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.