“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

U.S. Catholic Bishops part 8

The following is from the "Doctrine and Pastoral Practices" website sponsored by the United States Conference on Catholic Bishops. http://www.nccbuscc.org/doctrine/disabilities.htm

"8. We welcome qualified individuals with disabilities to ordination, to consecrated life, and to full-time, professional service in the Church."

Although the primary focus of this blog has been integration of persons with disability, particularly cognitive disability, into the church we have at times touched on other areas of disability. Although I do not understand all aspects of "consecrated life" as mentioned by the Bishops, I suspect there could be vocations which might be filled by persons with some form of cognitive disability. Particularly those which might not require a great deal of study or theological understanding. Those which would not require the supervision of those without cognitive disability or some of the more demanding aspects of teaching. However, I want to move away from cognitive disability for a moment.

There is no doubt that persons with various forms of disability (physical disability, blindness, deafness, etc.) have been ordained and served in full-time professional service to the church. If they did not have these disabilities when they began service, they certainly have developed them over time. As we are using a Catholic document as a point of departure for this discussion, one need only consider the Pope who with advanced age has found himself increasingly facing apparent physical disabilities. Although these disabilities have impacted his ministry, they have in no way limited the impact of his ministry. I suspect there are many who upon seeing his disability are actually encouraged by the fact that he can relate to the physical issues they are facing in their lives.

There are also those who have been disabled by others in the service of God. The Bible speaks of horrific tortures people have faced over time because they refused to either denounce a belief in God, or refused to stop telling others about God. I cannot imagine we would now disqualify those who endured such trials from working in ministry.

I have known a variety of people who have served as ministers who also experienced disability. One of the most powerful sermons I ever saw was delivered by Rev. Steve Chance. He is an ordained minister who also has cerebral palsy. I remember Steve would sit in the front row of the church waiting to be introduced. Upon his introduction, he would slowly go up the steps leading to the stage so that he could deliver his message. You struggled with him as he made his way up the steps. Just the act of him climbing those steps drew you in, gave you some small bit of empathy toward the challenge moving around the community might be for him. As he would reach the platform and move toward the lectern, you were relieved. Steve, somewhat haltingly, would then turn and rivet the audience with a brief pause. "Is God fair?" he began, and you knew that he had a good notion of whether on not God was based upon his personal experience. Contrast that presentation with the good looking well built pastor who bounds up on stage and asks the same question. Steve had and has a vital ministry because of the experiences God has placed in his life. Experiences you and I and probably Steve would chose not to have, but the end result is a powerful witness for God in a way that others could not emulate.

I was in a meeting the other day where several deaf leaders in their church spoke about the incredible benefit of having a pastor/priest who was able to sign. It was not shared whether or not the person they spoke of was deaf himself. If he was, what a great investment on the part of the church to train up and place him among others who spoke the same language and had similar experiences (I am reminded of God coming to the Earth in the form of man). But even if he wasn't deaf, what an obvious thing to do to minister to a community. Can you imagine going to a church where you not only don't speak the language they speak, you can hardly even perceive it.

Involvement of persons with disability in church leadership is not a mandatory thing that must be done, but it does send a message to the congregation about what the church thinks about persons having that characteristic. If I see persons with my same racial flavor in leadership, it implies to me that people like me are valued. If I never see anyone who looks like me in leadership it implies that people like me cannot rise to leadership at worst, or at best that the church is too lazy to find someone like me.

I remember that at the university where I used to teach, a new building was built with a large lecture hall. The stage of the lecture hall had no wheelchair access to it. I can imagine the discussion between those who planned that stage . . . "Do you think we need to have wheelchair access to the stage?" "Naw, nobody in a wheelchair would be speaking to this group. Besides, if the university thinks its important, they can add a lift or something later." The ultimately did.

If the church wants to engage the community, to bring the community in, to minister to the community, then the congregation must reflect the community AND the leadership must reflect the community as well. If I don't see myself there, then I won't come.


No comments: