Faith Community Inclusion

Hopefully you have had the opportunity to read a few of our posts that introduce to some of our wonderful experiences and friendships with people who have developmental disabilities.

Our first several posts are intended to invite you into our growing community of people who believe that God loves everyone. No exceptions. God loves the person who never speaks a word. He loves the person who never seems to stop speaking words. God loves people who have forgotten their names. He loves those who sing loudly, those who sing off key, and those who sing with their hands or hum to the melody. In addition to loving everyone God desires each person to be part of a worshiping community. The contributors to AbleFaith are sharing these words and their hearts to open your heart to the possibility of being part of a faith community that embraces all people, just as God does. We are excited about being part of contributing our expereince and knowledge about inclusive communities and worship.

What questions do you have? What has been your experience when extending hospitality to people with disabilities and their families and caregivers?

Tea for Two

I love a good cup of coffee. I also enjoy a nice cup of tea. I drink coffee on the go. I drink tea on the slow. The best tea is made slowly. To be its best tea requires waiting for the pot of water to come to a boil then cool for a minute before pouring it over the tea ball of loose tea. it does not come from a microwave and a paper tea bag. This is solely my observation. I do not know if there is any actual evidence to back up my observation about the process that produces the best cup of tea for me. You see, it is about the process: the few minutes spent waiting for the water to heat, the gathering of the loose tea into the tea ball, the fragrance that is released as the tea and hot water meld, the colors and textures of the used tea leaves, and, finally, the shining swirl as a honey dipper releases its spun gold into the tea.  Yes, it is the process and it makes me slow down. My life is usuallly lived at a fast pace and I need to build elements into it that force me to slow down. The slowing down gives me time to see the beauty of the snow balancing on the clothes line, to deeply listen to a favorite song, to remember Aunt Clare and how she used to bring her own tea bag when she walked acorss the yard for a visit because we only drank coffee in my childhood home.  I value these few minutes to slow down each afternoon.  I seek them out and feel out of sorts if I get too busy for them.

I have friends who I live life at full speed with. I cherish them. But I have one  friend who makes me slow down. Spending time with her is good for my soul. She leans in as I share my stories and her lovely brown eyes invite me to tell her more. She smiles when I tell too many stories about how wonderful my grandchildren are. She will not let me take myself too seriously and will clasp her hands to her face and turn away if it seems that I am starting to do so. She is honest with me and I am refreshed by being with her. We communicate heart to heart.

Like a slow cup of tea, our friendship is never rushed. You see, my dear friend and I do not communicate in traditional ways. She does not talk. She does not use sign language or picture symbols. She relies on my investment of time to get to know her heart and how she expresses herself. She makes eye contact, she smiles, she pulls away, she reaches out to touch me, she sighs heavily, she cries. She communicates with trust. She is a gift. 

Holding the trust of another person is a sacred thing.


Hospitality to Strangers

Will Rogers, iconic American film actor from the 1950s said, “A stranger is a friend I have not met yet.” This stranger who is a potential friend could be the person passed on the sidewalk, the man or woman standing next to you at the bus stop, the new family that moved in down the road or the person seated in a wheelchair behind you at church. The basics of initiating a relationship include a smile, making eye contact and giving a greeting.

Let’s do some imaginary role-playing. Imagine that it is Monday morning and you are standing at the bus stop when a stranger stands beside you. Politeness requires a greeting. Hellos are exchanged, the bus comes and the day continues. Tuesday morning comes at the same bus stop. The stranger is again waiting for the same bus. Hellos are again exchanged, perhaps with a non-committal comment about the weather. Wednesday and Thursday the same greetings are exchanged. The Friday greeting includes a comment about the upcoming weekend. When the second Monday of the two people at the bus stop arrives the greeting is more natural and eye contact is established. What is happening? A relationship is developing. It may never be more than two people greeting each other at a shared bus stop, but it has the potential to grow into a connection, then an acquaintance relationship and possibly a full blown friendship.

Now let us imagine that the ‘stranger who is not yet your friend’ is the person who is sitting in a wheelchair behind you at church. Imagine that the pastor/priest says it is time to exchange a sign of peace or to greet those around you. You turn around to exchange a handshake with the person behind you and see that she is seated in a wheelchair. What do you do? In the matter of a split second your mind races around: It would be rude to ignore her; it looks like her right hand is pulled up next to her shoulder so how do I shake her hand; should I speak loudly to be sure she can hear me? Remember, she is just another person, just like the stranger from the bus stop. Start with a smile. If she cannot extend her right hand wait a brief second to see if she extends her left hand and if she does than follow suit. If she does not reach out to you than you can still make eye contact, smile and exchange a greeting of peace with her. Now imagine that the service is ended and she is still sitting behind you. How would you interact with her if she was not sitting in a wheelchair but was just a stranger behind you in church? Smile, make a comment about the weather or the sermon, exchange a handshake or hug and then go home for lunch. That is how you should interact with the stranger sitting in a wheelchair. To create a more comfortable environment for her you should sit down next to her or face back-wards from a seated position in your seat. This places both of you on the same eye level. Introduce yourself. It is very appropriate that part of the after church conversation includes asking the stranger how you should exchange the sign of peace with her next week if she sits behind you again. If she has a friend or family member with her it is polite to include them in the conversation as well, but remember that they are two distinct persons so do not address the friend and exclude the person in the wheelchair. Unless the person in the wheelchair shares with you that she has a hearing loss and needs you to speak loudly you should not speak loudly or exaggeraterate your enunciations. The need to utilize a wheelchair for mobility does not mean that a person has other disabilities such as deafness or intellectual disabilities. A relationship is developing. It may never be more than two people greeting each other at church, but it has the potential to grow into a connection, then an acquaintance and possibly a full blown friendship.

Hebrews 13:1-2 “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertangels agels unawares.”

Written by Lida Merrill, Director of Spiritual Life, Heritage Christian Services, Inc.