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

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Church structures

The Oct. 31, 2006 posting entitled "Value Added" touches on the notion of church structure. This is something I have dealt with a bit in other entries in this blog. But I have been thinking a lot more about it lately. Where do new structures come from? Where will new structures come from?

Although I speak of the structures of the church not necessarily being helpful to inclusive ministry for persons with disabilities, I must admit that I am not entirely sure of what kinds of structures I would advocate for. For example, if you look at the "Value Added" entry, I describe a woman with mental illness attending a local church. It is clear that the existing structures are not working. I think that our typical response would be to exclude her from many of the activities of the group. That is what we have typically done. I know that because I don't see a lot of people with mental illness attending church. If they were in our midst, that would imply that the structures have changed in some way.

Changing structures begin with the decision,
"I want people with mental illness to be able to attend church."
"I want people with disabilities to be able to attend church."
Once that decision has been made, the rest becomes just logistics. How will I be able to include peopel with mental illness? How will I remove the exclusion (as Arthur Seale says) that keeps people with disabilities from being enfolded? Once again, the fact that the people with mental illness or other disabilities are not in our midst implies that we have not made the basic decision that all such people should be able to attend church.

Now there may be people out there who are clever enough to plan changed structures ahead of time. I don't claim to be clever, but I have a few ideas. But largely, the structures will develop as we work to bring people into church, as we work to make our programs no longer exclusive. Even as we strive to understand what ministry is.

In the Sept. 18, 2006 entry, I quoted Vanier's statement about the rectitude of doctrine vs. the rectitude of love. Instead of studying love, how to love, the different types of love, how much better to attempt to get love right relative to a person who is mentally ill, who wants to be in our midst.
"No, you can't be in our group because we are studying about love. We will not be able to cover all the material, or you might distract us too much should you attend. We want to be able to complete the love passages by the end of the month, so I am sorry but you can't participate."
But by having a person with mental illness in our midst and making the decision to keep her there, we will develop structures that will work. I repeat that the structures haven't developed in the past because we haven't made the decision to include in the past. I am also sure there is not a single answer; there are many ways in which inclusive ministry might be done.

New structures will develop when the existing ones are no longer working. I would argue that if people with disabilities cannot be in the typical Bible study group, then the typical Bible study group is all wrong. The person with the disability is not wrong, the structure, the "way we have always done things" is all wrong.

Please, for Christ's sake, invite the person with the disability into your group, remove the exclusion, and work to see what structures He will develop in your group that serve all. If God truly believes what Paul wrote,
On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensible, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor (1 Corinthians 12:22-23)
maybe we should believe it as well.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that we as human fall into this type of behavior. We don't only exclude those with disabilities or mental illness, but much of the time we exclude those unlike us. Christians are often referred to as being judgemental. (because we forget that we were once stained by our sins) I think that we start to think too much of ourselves. An example might help to clarify what I am saying. How often do we judge the generation after us. Often we look at a kid who has peircings, tattoos, listens to punk rock, and think that he or she is unworthy of being invited to our church, or think that they wouldn't fit in. He or she is not of the norm so we exclude them (forgetting where we once came from; not to say a kid who looks like that couldn't be a christian, I know a few that are). But back to your point, I think it is a problem of complacency. I am sure you have observed in your classroom that many of us pick the same chair in the same spot week in and week out. It is our norm, and in church we sustain our norm because it is easier. Like you stated, once we make the decision to set aside our comfortableness (you said make the decision to include) and do God's work, then the structures will change (because they have to). Christ never promised that we would be comfortable on this earth (was He? he often went hungry, slept outside, and traveled many miles a day, he lived to do God's work, as should we.)