Monday, August 18, 2014

Is There No Place for the Disabled in Church?

By Jesi Smith: Wife, Mother of 5, Chief of Household Operations, Superintendent, Personal Nurse, Defender of "the least of these" and speaker.

I am new to this journey. My daughter is only 5 years old. She is mentally and physically disabled, still small enough to carry, quiet…mostly, and has not developed the larger, louder, and strange movements and sounds that most older people who are mentally and physically disabled seem to develop as they try to express themselves – yet. We have taken our daughter to concerts, plays, movie theatres, political speeches, and community events, and spend a lot of time in hallways and lobbies when she gets loud however, the hardest place to take a child with special needs is to church. We have found the cardinal sin of the Sunday service is not sexual immorality, lying, theft, or heresy.  No, it is having  distracting movements or loud sounds during worship or the message.

He is probably in his early 40’s and he is mentally disabled. Every week his mom brings him faithfully to church. There is a section in the back of the sanctuary where many families sit with their children of all ages with special needs. It is definitely a group that makes a joyful noise during worship and after the offering is taken they all leave to go to a special class during the sermon. But this week was different, her son was playing the tambourine that he brought every Sunday to worship God, one of the only ways he expresses praise to God, and a member of the church staff came up to him and asked that he not to use it in service anymore. It was disturbing to other people and it was distracting the band on stage.  

The mother was crushed, embarrassed, and offended. This is not supposed to be a concert but worship from all the people, right? She had worked hard all these years to take him, a grown man – which is no small task, out of the sanctuary when loud and for years has taught the special needs Sunday school class. She often is not able to join in the worship or listen to the sermon herself, so that her son and others like him can be taught the word of God. Now the one place that both her and her son could join with the church in the praise and worship was not available to her either. Why work so hard to come if even during a loud praise and worship service with everyone singing , keyboards, drums, and guitars he was not able to join in? Was his worship so offending among hundreds of others who may be clapping offbeat or singing off key that he was asked to stop? Put the church on the list of all the places that your special needs child cannot go and participate.

Do not get me wrong I know children can be a distraction and need to be taken out of the service when loud whether a crying baby, fidgeting toddler, or even my special needs daughter, but is there never to be a church that gives the mentally and physically disabled enough time or grace to stay in and adjust to a service? Is there no place for the disabled in corporate worship? Must they always be sent out to the lobby alone or to a room to sit alone? 

Many may not realize they and their parents have probably sacrificed more than most other church members just to show up to church. They probably have spent hours with parents or caregivers getting ready and getting in and out of their vehicle with wheelchairs, walkers, and medical equipment. They have likely spent most of their week in the hospital or battling illness at home and this may be one of the few Sundays they could even come to church this year. However, they will not spend this Sunday with the body of Christ being ministered to, but out in the hallway.

If the church truly wants to serve the “least of these” you have found that group in the disabled. How many people with disabilities come to your church? Where are all the people with handicaps anyway? They have nothing to offer the church. No money, no volunteering, no inviting their friends, they may be unlovely to look at, make weird noises, have improper behaviors,  spit more than normal, throw up routinely,  and do not even offer “acceptable” praise and worship. Many of them are unwanted even by their own parents. 

Over 90% of babies with a disability like our daughters are aborted. They are a group who cannot speak for themselves, cannot go where they want to go, or even eat or go to the bathroom without help . They ought to be honored as the most patient among us. The disabled who have been brought to the church are among the blessed few. 

First they are blessed to be alive, cared for, and well enough to attend;  second to have a parent or caregiver who love them enough to battle the process of getting them to the church.  Please do not send them out into the lobby or to an empty room to sit alone after all they have struggled with and endured just to make it into your doors. An update on the mentally disabled man with the tambourine – he refuses to play it anymore.


S Beals said...

Jesi, I loved this post. HATS off to all of you moms of special needs kids who go to church every single week. I'm sure that most of the congregation has no idea how tough it is! So many great points. Thanks for your insight. Sarah Beals.

jala boyer said...

That is so touching, and think that for most people this thought dose not even cross their mind.
Jala Boyer