by David Morstad
There is little argument that vibrant congregations seek to build environments of welcome. But what does that look like? My sense is that the question is deeper than simply, “Is there a place for me, a person with a disability, to be on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.” People can BE anywhere, but the real question may be, “What happens when I get there? Am I merely included, or, do I truly belong?”
If you ask parents of children with disabilities about this, a few uneasy facts emerge. In a study published in 2013, more than 400 families that include children with disabilities were asked about their faith community experiences. Here’s a snapshot of just a few key questions:
Are parents of non-disabled children expected to remain at religious activities so that their children can participate? Do approximately one-third of typical families leave churches because one of their children cannot find welcome? The numbers might represent a bit of a wake-up call for congregations, most of which presumably aspire to be in the welcoming business.
I like to assume that people of faith earnestly strive to do what is good and right but, in some cases, may not know how; or, at least, may not know the best places to start when it comes to appropriate outreach, support, and welcoming of people with disabilities. There is good news.
The Kennedy Center at Vanderbilt University has produced, Welcoming People with Developmental Disabilities and Their Families: A Practical Guide for Congregations. The research-based document provides helpful information to congregations by identifying the areas that families have said they would find most helpful.
How important are things like parent support groups, resource availability, and respite care when it comes to families of children with disabilities? And how does that level of importance compare to the number of congregations that actually offer them? The 18-page guide provides answers to those and other questions but, more important, provides online resources and other practical information that can equip congregations to make the most effective decisions.
The guide is free, downloadable, and exceptional. I hope you give it a look.