An Accessible and Meaningful Ash Wednesday

If it is January than Ash Wednesday must be soon! We are preparing our annual interactive Ash Wednesday service that is accessible and meaningful to all people.  That sentence is much easier to type than it is to put into action. Accessible and meaningful to all people…

The congregation of East Rochester United Methodist Church (Upper New York Conference) and their downstairs tenants (a group of people who volunteer at various not-for-profit organizations in the area and who use disability services) are accustomed to celebrating the holidays of the church calendar together.

The process we use to create this annual interactive Ash Wednesday service is simple but time consuming. It requires much time in prayer. I start with reading the lectionary scriptures, available online from Vanderbilt. . Next is a time of pondering and meditating the scriptures, mingled with prayer. The prayer flows around questions:

What do your people need from this season?
What do I need from this season?
How can this diverse community unite in seeking your face and heart for the next 40 days?
How can our senses of touch, taste, hear, smell, and sight be used to prepare our hearts for Lent?

My next step is to visit Pinterest! There are hundreds of interactive faith and prayer stations pinned by myself and other Pinterest users. My Pinterest board for Lent is this link.

Please check back to AbleFaith as I will be sharing my plans and interactive stations for the 2018 service.

Have you used interactive stations for your congregations? What worked? What did not work?

Interdependence

Every profession has its acronyms. We throw them about so freely it may sound like a foreign language to an uninitiated listener. Acronyms can be confusing. In some conversations the phrase, “I am opening an IRA’ means that the person is setting up an Individual Retirement Account. In the context of my professional life of supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, “I am opening an IRA” means that the speaker is part of a team of people opening an Individualized Residential Alternative home for people with disabilities. There is quite a difference

One of the acronyms in the field of supporting people with disabilities is referred to as The 3IPs. Independence, Inclusion, Individualization, and Productivity.

  • Independence- every person has the right to be as independent as possible
  • Inclusion- every person has the right to be included in the mainstream life and to share a community’s common places
  • Individualization- every person has the right to be honored as a unique autonomous person with specific dreams, gifts, goals, tastes, choices and purpose
  • Productivity- every person has gifts and talents to share to contribute to the community

I would like to propose that there is a fourth I, making it 4IPs. The fourth I is Interdependence. We each need each other. You need my gift for words and I need your gift for numbers. The musicians and artists among us are vital. We all need the gift that some have for growing food . We need those with the gift of listening. We need the encouragers, the thinkers, the teachers, those who can analyze and those who synthesize. We need the slow movement people and we need those who charge into the world at lightening speed. We need the brick layers and the surgeons. We need the dog walkers and horse whisperers.  We need those who pray and those who act, those who smile and those who provide a strong shoulder to lean on.  The knitters and weavers, the dolphin trainers and the doll makers, the egg gatherers and the snow shovelers- all are needed. We each need  these people so that we can not just be alive, but so that we can thrive!

Interdependence. We need the diversity of life to make life. Independence does not happen in isolation. The only way to be independent is for interdependence to be strong and healthy. Every person needs every person. Those without and those with disabilities need each other because all are gifted with purpose. We are gifted for the sake of each other. We are not complete without each other.

Interdependence- every person needs every other person; no one can be left out.

The apostle Paul wrote eloquently in 1st Corinthians 12:

 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work… 12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

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A New Rhythm

Life has rhythms and cadences. Rhythms are comforting and soothing. Predictable. It is their predictability that makes them meaningful. Music, rain drops, bicycle pedal strokes, a child’s laugh, heart beats, firing pistons, lapping waves, foot steps, chewing, breathing, chanting, dance steps, hoof beats, skipping rope, swim strokes, clock chimes, labor contractions, sunrise and sunset, and prayer.

The rhythm of prayer speaks to generations of hearts. The rhythm of the Lord’s Prayer, unchanged for millennia:

     Our Father/ who art in heaven/ hallowed be thy name/ thy kingdom come/ thy will be   done/ on earth/ as it is in heaven/ give us this day/ our daily bread/ and forgive us our sins/ as we forgive those/ who sin against us/ lead us not/ into temptation/ but deliver us from evil/ for thine is the kingdom/ and the power/ and the glory/ now/ and forever/ amen.

While in Guatemala, worshiping at an indigenous Mayan church, I recognized the beautiful rhythm of the Lord’s Prayer during the service. The cadence was slightly different, but the rhythm, the rise and fall of the voices and the accented words, were familiar in the unknown language that surrounded me. My mother taught me this prayer, using the rhythms of it to break it into memorizable chunks that my five year old mind could remember. A familiar, comforting rhythm of voices, of connection and cadence with generations of pray-ers.

