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Disability inclusion in church

Discussion in 'Social Justice Ministries' started by Paidiske, Oct 12, 2017.

  1. Paidiske

    Paidiske Bodily member Staff Member Supervisor Supporter

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    So I've been co-opted to a diocesan committee which is trying to work to help churches become more inclusive of people with disabilities.

    I'm finding that often, raising the issue is met with one of two responses:

    - Apathy. This isn't a problem.
    - But disability inclusion will cost us a fortune so we shouldn't have to do it.

    I'm wondering if I've just got a really weird sample, or whether this is a bigger problem in the church.

    Does your church talk about disability inclusion? Does it do it well? If someone turned up at your church who was

    - in a wheelchair
    - deaf
    - intellectually disabled
    - with significant mental illness,

    would your church know how to welcome that person, how to include them fully into the life of the church, and how to involve them in service as appropriate to their gifts and talents?

    I'll be interested to hear others' experiences!
     
  2. yeshuaslavejeff

    yeshuaslavejeff simple truth, martyr, disciple of Yahshua

    +4,374
    Anabaptist
    Little that I know about this, Corrie ten Boom was the BEST EVER! living/sharing/showing/teaching the GOSPEL OF JESUS for children/adults challenged mentally and socially.
    I did not search for more, just reading about her devotions and classes for them and messages and success,
    in her testimonies and bibliographies of her life.


    See perhaps booklet she wrote
    "Common Sense Not Needed"
     
  3. Wayholka

    Wayholka A crazy furry who likes to draw Supporter

    +5,889
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    I suffer from Asperger's Syndrome which is one of the most socially isolating disabilities one can have. Just simply being noticed, welcomed, and valued in church or a community is enough for me. It's not enough that you have to include people with disabilities, you also have to make them feel like they belong, that the place would not be complete without them.

    I find that people are far too focused on what you can do than your actual character. The Bible says we're all made perfect in weakness but we typically honor the strong such as the dazzling preacher, the gifted musician, the rich tither, and the young man in the Marines. If we really want to emulate Paul's parable of the members of the body, we need to provide honor and acceptance to those who still try their best to do good even if it's pittance compared to the gifted few.
     
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  4. NothingIsImpossible

    NothingIsImpossible Well-Known Member

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    In terms of helping people, I find most churches either can't afford it or just don't know how to. There is one church in our area that is a mega church almost and it does have headphone type things for people who are hard of hearing. And a sign language person to translate (in the main room at least). Though to be fair having someone to translate in sign language is hard because not many do that anymore nor want to take on the role since they would have to be at every event at the church.

    Though in general most churchs do welcome people with any sort of disability and do try and help the best they can. In more severe cases sometimes they parents have to be more involved.

    Now, there is one big flaw with churches though. Judgement. Sure many will welcome you with open arms and shake their head up and down when they hear about what you have. But many will then gossip about you like "Did you meet that new couple? <name>, the husband, he says hes disabled but obviously he isn't healed so he must either be a bad christian or he doesn't pray hard enough!". In some cases they have no issue telling it to your face.

    Or in the RARE and worst case scenarios they tell disabled people they are actually possessed by demons. >.<
     
  5. samir

    samir Well-Known Member

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    I've witnessed that more than once. Mark 11:23 is the verse they quote to say people with disabilities lack faith and could be cured if they just prayed with faith and believed God would cure them.

    I've witnessed someone with Asperger's syndrome being told they were a child of Satan and no longer welcome in their congregation. If someone had been severely disabled I could see them telling that person they were demon possessed. These judgmental and hateful attitudes are why I stopped going to church.
     
  6. Waddler

    Waddler Live a story worth telling well.

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    I can speak from the experience of having a physical disability and two mental illness diagnoses.

    Most churches I've been to typically have a welcoming atmosphere. I've never been judged to my face for my physical disability, though I've been approached once or twice by "faith healers" within church walls (and countless times outside of them). If that kind of invasive practice is being encouraged from the pulpit, that needs to stop.

    As for mental illness, I've learned not to divulge my mental problems to the church in person. They don't get it, and many assume I'm dangerous. I asked for prayer once for my mental health, and was later approached by church security. A friend of mine has had similar experiences at numerous churches.

