One Sunday, I (Cynthia) attended the most beautiful service I have ever attended. Pastor Tom* called the congregation to worship, then the music began to rise. A young man standing behind an electronic keyboard played the music as Sidney, Tom’s wife led people to worship. And then it was time for the last song. Sidney signaled for a group of children to come forward. She set up the microphone for 6-year-old Jamie and explained that Jamie would lead us to sing the final song Lord I Lift Your Name on High. Sidney said it was Jamie’s favourite song and he was very good in singing it. And surely, he was!
You might not be able to picture the beauty of this service until you know that the young man who played the electronic keyboard has a developmental disability, and Jamie has autism. Make no mistake, this is not a ‘special’ service for ‘special’ people. It is a regular Sunday worship just like any other service in the city. Pastor Tom and Sidney believe that every person in the church, disabled or not, belongs and everyone should be encouraged and supported to serve. When this belief was put into practice, what I witnessed was a beautiful Body of Christ praising God in wholeness.
Churches are increasingly open for people with disabilities to be included in church services, but there is a difference between ‘inclusion’ and ‘belonging.’ To be included the person with disability just has to be welcome to sit with us. To belong speaks to a relationship that exists within the Body of Christ. John Swinton, a pastoral theologian, says “To belong you have to be missed.” For a person in the congregation to be missed, he or she needs to be a friend of ours.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honor (1 Cor. 12:21-23 NIV)
Our challenge, like that given in the parable of the banquet, is how we make our church communities a place of belonging and ‘home’ for those with disabilities and their families.
The national team for Disability Ministries is working with Christian Horizons, a Christian ministry that serves people with disabilities, and have been developing supports and resources for churches to become places of belonging for people with disabilities.
One special initiative that we urge you to consider is participation in the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Sunday, December 3rd.
Christian Horizons has developed resources, sermon notes, children stories, videos and ideas for further development in your local church. You can find these on the Christian Horizons home page under ‘Resources for Churches’. Please also check out the C&MA Disability Ministries page and together let’s build communities of belonging.
* To protect the identities of the children, all names used in this article are pseudonyms.
Date and Time
Dec 3, 2017