Sometimes, the best first step is invitation. Who knows how many people don’t attend on any given Sunday simply because no one has asked them?
The video below, from Harvest Bible Chapel in Oakville, Ontario, is an excellent example of an invitation for families with children with special needs. It also goes beyond the invitation to say we have prepared a place for you. Not only are you welcome here, but we have anticipated your arrival and have arranged the additional support you need.
The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you.
~ Frederick Buechner
Grace is a chameleon.
Wherever you see it, it takes on a different meaning, a different shape, another colour.
In the Christian religious tradition, it means “the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.”
In the context of being graceful it means “simple elegance or refinement of movement.”
In another sense, where you are graced by someone being near, it means to “do honor or credit to (someone or something) by one’s presence.” This captures the experience of belonging, where “the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.”
I can’t help but think that latter two definitions tell us more about the grace of God than the stiff doctrinal formulation. Ephesians 2:8-9 comes to mind, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” Unlike almost every other context we find ourselves in, grace is not based on what we do, how we look, or how well we are able to fit in and be liked. In this way, God’s grace unearths a level playing field unlike any other.
For anyone who grew up in an Evangelical or charismatic Christian world, Canadian Brian Doerksen‘s songs (Refiner’s Fire, Come Now is the Time to Worship, I Lift My Eyes Up etc.) have shaped our expression of worship in powerful ways. His latest work revolves around the idea of “Level Ground,” and incorporates the worship band into the company of the congregation, eliminating the traditional barrier between leader and participant. The emphasis, then, turns to people sharing their “grace stories” about their experience of God’s work in their lives.
We cannot know how much the “Level Ground” direction is shaped by Doerksen’s life experiences as the father of Benjamin and Isaiah, both born with Fragile X syndrome, but Brian is no stranger to the challenges that come with disability.
It also important to note that it’s not primarily the verbal retelling of “grace stories” that serves as a powerful example for worship or liturgy leaders, but rather the de-emphasis on ability and the increased visibility of experience that comes from removing the band from the stage and letting people without special credentials or abilities be the focus.There are many ways to communicate, and anyone who can communicate (even through presence) tells a story. Being graced by someone’s presence can be a “grace story” more impactful than many formulaic recitations of spiritual renewal, but often service format itself becomes a barrier to true presence.
This is God’s work.
A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
~ Isaiah 40:3-5
In making level the rough ground, churches and communities are not only making way for God, but are making way for human beings to encounter one another in new and powerful ways – ways that aren’t determined by height, stature, ability or popularity. We are preparing for movement, for each person to express the graceful beauty of pursuing gifts and passions never thought possible. We are working towards belonging, where we recognize that we are graced by each person’s presence. Sometimes those whose presence inconveniences us in some way are the very people who challenge us to look beyond the grace that we extend, to the grace that we receive.
Ultimately, in the Christian context it is the unfathomable grace of God that is his glory, and it is for this purpose that the hills are made low. This must be accompanied, though by a simultaneous revelation of grace that extends to our neighbour. In this world, where beautiful and terrible things do happen, fear is driven out by love knowing that God is with us, and we are with one another.
For more information on Brian Doerksen’s work, check out his website (www.briandoerksen.com) and feel free to watch the preview video below.
This site focuses primarily on resources and stories around the intersection between faith and disability in North America. There is currently a unique and urgent need in South Sudan, however, to meet the needs of 15,000 people who have shown up at the five centres of CH Global, a ministry of Christian Horizons. These people have been displaced by war and conflict and have turned to CH Global, a Christian organization providing support to people with disabilities and exceptional needs in South Sudan, for emergency food and shelter. This is part of a much larger need, of course, within the political and ethnic conflict that has displaced half a million people and killed ten thousand. CH Global is one way to give to meet the needs of thousands of people that have recognized a faith-based ministry as not only an organization to meet the exceptional needs of people with disabilities, but exceptional needs of people in exceptional circumstances.
