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

Monday, February 18, 2008

Ministry to peers

Yesterday, I had the privelege of having a small cadre of people with expertise in disability and disability ministry in particular visit our Light and Power group at my church. They spoke with various people at the church who work with children, and then spent an hour and a half with our adult group. Afterwards we went to lunch and had a great discussion about many issues related to disability ministry for another 2 hours!

While we were at lunch, the leader of the visiting group made the comment, "Your ministry is different. You treat the people (disabled adults) as peers." The person could have hardly made a more positive comment about what we are doing, because that is one of the major goals of our adult ministry. We want to be the same as the women's ministry, the men's ministry or any other ministry in that we are in the ministry together and are all the same.

As I have said elsewhere in this blog, I may be the teacher of the group, and one of the more educated people in the group, but I am definitely not
the most loving person in our group,
the person with the greatest faith in the group,
the person with the most patience in the group,
the person who is most interested in spiritual growth in the group,
the person who is the most free in worship in the group, and so on and so on.

And who are the people in my group? They are people with intellectual disabilities, persons with down's syndrome, persons with mental retardation.
I am confident that persons with mental retardation are the most loving members of our group.
I am confident that persons with mental retardation are those with the greatest faith in our group.
I am confident that persons with mental retardation are the most patient in the group.
I am confident that persons with mental retardation are the most free in worship in our group.

But because I am a person who is not experiencing an intellectual or other disability I and others like me might treat those who are experiencing disability as if they are not quite as good as me, not quite the same as me, not quite our peers. When we do that in the midst of ministry, it is particularly problematic. How would you, how do you feel about people in leadership over you who think that they are better than you? I don't find that a very endearing quality in people in any setting, let alone a ministry setting.

So to hear that comment from the person visiting our group was so encouraging to me. Thank God that that could be a characteristic that people would notice about our ministry.



Julie said...

I love that! I noticed that about your ministry, too, when I attended your work shop at the Joni and Friends conference. That was the most memorable thing I got from you guys.

I remember receiving a similar complimaent once, and it was the best I've ever received, though I don't think the woman who gave it to me meant it as one. I was working at a group home for adults with developmental disabilities, and a new staff member told me she hadn't realized I worked there. She thought I was a resident of the home because of the way I interacted with the actual residients. She said she couldn't tell us apart.

My church is beginning a small group with the missional purpose to reach out to those with disabilities, and my biggest fear is that we will become the ONLY option at our church with disabilities. I fear that when a person with a disability comes to our church, he/she will be referred to ONLY our small group and not be given any info about all the other groups. I hope that we do more to involve people with disabilities with the WHOLE church and vice versa. I hope all of our small group members, with and without disabilities, are understood to be EQUAL members.

Again, I love everything I've learned about your Light and Power class, ESPECIALLY that it's a ministry of peers.

Arthur Seale said...

It is important not to regard small group ministry to intellectually disabled adults as a "segregated" entity, but as a springboard to full inclusion into the church as a large group. One of the core needs of all people is to have a sense of belonging. It is vital to provide a small place where one always feels welcome. It is from that secure place that we can reach out to involve ourselves in the activities of the church as a large group, as well as other ministries and groups. It then is the role of the leaders of the group to facilitate involvement, but only as it is desired and is beneficial to the intellectually disabled individual.

Anonymous said...

I understand what you are trying to say. People should always treat their peers with the same respect no mater if they are less or more disable then them. The goal is not to make people feel like an outsider of a group, but to make them feel part of the group. There is a saying in my native language that says “no hagas cosas que no quieres que te hagan a ti” witch means don’t do thing that you don’t want other to do to you. People with disabilities are no different then any other person in the world. One thing that people sometimes forget is that we are not perfect and we all have strong and weak areas as humans. I strongly agree with you that our weakness compare to a disable person is that they are more loving, have greater faith, patience’s and interested in spiritual growth. We some times lack the in this areas and make excuses for lacking in this areas, but a disable person is always honest and true to their faith.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous has said it perfectly! In English we call it the "Golden Rule," treat others as you have others treat you. We should never forget that. We marginalize people with disabilities because we convince ourselves they are something other than what we are. That makes it OK to treat others in ways we would not want to be treated.

Your co-worker truly paid you a compliment, Julie, when she said she couldn't find any difference between you and the residents in the group home. I pray she learned from that experience. I pray we all do.

Anonymous said...

This is so awesome! I think what you, and your church, are striving for is great. It is so refreshing to see that there are people out there who are not only trying to bring people with disabilities to Christ, but also showing them what it means to be in Christ. By giving your church an atmosphere, such as this, you are teaching them something; and that is pretty amazing.

I also wanted to comment on the video of the boy who has a sister with a disability. I wanted to comment some time ago when we watched that video in class and I am just now able to. It hit me hard, not because I realized how harsh using the word "retard" is, but because I felt like he was speaking for me. I could not have said it better myself. I have tried to share the same idea with people for my entire life and I have never been able to express my thoughts the way that he did. It is a never-ending battle listening to say "retard" or "retarded" all the time. I had almost given up on trying to make a difference in people using this term until I watched this and realized that I am letting the world get to me by settling. I now try to show that video to as many people as I can because I want them to hear my story through him. So, Thanks for the video!