Disabled people and the Church - Moving from Access and Involvement to Inclusion
Disabled people’s experience of Christianity
Tweeted on 6th December 2019 by Gregory Mansfield
Stranger to me, a wheelchair user:
”If you believe in Jesus and seek forgiveness, you will walk again.”
Disability is not sinful.
Disability is not faithless.
Disability is not a punishment.
In July 2020, Tim Rourke started a one-year project to help the diocese, deaneries and churches in the Diocese of Derby to listen more closely to the voices of deaf and disabled people.
These voices include people in our churches, people who have been in our churches and left and people who have never felt that church was a safe place for them.
Tim works is involved in a pioneering community in Chesterfield called Holding Space.
They enable people affected by disability to meet with God in inclusive, accessible ways.
There is a group for disabled children (Saplings), disabled adults (Struggling Saints) and a group for carers (Solace).
This community also connects with people who don’t identify as disabled, but live lives affected by physical and mental health conditions and learning disabilities.
Tim also runs a weekly Biblical Reflection on Twitter (@Strgl_St_Bible) where, each week, readings are discussed through the lens of disability.
The reflections are always led by a disabled Christian, but anyone is welcome to join in.
Tim says: "When we studied the Trinity Sunday readings it became clear that similarity and difference are both vital to community – In the disabled community on twitter we experience a sense of togetherness and not fitting in that draws us together but the range of illness we have means we are different, but support one another."
Disability Inclusion Working Group
Tim is drawing a Disability Inclusion Working Group together to help him to listen to voices across the diocese, in our churches and beyond, to research with them models and theologies of disabilities that will help us examine how we currently engage.
The group will advocate for deaf and disabled people and provide training and encouragements for Christians in the Diocese of Derby who want to be more inclusive of people with different life experiences to their own.
It begin by finding out what is happening in churches across the diocese, who provides ministry to disabled people and how they encourage disabled people to respond to God’s call.
We also want to find out where Christians are engaged with groups that work in our local areas to support disabled people and how disabled people’s needs are integrated into local churches in their planning for mission, discipleship, worship and fellowship.
So what can you do to help…?
If you, or someone you care for, are deaf or disabled or have a life that is affected by long term physical or mental health conditions, please contact Tim to discuss how you might be able to help the Working Group.
This is especially true if you have an invisible disability as the current group is made up, largely of people who have problems with mobility and pain and wheelchair users.
If you are a member of a church community, or a deanery synod, Tim would like you to reflect on your expectations of deaf and disabled people in church.
Are they people who need to be cared for, or people who care for you? Are they disabled by their impairments, or by the expectations or limitations we as a church put on them? And how can we listen more to disabled people in our lives and have them lead us into discovering more about God.