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01 December 2017

Belonging: a Church for all

Belonging: a Church for all

 Kay Morgan-Gurr is part of Churches for All and a member of the Evangelical Alliance's council.

International Day of Persons with Disabilities. It’s a mouthful of a title, and one that quite a few disabled people dislike. But this proves a point: out of all the areas of diversity, disability is one of the most diverse. Not just in the type of disability, but in the way those who are disabled think about disability; politically, socially and spiritually. 

Disability is generally represented with a wheelchair, and yet only a small percentage of disabled people use a wheelchair - myself included. The people represented by this day may have a hidden disability, and others a more obvious one. Some will have a mix of disabilities. 

As I said, it’s diverse. 

But all of us will speak with one voice in saying that it’s nice to have an awareness day, but it wouldn’t it be nice if people were aware everyday? Aware not just of the difficulties, but also the gifts and talents those of us with disabilities havenot being viewed as a problem, but an asset. 

David Primrose, director of Transforming Communities in Lichfield, says: “A church without disabled people is a disabled church”. 

He’s right, but it needs to be more than a place where disabled people can get through the door. It should be a place where all can flourish and grow, regardless of ability. 

The theologian John Swinton writes about the difference between “inclusion” and “belonging”. The former means that people are friendly towards you on a Sunday, the latter means you would be missed if you weren't there. I would add that you would be missed because of who you are, not because a perceived problem is no longer there.  

get to visit many churches in my work. Some are accessible, but I feel like a burden because I either can't get onto a platform or I need a stool to sit on to preach from. Others are less accessible, but the love and acceptance make me feel as though I belong. Please note - this is isn’t an excuse not to bother with with access! 

In 2004 the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelism reported that “Only five to 10 per cent of the world’s disabled are effectively reached with the gospel, making the disability community one of the largest unreached…people groups in the world. In other words, up to 95 per cent of disabled people worldwide will never get to hear the gospel.” (Source: Churches for All, ‘Disability Facts’) 

When around 20 per cent of people in our communities live with some form of disability, then it should follow that we have this percentage within our churches and represented within the outreach we do. 

So what dwdo? 

Abide by the golden rule of ‘nothing about me without me’. 

The best tool is good communication with those who have disabilities. Ask. Talk through what is needed. Quite often, you will find the solution is easier than you expect and not even expensive, even if it does require some change. 

Remember - what works for one person may not work for someone else with the same disability - keep that ‘diversity’ word in mind! 

You can also visit churchesforall.org.uk/ to get more information, find seminar downloads, or contact one of the organisations involved. 

Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash