But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.
I Corinthians 12:18
The couple is cute as a button. I don't believe she stands over five feet tall. She dances. Black hair bouncing. In the front pew - especially when she hears the old-time gospel music with the syncopated beat. And she claps. On the beat, off the beat, doubling the beat. She's all over that beat - music rolls over her, through her, and right on out into the sanctuary in rhythm with her special step-touch-step-touch sway. Her husband dances along next to her - arms swinging, teeth shining in a smile as wide open as his personality. I've never heard him say a mean word - not when he talks about his week, not when he talks about his his job with the slowly eroding hours, not even when he talks about his co-workers who sometimes make fun. He says God doesn't like a grump.
She just turned 70 in May; he's 56; they've been married 27 years. They're part of the Friendship Group at our church; they are intellectually disabled.
There are several members - full of personality and flair. And their capabilities vary dramatically. One loves to gossip about the latest happenings in the disabled community; one wants to sing a solo every week; one makes sure to keep me informed of upcoming meetings and scheduled events; one sits quietly watching - I can see her wheels turning taking everything in. Assisted living, independent living, living at home. They ask us to pray for their families, for their friends, for peace in the world, for victims of disaster. They ask us to pray for better job schedules - this economy has filtered down to their bottom lines. They ask us to pray for our church. Generous. Heartfelt. Natural.
By creating this class, our church has provided a place to address the spiritual education of these adults. Yay church! But here's the thing. As Jeff McNair, says in his blog Disabled Christianity:
The critical question in faith development, Bible "learning" is not whether, but how... the changes that need to come to the church that would facilitate faith development for all, will largely result from a change in the entire church environment, not just in figuring out some way to teach the Bible to people with intellectual disabilities. The discussion begins with the statement, "Yes, we want people with severe intellectual disabilities integrated into the church in as many ways as possible."
Once we make that statement our real goal, we will find that we will change our structures such that Bible instruction of persons with disabilities is no longer something else we do, it becomes a significant aspect of who we are. We, the church body have changed from being a church to the Body of Christ with all that that entails.The thing. It is a step in the right direction to provide a place/class/service for adults with disabilities. It is an entirely different step to integrate that group into all aspects of the church. Picture this; one day, I will walk into a class where church youth are sitting with disabled adults, helping them to read, to write, talking with them. Picture this: one day, the Men's group will plan an event with the Friendship Men - to get to know them, to pray with them. And picture this: one day, the Women's group will meet with the Friendship Women - to dance, to sing, to craft. One day, some from the Friendship Group will volunteer to help watch the children when the MOPs group meets, they will volunteer in the kitchen during Vacation Bible School, they will explain what it takes to live independently to young adults. Can you picture it?
I realize that this may be oversimplifying the issue, but we have to start somewhere. The church can start by fully including those with severe intellectual disabilities which in turn encourages the message; all are valued and needed in the church and all people with disabilities or not are spiritual people who can not only learn but (and I know I am getting ahead of the issue here) teach profound spiritual issues. Karen Jackson - Faith Inclusion Network
Heavenly Father, thank you for the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Christ in this world of diversity. Help us to fit ourselves into need. Help us to see your face.