That is why a change in the rhythm of the Lord’s Prayer startled me one day when worshiping with friends at their church. I was so startled that I stopped praying, opened my eyes and looked at my praying neighbors who prayed as if there was nothing unusual about the change of the rhythm of their words!  What prompted their departure from the familiar rhythm? Love.

Love and determination to include a man who offered them the opportunity to change their rhythm so that he was included in their communal prayer. Love and the willingness to make an accommodation to include a man whose words of prayer were echoes of the words they prayed. Love and the knowledge that the presence of this man and his prayers enriched their community. Love and a desire to be the whole Body of Christ.

Our Father/father/ who art in heaven/ in heaven/hallowed be thy name/ thy name/ thy kingdom come/ come/ thy will be done/ will be done/ on earth/earth/ as it is in heaven/ heaven/ give us this day/ this day/ our daily bread/ bread/ and forgive us our sins/ us our sins/ as we forgive those/ forgive those/ who sin against us/ against us/ lead us not/ not/ into temptation/ ‘tation/ but deliver us from evil/ from evil/ for thine is the kingdom/ kingdom/ and the power/ Power/ and the glory/ glory/ now/ now/ and forever/ forever/amen.

 

 

Bartimaeus

bartimeus

I attend a church that follows a lectionary for the scriptural theme of each Sunday. The lectionary provides a framework for daily and weekly bible stories, music, prayers and preaching. Typically lectionaries revolve around a three year cycle, meaning that every three years the same scriptures come around again. So, in my years in a lectionary church I have heard the story of Bartimaeus and Jesus at least once every three years.  The story has become familiar to me, the story of “Blind Bartimaeus.”

This lectionary cycle, however, it was as if I was hearing the story for the first time! I noticed some elements in the story that were fresh and engaging. To me, as a person keenly aware of disability advocacy and faith-community inclusion for people with disabilities, I heard a story that models the way. (Jesus has a way of doing that, modeling the way.)

  1. “Blind Bartimaeus” is not the moniker that Jesus used to identify this man. It is the label that others have stuck on him, others who did not understand the harm that may happen when a person is identified by their disability instead of being identified first as a person. The interaction between Bartimaeus and Jesus, as described by Mark, is centered on the person of Bartimaeus, not his disability.  Jesus modeled People First Language and ideology before it existed!
  2. Jesus noticed a man who lived on the fringes of his society; Bartimaeus was a person who was culturally, socially, and economically  marginalized. By reason of his disability he was forbidden to participate in the daily life of his community, his hometown of Jericho. He was a person to whom it was acceptable for others to say, “shut up!” (Mark 10:38: Many sternly ordered him to be quiet.) Jesus noticed a person that others rejected; Jesus, again, modeled the way.
  3. Jesus did not impose his own opinion and plan on a person with a disability. He did not make an assumption about why Bartimaeus was calling out to him.  Jesus asked Bartimaeus what he wanted, then he listened and honored the answer. By not assuming that he knew what another person wanted, Jesus models for us how to unprejudiciously listen to other people. Jesus was person-centered with his interaction with Bartimaeus. (In a nut shell, person-centered means putting aside personal agendas and plans for the sake of focusing on the desires and needs of another person. It is a term used in service and life planning with people who have disabilities).
  4. Jesus modeled the way of inclusive communities by not turning Bartimaeus away when he chose to become a follower of Jesus. I realize that I am making an assumption about Bartimaeus with this point, but I believe that there is sufficient information about the first century mid-eastern region where this story occurred to make this assumption: As a marginalized, disabled beggar who lived on the margins of his community, Bartimaeus did not have observable education, talent and skills to offer to the ministry of Jesus and his band of followers. But that did not matter to Jesus as he seemed to delight in including the misfits, tax collectors, zealots and others of questionable reputation to be his followers. Bartimaeus was included, just as was everyone else.

Jesus always models the way!

Mark 10:46-52 (NRSV)   46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Note regarding image- I found this using a Bing search with the key words “Bartimaeus,” “healing.” It seems to have originated from the University of Michigan, but no citations were attached to it. If this image is yours or you know any details about where it originated from please contact this author and it will be removed or proper citation added.

Ash Wednesday Tears

I shed some tears today during the Ash Wednesday service at a local church. These were not tears of repentance for sin (although I could shed tears concerning my sins). These were tears of joy for community.

Almost three years ago the congregation at East Rochester United Methodist Church (New York State), dived off the deep end to become an inclusive congregation. They put mission ahead of margin and invited a local human services organization (Heritage Christian Services) to share their building. The organization serves, among others, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The East Rochester church opened their doors to become a day habilitation site for a handful of people who volunteer in the community and use disability services.

