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

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

A movement of lay professionals

This past week I had the opportunity to meet a woman who was applying for a position at the university where I work. I asked her how she as a school psychologist at a large school district was able to integrate her faith with her professional position. She related a variety of things she was doing, but then spoke of how she started a support group for parents of persons with disabilties at her church. The group met about once a month and discussed successes and failures, resources and battles with various human service agencies. She also related that her church had begun to infuse special education best practices into the Sunday school classes for students with disabilities.

I walked away from that conversation feeling that what she is doing is exactly what professionals need to be doing at their local churches. We need to bring our expertise to the church, but not for the reason you might think. You see, I believe that
it does not take special training to be involved in disability ministry
it does not take special training to be involved in disability ministry
it does not take special training to be involved in disability ministry
it does not take special training to be involved in disability ministry

Now don't get me wrong. The training professionals receive is important and contributes a great deal to their understanding of persons with disabilty. I am a trainer of professionals for goodness sake. But, what the church needs more than anything else is to have professionals model how one is to act, how one is to include, how one is to love persons with disabilities. The key attribute that we bring to the church setting is not our special training, but our experience. We have learned to see past the minor social skill deficits. Just about anything a person with a cognitive disability could do, we have probably seen before and have learned to take in stride. It is this experience of being accepting to persons with disabilties that we bring to the situation. You see, we have learned that people wiht disabilities are just people, and because we understand that truth, we treat them like we would treat anyone else.

But that experience is huge. People will say that they can't do something because they don't have training, but what they really need is experience, because experience will ally their fears better than any training ever would. And how are they to get this experience? Well, if we as professionals would be proactive in bringing persons with various disabilities to church they would get the experience. They would also have the opportunity to see appropriate interactions with persons living on the friges of society modeled for them. Perhaps through our example, those on the fringe wouldn't be on the fringe anymore because our example would break down the stigma which put them on the fringes in the first place.

It is interesting that in churches we hear that God loves all people and that God sees all people the same, that God values all people the same and that we are created in the image of God. We hear that, but we don't always see it acted out in our midst. We as professionals who love and work with persons with disability can provide the example of what it looks like to act on the notion that God loves all people the same. We can provide the example of what it looks like to act on the principle that we are all created in the image of God. We can provide the example of what it looks like that God sees all people the same. We can provide the example of what it looks like that God values all people the same. We hear such statements made in church, but how often do we see such statements acted out within our midst. You know it is funny that when we do see the act of kindness toward a persons with mental retardation, or the pastor who takes social skill deficits in stride, we are like, taken aback. It is like for an instant we are not seeing through the glass darkly. The question is why are such interactions rare? Perhaps it is because the opportunities to do real acts of kindness towards people who are in need cannot occur if the people in need are not in the church.


It is we who need to make the church reflect the community. If you are a professional in aspects of disability and there are few if any persons with disabiltiy at your church, it is YOUR FAULT! You are not doing, not being all you should be in your church. When I see a lack of acceptance at my church, I immediately look at myself. How am I providing the example of how the church should be towards persons who have been traditionally excluded. I cannot expect a church which has literally centuries of exclusion to suddenly lead the way in change. To put it kindly, the "lack of priority" of disability ministry is an inbred part of the structures of the church it would seem. The excuses for a lack of involvement which are typically provided by those in leadership have worked for decades if not centuries.


We are the ones who need to change the church. It is time for a lay movement of professionals to bring the church into obedience on issues related to reaching out to all its members with disability.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"You want to buck tradition? Start bringing the retarded people to church."


I will start by saying that I agree with your posts and would like to support your ministry. However, referring to disabled people as retarded is offensive to me and many others that live with a disability or have a loved one who is disabled. So in the future, please try not to use "retarded" when speaking of disabled members of our society.

I also agree wholeheartedly that disabled Christians are seldom acknowledged accept when conveniently used to show sympathy or charitability. My son has special needs and loves to attend church. He also loves Christian music and being read bible stories. Unfortunately our church does not have much to offer children who are disabled. Our children's church is designated for typical children or at the very least children that can keep up with everyone else. But what about children like my son, who's 5 years old and often shuffled to the toddler room where he spends most of his time alone. All of the other children are learning about our Lord and participating in all kinds of wonderful activities. Where is the teaching for my son? I find myself constantly ministering to family and friends as well as professionals that being disabled is not a sin or a crime. These wonderful souls are so very precious to God. How can we just turn our backs or accept the indifference in how they are treated.

I teach my son like I would teach any child to pray, be obedient, be responsible, and be tidy. I teach my son to love, to share, and to be mindful when playing with younger children. I was told that I could not expect my son to understand these ideas because he has no relevant connection to reality, as we know it. I guess I don't have to tell you that through prayer and persistence my son does all of these things on his own and acknowledges (even with a severe speech delay) that he wants to be good. Now I'm not saying that my little one doesn't get into trouble every now and again. I'm just saying that through raising him and teaching him as God has intended for Christians to teach their children, my son is able to understand right from wrong and is learning to make a conscious effort to do right.

Anyway, I could go on forever about my son and our experiences since God has so graciously put us on this path. I would love to speak with you more about your ministry.

May God bless you and keep you.