Every person—living with and without disability—is created to worship the God who made us. Being with God’s people on Sunday is the ultimate expression of our purpose. But ordinary aspects of Sunday morning church present challenges that are difficult to overcome for many families affected by disability.
Consider what is necessary to navigate Sunday morning church:
- Arriving at church requires transportation, the ability to maneuver through the building entrance and halls, and appropriate social skills to greet and interact with others.
- Sanctuaries often come with centuries-old expectations of quiet, reverent behavior where any extra sounds are noticeable and attract attention.
- Participation requires the physical ability to stand and sit repeatedly and the ability to make frequent transitions in a short time.
- Singing hymns requires the ability to read small, stacked text with very specialized terminology that is unfamiliar outside of the worship context.
- Praying requires prolonged attention to task, auditory discrimination, and the ability to remain still and silent.
- Sermons require the ability to hear, attend to, and process meaning from someone who is speaking at a distance, while blocking out the distractions of those who are seated between the congregant and pastor.
Many families touched by disability experience an uphill climb every week. They question whether they are too much trouble for the church and start to fade from attendance. To see all families enfolded into the church, we must understand their challenges and whether they can overcome the effects of disability enough to fit rigid expectations of worship.
This will take educating the congregation on their challenges and considering how to make them feel welcome by our words and our actions. We need to reassure them by saying, “We want you here worshipping with us, because without you, the body of Christ isn’t complete” (1 Corinthians 12:22). We can embrace extra noises, smile at extra movements, and think outside the box of ways we can help them move from the back pews into the heart of the church.
Taking one small step at a time, this is possible. With prayer and gospel love for the broken and hurting, this is possible. Change starts with you. Families touched by disability need to worship. Beside you and with you.
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