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

Thursday, May 20, 2004

A glimpse of a future

In my professional writing I have spoken of the potential the church holds as a place of support for adults with developmental disabilities (several of these articles are available at this address http://www.jeffmcnair.com/CSRD/articlesofinterest.htm). Here are a few of the things I have observed.
-Over 50% of developmentally disabled adults surveyed reported attending church in the last seven days.
-Over 80% of churches surveyed reported having individuals with developmental disabilities in their congregations.
-Churches provide a wide range of supports (money, food, clothing, opportunities for recreation, education, social and emotional supports and opportunities for service).
-As a rule, churches provide these services because a disabled person happened to show up on their doorstep.

These observations reflect some of what is happening now. But what of the future, where are we headed?

I think we are honestly on the crest of a wave that will lead us to a different future for persons with disabilities in local churches.

I can remember as a boy growing up in the 60's the world was a different place in terms of racial integraion. Over the last 40 years though, things have gotten better. The church has become more accepting as evidenced by people within churches becoming more accepting. (I would say, however, that independent of the ethnic make up of churches, the absence of persons with disabilities is pervasive). Maybe it is because I attend a church in Southern California, a place which is truly diverse, but I see more acceptance, more mixing in a variety of ways among ethnic groups. This gives me hope for the future.

I hope for a similar future for persons with disabilities. I observe churches being more open to these people. I know of a church (Crossroads in Corona, California) which has a full time pastor (Julie Keith) to address the needs of people with disabilities, and another church that just hired one (Pasadena Nazarene). I observe a willingness on the part of my own church to make ministry work. To do the extra which is required to include persons, children with disabilities and their families. But we are not there yet.

At my church, we have had a ministry to adults with developmental disabilities for about 13 years. Recently, however, as an outcome of a National Organization on Disability conference we held at our church we have been working to reach out to children. Although I knew there were many who were unable to attend a local church because of the church's unpreparedness and lack of focus, I have been surprised at how quickly these families are coming forward. Our children's pastor reports getting at least 2 calls a week from families asking whether it is true that our church is a place where children with autism (for example) are welcomed. That these families want a church home and are unwelcome because of their child with disability is in my mind flat out disobedience to what the Bible demands of us.

But I can forsee a future where churches will get past their lack of interest, disobedience and perhaps even discrimination and include all people. That they will see people. In the same way that you would visit a church and wonder why there weren't any people from (fill in the blank) ethnic group, you would look around and wonder where the disabled people are in this church. That you would go to a church and notice, "Hey this church isn't accessible to people who use wheelchairs." Your child will come out of Sunday school and wonder where the children with autism or down syndrome were. Can you imagine your child saying, "They don't have any special kids at all in that Sunday school?"

We would be in a place where parents no longer had to rely on the state to facilitate integration for their child through laws (like the Americans with Disabilities act) or through Special Education teachers trying to cajole those around them to accept students with disabilities. No, the church would be leading the way in integration because the kids were growing up together in natural social settings, local churches, where accepting people naturally congregated together. The point of integration would not be the school curriculum where the child with disability may be at a great disadvantage, but growth and development as a Christian, as a "little child" (see April 27 entry). In this area, the person with disability might excell above those without disability. They would then be integrated at a point of their strength.

I hope I live long enough to see that which I feel is just beginning.


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