Are We Invited?
by Stephen Taylor
A basic need for humanity is a sense of belonging to something, such as a family, a group, or even better, a community. Our faith communities are supposed to be a community that invites persons of all abilities and all ages to come and worship together. There is a Latin word, communitas, which means an unstructured community in which people are equal. I believe this is what church attempts to be, but fails, particularly for those within the disability community.
The reality is that memberships in faith communities are declining, and there is no sign of this trend reversing itself. Maybe it is because there are communities that are missing. The sad assumption by many is that all we have to do is open our doors and they will come. Unfortunately, for many in the disability community, this is not true. Faith communities assume that they are welcoming and accessible because they have wheelchair ramps or handicapped parking spaces in the parking lots. Both of those offerings are important, but neither of these offerings alone makes a faith community welcoming and accessible for people of all abilities. Another misunderstanding is that those with disabilities do not understand what is going on, or even worse, that a faith community needs to offer a separate service. One would be surprised at how much the disability community does understand when they are present in church. And yes, it is not the best idea to segregate those with disabilities from the rest of the church. This leads us to the question of how we can become a church that is welcoming to people with all disabilities.
Why not offer a church service that is accessible to all people of all abilities? Unfortunately, there are not many examples of an inclusive faith community, so what would one look like? An ASL interpreter should be present for those with hearing disabilities; actors should act out the scripture being read to assist with interpreting scripture; cutouts in the pews should be available for those with wheelchairs; bulletins should have pictures to assist those with intellectual disabilities; and people with disabilities should take part in leading worship. In other words, communitas that included the disability community would alive and present. Who know? Some of the millions of people with disabilities may choose your faith community to attend.
Communitas cannot be present unless each person is valued and given the opportunity to contribute in his or her own way. Why is there such an insistence on structure within our orders of worship? What happens if someone shouts and becomes “disruptive,” possibly upsetting the structure? So what? Let’s invite persons of all abilities to come and join us at the table of fellowship. Ultimately, let us show the world what communitas looks like and provide every person with a sense of belonging.