    The other thing is, Christians at church like to be loving and social, but that can cause anxiety attacks. "Stand and greet your neighbor" are five of the most horrifying words I've heard in church. I've even tried sitting in the back with my nose in the Bible, and had overzealous extroverts stand over me, trying to force me to acknowledge them.

    If I do, I have an anxiety attack. If I don't, that raises eyebrows, and I have an anxiety attack. It seems like the "social club atmosphere" of church doesn't allow for symptoms of mental illness, and when the church tries to respond to a mentally ill person, the church's methods are almost universally bad, in my experience. Making someone feel like you think they're a threat or a concern is absolutely the wrong tack.

    What I wish churches would do is call on their mental health professionals in their congregation and community to teach them how to respond to someone with PTSD, bipolar, schizophrenia, or depression. So far in my experience, the church leadership has done such a bang up job that I don't know if I'll ever go back to church.
     
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  7. Tolworth John

    Tolworth John Well-Known Member

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    The physical alterations to permit wheelchair access to the church building and toilets is the easist to achieve. It's only money that has to be spent.

    As Waddler and other have said it is the mental attitude of the congragation that needs to change and is hardest to change.
    Mental illness rarely has a physical form and accepting that a person has a special need and accomodating that need is very hard.

    One suggestion that has helped the church I attend, has been to form a monthly support group for those with or caring for those with mental illness.
    If explained clearly and correctly this covers those suffering from deprssiom, autism, anxiety, and far more.
    Once the leadership starts to see how many in their church are or have been affected by these issues then the attitudes that need changing start to be challenged.
     
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  8. Waddler

    Waddler Live a story worth telling well.

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    Something like this would definitely help, if it's taught well. It should be led by someone with education, training, and experience in treating mental illness. Far too often I see people who approach the issue of mental illness solely from a spiritual perspective, and that doesn't work. In fact, it can cause a great deal of harm.

    "Just pray more. Trust in Jesus to deliver you." That's great advice, but would you tell that to a cancer patient and advise them not to seek the help of a doctor? Would you pray over them, declare them healed, and tell them not to check with their oncologist?

    I've seen psychology treated as "cute," an unnecessary profession. I've seen people who have been obviously manic declare they've been healed of their mental illness. They throw away their medication, the church rejoices with them, and in one case I know of, the "healed" person killed themselves a month later.

    It is absolutely vital that classes on mental illness be led by a professional. In the context of the church, that person should also have strong faith, balanced by a proper perspective of the world. We know God can and does work miracles, but ask an oncologist what happens to a cancer patient when they go into remission, and then the cancer comes back.

    The patient is usually devastated, and the result may be life-threatening. Hope is a wonderful concept when applied properly, but it must be applied in truth. The meaning of "hope" as defined in the original language of Scripture is "confident expectation," not "wishful thinking."

    Even if my mental problems were to go into remission, I would not consider myself cured until it was verified by a professional clinician. To do anything else would be, frankly, crazy.
     
  9. Tolworth John

    Tolworth John Well-Known Member

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    In the church I attend it is purely a support group. Where people can talk about their experiences and gain help from others who have been through the same sort of experience.
    It is not to heal mental illness, even though prayers are offered if requested, it is to support, help and encourage.

    I agree leadership of such a group has to be carefully chosen and supported.
     
  10. Waddler

    Waddler Live a story worth telling well.

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    I don't think any mental health group should exist to heal mental illness. Pray for it, yes, but this should be the aim: support.

    It should still be led by a professional, though. Someone who can facilitate discussion, keep things calm and orderly, and give group members ideas on managing their illness. Second best would be someone with a mental illness (or close experience) whose illness is well managed.
     
  11. Tolworth John

    Tolworth John Well-Known Member

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    As far as I understand the group this is its leadership.
    Who attends I don't know, nor do I know any details of there illnesses/problems.
    I know it exists and that some people who I know attend find it helpfull.
     
  12. Waddler

    Waddler Live a story worth telling well.

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    As long as it exists and it's helpful, that's a good thing. Like my therapist said, "If it works and it's healthy, do it. If it's not helping, cut it out."
     
  13. Baby Cottontail

    Baby Cottontail Well-Known Member

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    At the church that I attend, we have several people with various physical disabilities. Since we only have one floor at the church, this makes things a little easier. I hope that these individuals feel welcome. They keep coming back to church, so I assume that they do. We try to make everything accessible for those with disabilities.