You may already be involved with special needs ministry at your church, or it might be something that you know is important but don’t have many supports in place. Regardless, we always question whether what we’re doing is the ‘best way’, and the challenges we encounter send us seeking affirmation that we are on the …Read More →
Bryan Roe is a youth pastor with Crosspoint Community Church in Wisconsin. At Key Ministry‘s 2012 Inclusion Fusion he shared the remarkable story of his time with Tourette Syndrome during his youth. On the Disability and Faith Forum we tend to focus on stories where people currently living with disabilities experience and express God’s grace and truth, but Bryan’s is a story where he underwent a physical ‘curing’ of Tourettes. This story isn’t the tired reiteration of “believe and you will be healed!” however, since the (spoilers!) “Greater Miracle” for Bryan is not that his Turrettes was taken away but that God uses him in light of not in spite of this disability.
I highly encourage you to watch the video below and to check out the post on Key Ministry’s blog, but in case you don’t have time here’s a quick synopsis of some of Bryan’s primary points in how to welcome people with apparent or ‘hidden’ disabilities into a church community:
Regularly feature testimonies from adult leaders who have seen God use them in ways that he used me. Additionally, make sure that the leaders who are giving their testimonies make themselves available to talk to (and pray with) students who are impacted by their stories.
Create positions for serving in the church that can be filled by individuals with special needs. Invest in them this way and you add value to them. Be creative and don’t be afraid to experiment.
Communicate stories about how Jesus interacted with people who were on the margins of culture. Through this, build a case to the rest of your youth (or overall church) population about how we should be intentionally and genuinely reaching out to these kids rather than ostracizing them.
This week, we are featuring “Agent or Object: A Call to be God’s Partner”by Judith Snow.
Judith Snow, MA (www.judithsnow.org) is a social innovator and an advocate for Inclusion. She is also a visual artist and Founding Director of Laser Eagles Art Guild, an organization making creative activity available through personal assistance to artists with diverse abilities. Ms. Snow has a background of 25 years of research design and implementation, most notably working with the Institute on Disability, UNH to provide design of a post-intervention instrument, train interviewers, and participate in analysis and report writing with the National Home of Your Own Alliance, a 23 state technical assistance program funded through the Administration for Developmental Disabilities.
To watch videos of other presentations from the 2013 Summer institute, click here.
This week, we are featuring “Leviticus and the Priest with Disabilities: A Job Description”by Jeremy Schipper.
Jeremy Schipper, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Religion (Hebrew Bible) and an affiliated faculty member of the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University, Philadelphia, PA. His research focuses on the Former Prophets (Joshua – 2 Kings) and disability in the Hebrew Bible and other ancient Near Eastern texts. Among his writings are This Abled Body: Rethinking Disability and Biblical Studies. Co-edited with Hector Avalos and Sarah Melcher. Semeia Studies 55. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007; and the book Disability and Isaiah’s Suffering Servant.
You can visit Jeremy Schipper’s Amazon Author Page here.
Over the next weeks, we will be highlighting some of the presentations at the 2013 Summer Institute on Theology and Disability. This week, we are featuring “Reflections on Dietrich Bonhoeffer” by John Swinton. John Swinton, Ph.D, holds the chair in Practical Theology and Pastoral Care at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, United Kingdom. He worked …Read More →
Over the next weeks, we will be highlighting some of the presentations at the 2013 Summer Institute on Theology and Disability. This week, we are featuring “Calvin on Job, Disability and Suffering” by Hans S. Reinders. Hans S. Reinders has been the Professor of Ethics at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam since 1995. He has …Read More →
Attending Harvest Bible Chapel in Niagara, Ontario, Brett and Breha have experienced a transformative journey which led to their adoption of William, a child with exceptional needs. Learn more about their spiritual growth as part of Harvest Niagara from 0:00 to 3:45, or jump to the story of William’s adoption at 3:46. Many of us, I’m sure, can relate to Brett’s observation (5:04) of our own tendency to place a primary emphasis on a lot of secondary things.