Since the doors opened the two groups have sought to become one community. They built bridges of communication, accepted diversity, overcame stereotypes and asked deep questions. The church people invited their new tenants to join their midweek Bible study and potluck luncheons. The new tenants invited the church people to volunteer with them as they made bread for communion and sorted clothing donations for charity. They celebrate holidays together, and (as Methodists are prone to doing) they often share a dish-to-pass meal. There have been some bumps along the way, but they believe that the relationships are worth the effort to overcome the bumps.

The pastor at East Rochester UMC has been diligent about including me in worship planning for the holiday services and events that include both groups of people. When we began our planning of an Ash Wednesday service I made the suggestion that we create a service that would be universally accessible and participated in by all of the attendees. Pastor Todd Goddard did not have to think twice about working together to create a non-traditional service for this traditional Christian observance of the beginning of the Lent season.

The service began with a prayer in unison and the singing of “Have Thine Own Way Lord.” After the song we introduced the four interactive stations that we created in the sanctuary and narthex.  The four stations ran simultaneously and the worshippers had as much time as they needed to prayerfully participate in each station. Rocks represent disciplines to commit to practicing; strips of cloth serve as reminders of the work that Christ did for each of us; woven ribbons express love for God and neighbor; and, ashes represent God’s love for us with the ancient words, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

Here is where my Ash Wednesday tears happened. I watched as these two formerly separate groups of people worshiped as one. They assisted each other, prayed together and loved as one. Where there had been fear their was love. Where there had been distance there was acceptance. Names were spoken. Hugs were given. Ashes were received.

One devout man stood in the center of the sanctuary, gazed heavenward and repeated, “I love you God, praise you God” as the other worshippers silently bowed their heads at the simplicity of his expression of love.

Our Lenten discipline- community.  Being the beloved community.

Amen.

Ash Wednesday rocks and water station
River rocks and drift wood, made smooth by constant washing

 

What is ‘Special Needs Ministry’?

Our most recent conversation introduced a new series called Back to Basics in regards to the intersection of faith and disability. The first topic we looked at was the meaning of the phrase developmental disability. The second topic we are going to discuss is ‘What is Special Needs Ministry?’

When people refer to special needs ministry they are referring to how a faith community includes people with developmental or physical or mental illness disabilities into their worship services and the practice of their faith. What are these different disabilities and what do they mean to ministry? In our previous post we discussed that a developmental disability begins in utero, at birth or in childhood; the disability may impair the body, learning needs, communication and/or behavior; the disability will likely be lifelong (i.e. autism or cerebral palsy).

A physical disability may occur at any time in a person’s life and the impairment may impact fine and/or gross motor skills, communication, vision or auditory processes, cognitive processing or varying degrees of pain and the ability to function in a typical manner. The effects of some physical disabilities are visible (i.e. loss of a limb) and some are not (i.e. arthritis or autoimmune disorders). Mental illness refers to a chemical imbalance in the brain that impacts thinking processes, emotional skills or communication abilities (i.e. obsessive-compulsive disorder or anxiety).

It is possible for there to be overlaps from one or more classifications of disability to another. A person may be born with a developmental disability and acquire a physical disability later in life; or a person may have a physical disability and also live with a mental illness. A person may have a physical disability and no cognitive delays. The UN has found that 15% of the world’s population has a significant physical or mental disability.

What do these three definitions, that are broad categories for over 15% of the world’s population, mean to people of a faith-community who have a desire to reach out to people with disabilities in their communities? There is a saying within the autism community: If you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism. This means that attempts to understand a person starting with her or his label is limiting. The focus of special needs ministry needs to be on the person; the person is more important than her or his impairment. The impairment is real and cannot be trivialized, but it is only one facet of a complex person.

Back to the title of this post: What is Special needs Ministry? It is reaching out in unique ways to unique people to include them, get to know them, to offer them the opportunity to know God and to understand the cherished place they have as His daughters and sons. It is offering a safe place to discover who God created them (us) to be and to use the gifts and talents that God has given. Hmmm, special needs ministry sounds a lot like how we share God’s love with all people.

Fairytale or Real?

The story unfolds in such beauty that it seems like a fairy tale. Perhaps it is just a fairy tale, or perhaps it really is a true unfolding tale that will someday end with, “and they all lived happily ever after”.

Once upon a time a charming prince wanted to go somewhere to learn more about God and make friends. He visited a church with lots of smiling people. He enjoyed the lovely music and the opportunity to make new friends; but, alas, there was a problem. You see, the prince does not talk and when he is happy he likes to bounce in his wheelchair. His bouncing wheelchair makes noise. The music and the smiling people made him very happy so he bounced in his wheelchair to share his joy. Sadly, this was not a place where people bounce when they are happy and they did not like it when he bounced. The prince left and stayed at home and listened to joyful music by himself.