    We don't have anything for those who are deaf, but I'm not sure that we have ever had a deaf person come to our church. Our congregation has gotten a lot smaller than it used to be. Now we get around 120 people or so a week.

    As for people with mental illness -- there are people who have mental illnesses who attend our church. Some of these individuals like to usher, and they do this well.

    We did have a case where there was a young man who definitely had a mental illness, and it was causing problems. He would go up to random people and offer them prophecies. He would also get quite defensive and he would yell at people at church. Some people were scared of him, and they changed their church attendance behavior because of it. Because his behavior was disruptive and causing people to feel uncomfortable, the pastors and staff did all that they could to try to help him. Some people in the church were rude to him as well. He refused the help that was offered, and didn't like how he was treated by certain individuals, and he ultimately decided to go to a different church. This was unfortunate, as we were building a relationship with him. However, I am glad that he found another church, and I hope that they are able to help him in ways that we could not, and that he feels that he can be a part of that congregation.
     
  14. PloverWing

    PloverWing Episcopalian

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    On wheelchair accessibility: For a long time, our parish had good intentions, but didn't quite get around to making our space accessible. When our beloved church organist developed ALS, we suddenly had a strong motivation, and we applied for (and received) a funding grant to make our restrooms wheelchair-accessible. It seems to make a difference whether the question is the theoretical "What if someone in a wheelchair came here?", vs. "How are we going to help Marla?"

    On less visible disabilities: As with the wheelchair issue, our parish isn't very good at thinking about general categories -- How can we be accessible to people-in-general with disability X? -- but we're better with individuals that we know and love. Two of our members are on the autism spectrum, and we've learned from their families what kinds of things help them participate in Sunday School and worship. But if a visitor showed up with a disability not currently represented among our members -- blind or hearing-impaired, for example -- I think we'd be caught completely unprepared. We're not good at planning ahead on this.
     
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  15. Radicchio

    Radicchio Newbie Supporter

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    All are welcome. We are a small congregation, but we do our best to accommodate all. We have one recent new member that is in a wheel chair. We use chairs rather than traditional pews, so it was easy to simply remove a few chairs from various rows so the individual would have various options as to where to sit. We purchased a small portable ramp to she could have easy access to the restroom, which has a step up. For communion our pastor now distributes and we receive in the front center of the church rather at the alter rails so all can be together. We have two services one which is held in the open on the sand at the beach. At our beach service we have several homeless that attend, some who are intellectually disabled. We do have one or two members that can provide some assistance with sign language when needed.
     
  16. samir

    samir Well-Known Member

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    It's really sad that a church would see people with "mental problems" as dangerous. Not only is that thinking outdated, Christians should be willing to take the risk and not make people feel worse by harassing them. Christians have worked in prisons with murderers and high crime neighborhoods that were totally unsafe but they did it anyway because they loved their neighbor enough to risk it.

    I wish the pastors would preach how the congregation should love their neighbors and be compassionate toward others. IMO, simply loving people, being respectful, and treating them as human beings will help people with those conditions more than calling mental health professionals for advice.
     
  17. Paidiske

    Paidiske Bodily member Staff Member Supervisor Supporter

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    I think part of the problem, samir, is that it's all well and good to say "love your neighbour," but what a person with a disability needs might look different to what a pastor expects.

    Here's a non-mental-illness related example I came across.

    There's a ten-year-old boy whose heart's desire is to do a reading in church. His mother approached the priest who breezily said something like, "Of course, he can do a reading. Let's get him on the roster."

    The thing is, this boy's disability means he can't read. What he needs is someone to record the reading, so he can listen to it over and over, and when the time comes, can stand and proclaim it from memory rather than from the page.

    So he needs someone to advise him of his reading weeks in advance, and someone to record it for him. All of this is very possible, but because his priest was a bit oblivious, (and his mother is worn out trying to advocate for her child at school and everywhere else, and so just doesn't have the energy to go and explain this to the priest), it's just not happening.

    Meanwhile this boy feels like he's not good enough to be part of his church in this way.

    This is why we need specialists, sometimes; clergy are not experts in the various kinds of disability. We're trained as generalists, and for most people that's good enough, but in some specific situations we need someone to help us be aware of the things we don't know and the questions we should ask. And it shouldn't always be the person with the disability having to jump up and down and be "difficult" in asking for their needs to be met!
     
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