This has been my experience a bit in the work in disability ministry. We had been ignored for a long time. I have been told that disability ministry is not a priority, in other words, go away we want to ignore you. I have been told that I am wasting my time. I have heard from many others that church leaders have told them the same kinds of things.
First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.
I am happy to say that I haven't heard the ridicule from the church. I think in their heart of hearts them know that people with disabilities should be present in the church. So although they may resist what they know is right because they are afraid or don't know what to do are lazy or even negative in their attitudes, they have not engaged in ridicule.
But they do fight you. Have you ever heard these kinds of comments?
We have never done it that way.
The Sunday School class meets on the second floor and we don't have an elevator.
We got to keep the homeless man out of the bushes.
The girl with down's syndrome disrupts the junior high Bible study.
We need to get rid of the mentally ill woman.
Sunday School teachers won't teach if the boy with autism is in the class.
We will have to change ...
Why should people with disabilities be a priority for ministry? (one of the worst I ever heard)
It will be too expensive.
I don't have any training.
They are a black hole for service.
They will drive others away.
They are too disruptive.
and so on and so on.
But if you believe Gandhi, if you persist, in the end...YOU WIN!
I think I am beginning to feel the change in momentum towards our side. It's like a football game where one team is ahead, but things happen that tell you that the other side is coming back. In reality, in the church we are all on the same side, although some don't know it yet. But there are many things happening. I can tell you that there is just an increasing interest in issues of spirituality and disability, and again it is finding its way into the church. At times Christians are leading the way in this momentum change and that is exciting. But we can't be self congratulatory yet...if ever.
Not too long ago, I was picking up a friend who works at a sheltered workshop in my town. He was going to be a guest speaker in one of my classes. Anyway, as I waited for him, perhaps a hundred adults with intellectual disabilities exited the building. There were faces I recognized and people I greeted, but I bet I knew 15% of the people at best. I hope others in that group have their own places to worship, but I can't help thinking they don't. Multiply that by the number of communities, take in those who are in supported employment settings or adult day care. What about the thousands of group homes that exist in our communities? If a church has 3 or 4 adults with intellectual disabilities in their congregation, that is great. But there are many more of these folks in the community.
May God open our eyes to needy people in our community. May God draw us to them and them to us. May God receive the glory when we are obedient in loving our neighbor.