One day a kind maiden in the kingdom invited the prince to visit her church so he could learn about God, make friends and be free to bounce when he was happy. He went with the maiden, but he was unsure if he really would be welcomed. Would people shake his hand at the exchange of peace? Would people turn and shush him when he sang? Would he be asked to leave if he was happy and bounced? He was surprised to have a delightful time! The smiling people from the church helped him off his horse drawn carriage (a.k.a. a wheelchair accessible van), and held the doors open for him as if they already knew that he was royalty. The maiden proved herself to actually be his ambassador as she introduced him to her friends. The smiling people seemed genuinely happy that he was there, but would the smiles disappear if he started to bounce? He quickly learned that no, the smiles would not disappear and the shushes would not happen! He was free to be himself! The pastor even said during his sermon that he was happy to have the prince present!

Now, almost every week the prince goes to church. Friends from his church visit him at home and share their music and hearts with him. He has his own offering envelopes so that he can help make a difference; he sings as only he can sing, he prays, he listens, he bounces, and if he cannot be there on a Sunday morning than the people tell him that they missed him.

Is it too soon to write, “and they all lived happily ever after”?

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?

The Ties that Bind

The season of Lent is a time of devotion when we focus on strengthening our spiritual ties to God. Connective links to God include:
Prayer: Having a conversation with God and he hears you.
Meditation: Keeping still and listening (What, only a minute has passed??). He will answer you.
Fasting: Remembering that your body may have its frailties, but they don’t have to limit you.
Sacrifice: Having so many things you think you have to do, you can’t find time to work on relationships. Spending time with others requires time and effort; that’s why it is called a sacrifice-got it!
Service: More than attending Sunday worship; service is about meeting a need of another human being.

We work on our relationship with God, but how much effort do we put into our relationships with each other? Jesus said that what you do good for others, is the same as doing good unto him. My case for faith community inclusion for individuals with developmental disabilities is that people of faith, more than any other group, understand that we are all created in His image. Denying any individual access and/or opportunity to worship God and practice his/her faith, denies the same to Jesus. The fact is, God is the author of diversity. He said, “Love ye one another.” It is not for us to judge if an individual with a developmental disability “comprehends” the nature of God. It is enough that he/she wants to be in the house of worship.

My epiphany came the first year I was working with the New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities. I was attending a worship service on one of the (residential) campuses, when I noticed a young woman pacing back and forth; first touching a window and then walking over to touch a wall. With a “pastoral” eye, I thought she must be agitated, and was certain this was a distraction to others there to enjoy the worship service. However, after a few moments, I stopped looking at her behavior and observed her countenance. I saw pure joy and peacefulness on her face. She was in a moment of worship – connected to God. It was suddenly obvious to me. I didn’t need to use my intellect or check my theology to know it – I could just feel it!! Furthermore, I found that watching her enjoyment of the service made me enjoy the service even more.

Sometimes we miss what true worship is if we don’t break the attitudinal, architectural, communication barriers that can keep other worshippers out. We will miss so much if we assign some worshippers segregated services or seating in the back. We can miss opportunities and blessings if only the good singers are allowed to sing or only the good readers are allowed to read, etc. The tie that binds us to God is that we love HIM first and then love ONE ANOTHER as He loves us.

Reverend Catherine Patterson
NYS OPWDD Faith Based Initiative

Faith, Hope and Inclusion

Faith, Hope and Inclusion: Believing Together is the thought provoking name of an event that Heritage Christian Services sponsored through funding from New York State’s Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD).

When we started to plan this community building educational outreach to local clergy and caregivers we struggled with what to call it. We did not want to use the word disabled, or any of its derivatives, in the title because we believe that relationships and community are outside of the confines of disability or impairment. As our planning team talked about the word inclusion one of the ideals of inclusion that we kept returning to is that included people are honored, valued  and loved people. Faith Hope and Inclusion grew from the New Testament words: Now abides these three things- faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.

Faith. No one is excluded from having faith. People with disabilities have the capacity to express deep faith: faith in God, faith in God’s unconditional acceptance, faith in their ability to contribute and make a difference, faith to belong in a community of believers.

Hope. Hope is deeper than an optimistic outlook; it is the belief that the God of love is present and at work in creation. Hope steers the human heart. Hope gets us up and out of bed in the morning. No person is excluded from having hope.

Inclusion. Belonging… being seen as part of all, every, everyone, everybody and the world. An included person is valued and is missed when she or he is not there. An included person is a loved person.

Believing Together.  By definition a community is more than one person united by a common belief, interest or activity. A faith community is united by a common spiritual or belief system.  It is expected that the members of a community work together to strengthen their community; relationship and respect, including and encouraging, differences and dignity flourish in healthy communities. When people with disabilities are included in communities of people who are believing together the community is strengthened.

Faith, Hope and Inclusion: Believing Together. Together we will learn who, what, when, where, why and how to include people with disabilities and those who love them in our communities of faith and beyond.