An article I wrote a couple of years back is part of a features section of ESA (Evangelicals for Social Action) online. You can view the article here There are no retarded people in St. Louis
Let me know what you think?
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
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Jeff, wonderful, practical article! I really liked how you didn't just point out a problem, but offered solutions as well. I am forever grateful that we are part of a church that does love & care for those with intellectual disabilities. In fact, our son, who has Down Syndrome, just graduated from our church-run high school.
Keep up the good work!
My husband & I are the parents of a 16-yr-old nonverbal, severely cognitively disabled girl tentatively diagnosed with Angelman's Syndrome. Your article effectively communicates much of what I have struggled to put into words, often wondering if I am the only who feels this way.
In our experience, we have encountered the greatest hurt and the least amount of acceptance & inclusion at our otherwise ever-so-much-more-enlightened-than-thou ELCA Lutheran congregation. Once, when our daughter started fidgeting a little and we prepared to (again) take her out, an older man actually stood up and shouted at us, "Get her OUT of here!"
Last year, I contacted the so-called "Disabilities Action Team" of our ELCA synod. The contact information was buried deep within their website, nearly lost among all their other social concerns. Purportedly they were formed to more effectively include disabled persons in congregational life, so I was hopeful. I wrote to the committee asking what ideas they were working on, explaining our situaion and how we would like to help especially explore ways to include the cognitively disabled in worship.
I received an email back telling me how they'd gotten wheelchairs put into all congregations in the synod; if I needed other "assistance" I should contact my community's social services - as though I'd come to them looking for money! Clearly these people did not have a clue about the scope of those living with disabilities; wheelchairs are a start, but are unfortunately the tip of the iceberg. I believe our synod's "Disabilities Action Team" has since been disbanded (after all, they thought their job was done!).
I have recently become a regular visitor to your blog for ideas on special needs ministry. I will print your article when I meet with our pastor to discuss the possibilities.
God bless you, and as Lori said, keep up the good work! (And Lori, I have also bookmarked your blog).
Karen in Wisconsin
Wow, what powerful comments, Karen! Someday, the Church will look back on the kinds of experiences you describe in repentence.
How dare that man say "Get her OUT of here!" Yet there is more of that type of ignorance to face, I fear, before we as the church begin to live in obedience. Unfortunately you and other parents will take the brunt of the negativity till things change.
It is my prayer that God will bless you in your efforts to integrate your little daughter into a disobedient church. Know that you are on the side of God's heart. One day, the church will recognize that. I honestly believe that change is coming.
Jeff - thank you so much for your prayers and your encouraging words! They give us the courage and inspiration to move forward as God leads us.
Thank you for sharing the link.
The church we have been attending has a disability ministry, but it is very small given the size of the church. It is mostly dependent on the efforts of one very dedicated person, who really is a gem. There is a class for children with special needs during two of the three services. You have to go Sat. evening for the younger children's class, Sunday morning for the teens. There is a very wide range of understanding in the class, so only a few connect with the lesson, which is aimed those with amost typical level of understanding.
There is a small buddy program, with too few volunteers. One of the small groups visits a group home once a month or so.
When you have an attendance of 7,000, this is not enough. I have infrequently seen a few adults in wheelchairs brought in by caregivers.
This church recently built a multi-million dollar community center to house a pre-school, medical clinic, arts center, legal clinic, after school programs, basketball clnics, etc. One night a month there will be an activity for teens with disabilities to play board games with "typical" peers.
I feel the disability ministry functions more as a token than as an integrated part of the church.
It is frustrating, because the church is a caring church and does so much good in so many areas. They have planted over 20 other churches. THey run a large food pantry in a needy part of town. They have intentionally and successfully worked on become racially/ethnically integrated over the past five years or so. They have the best Christian bookstore in the city, minus all the psychological fluff. They actually carry Brett Webb Mitchell, and a few other books on disability.
The minister has made public comments supporting the public school system administration, which has had a hard job over the past few years. But one Sunday he emphatically stated that children with disabilities have been given too many rights in the schools; due process has gone too far; they are making the teachers' jobs too hard, and keeping other students from learning. I about fell off my chair.
I did email him in protest, and he said he hadn't thought about the issue from a parent's perspective. (I later found out one of his close counselors is a local middle school principal, who at least a few parents of children with special needs have had frustrations with.)
How are the tired, often absent parents going to to have the ears of the leadership when they are outnumbered in church attendance by a multitude of professionals, who separate their weekday jobs from their church life, and when they do speak up, are heard as experts, and speak with a limited perspective.
Wow, great observations! You and Karen (she provided her email address above) should get to know each other. In a church of 7,000, just based on census data, there should be 3% of the congregation with mental retardation or 210 people. Based on census data regarding people with disabilities, there should be about 1,400 people (~20%) with disabilities in the congregation.
There is just flat out ignorance, resistance to change, and a general lack of sensitivity. As I have said elsewhere in this blog, the lack of disability ministry, is in my mind, a crisis or problem with leadership. It also doesn't help when as you so well stated, "multitude of professionals, who separate their weekday jobs from their church life, and when they do speak up, are heard as experts, and speak with a limited perspective." Instead of being part of the solution they contribute to the problem. There are a variety of perspectives, attitudes which have become ingrained in the chuch that need to change. We all together need to point out those areas, I have been calling them church structures, and advocate to make changes. Also, don't take no for an answer. Ultimately, those of us advocating for the church to open up to people with disabilities will be shown to be correct in our advocacy because as I said to Karen, inviting devalued people to be a part of the Kingdom of God is His heart! I cannot understand sometimes how those in leadership can miss it. We should be seeking out those people to bring them in.
a wonderful article
it reflects so well the hurt I have felt over the years in my Chrsitian community.
you say it so much better than I ever could and in a way that I hope the 'deaf ears' of church leaders eveywhere may be opened
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