washed you. My perception…of all of those spills changed with that phrase…for I am glad I am made clean by Jesus blood…. And with that I will go boldly to the communion table in the future. Do you come to the table boldly!

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In the process of reading background material for my dissertation I have accumulated weird information. This weekend, I was reading about the history of disability, focusing on the North American’s view of disability. Over the course of history people with disability have not been viewed in the most positive light, people with intellectual disabilities, were idiots, fools, cursed by God and often shunned. Most of us are aware of this information.

To my surprise, long before the European’s graced the North American continent Native American’s saw people with disability in a different light. Many tribes saw a person with limitations, yet found jobs within the tribe to match those person’s abilities. A person with an intellectual disability may have become the best water hauler the tribe had. Every person within the tribe community was celebrated because of the gifts the gods had given them.

The apostle Paul in the New Testament of the Bible reminds us we are all part of one body, and each part of the body has a distinct purpose. The body of Christ is not whole until all are apart of the body. This includes people with disabilities. Are we looking at how a person with a disability can enhance your faith community?

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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?

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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.

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Sometimes it is easy to get all spiritual and say I don’t have any Heroes! I have people I admire, love and long to be mentored by, but Heroes, that is another story, after all, there is a fine line between making someone a hero and an idol!
As a disenfranchised teen-ager there were few people I looked up to or even wanted to emulate, and there was no one with a disability I wanted to be like. As a junior or senior in high school, I read and then saw the movie Joni. For those of you who do not know the story of Joni, Joni, an active, sports loving teen-ager had a diving active which left her a quadriplegic, depending on others for almost all of her daily living. In this book it is Joni’s quest for significance, which ultimately she finds in Jesus. Joni begins to see disability honors God. As a teen-ager, I hung to Joni’s story, one day, I will be like Joni.

Over the years, I have heard Joni speak on many occasions, read her books and followed what the ministry she established has accomplished throughout the United States and the World.
Joni, has been back in the Orlando area the last few days and I have been able to reflect again on who Joni is and the legacy she and her husband Ken are going to leave when they move on to glory. As a full-time church worker working with those in the disability community, I am thankful she was a forerunner, who pushed church doors open, so more people with disability could find a personal relationship with the one who gives us significance and a faith community who will support the needs many families have.
I can honestly say, Joni is one of my Heroes and when I grow up, I want to be like Joni, full of grace, love and passion.

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Going into this Christmas season, I was tired and spent and wondered if I had anything to give to anyone. But, God always has a different plan and for that I am truly thankful as we begin the New Year.

As a family, we wanted to change things up a bit, so, we actually carried through with what we had talked about for years, and we adopted a family to do Christmas. My church always knows people in need, so, I knew, finding someone to help was going to be easy, so easy, I thought I would put some criteria, the biggest, NO DISABILITY! After all, I live with disability, and work with disability; it would be ok to maybe segment my life right? One more time God chose to remind me, my whole life belongs to him, and what I do for ministry is not separate, but rather serving is life with the Father.

So, a family was assigned, and yes there was a child with disability. But this was not about what I could give to the family professionally, but rather what we could do as a family collectively. A washer and dryer to make life easier for a mom and dad, who just have had a bad year or ramp for a child who does deserve to move around his whole house, including coming and going out of his home. Practical ways, our whole family could serve, but needs I could not fix!

Still spent, God continued to remind me, we all have gifts, sometimes it is the gift of presence, and wiping a tear from a mom’s eye after a child tragically passed away. I thought I had no gift to bring……….

Today, I am praying for all of my friends, I pray they would no their gifts are needed here at the table!

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