Christian Horizons’ Vision is that: “People with exceptional needs belong to communities in which their God-given gifts are valued and respected.” This Vision is supported by seven unique Service Principles (you can find the list of these principles here). These Service Principles describe the ways in which Christian Horizons supports people. This is the first in a series of posts that takes a look at these service principles, to learn how they are important in serving others whether in social services or as part of faith communities.

Christian Horizons’ Service Principles are especially meaningful because they acknowledge that every person is a holistic human being who need not be primarily identified by an exceptional need, but rather can and should be supported to impact every societal domain. Each Service Principle begins with a statement recognizing the God-given value of all people. This is followed by an acknowledgment of a risk specific to individuals with exceptional needs and an explanation of how Christian Horizons seeks to respond to each risk through the supports and services that it offers.

Each of the Service Principles is essential to informing optimal supports and services of Christian Horizons. They may also have significant value for the church, as well as the wider community. Therefore, over the next few months I will periodically offer seven different reflections on what these principles might look like in practice, as well as strengths and challenges of fostering them in your church or wider community. This is important because the wider implementation of these service principles may be essential to realizing God’s kingdom on earth.

The barriers I face in society sometimes make me feel as though I am less valuable to my community than able-bodied citizens. However, I am encouraged because I know that John 3:16 is not ability-dependent:

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (NLT).

Furthermore, someday I will be a co-heir with Christ as it says in Romans 8: 17. In the meantime, I believe all Christians are called to live in a way that demonstrates kingdom values to the hurting world around them and I am especially thankful for Christian Horizons’ first Service Principle.

Christian Horizons’ first Service Principle is: Promote Full Citizenship.

“We understand full citizenship to mean that people are treated with dignity and respect and are able to exercise their rights and responsibilities as accepted members of society. We recognize that persons with exceptional needs are at risk of not benefitting fully from the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship; therefore, we seek to assist each person to realize those benefits and, when necessary, will advocate with people so they can experience fuller citizenship.”

The commitment to treat all people with respect and dignity, regardless of exceptional needs, is important in honoring each person as an image bearer of God. This not only requires ensuring privacy and confidentiality with respect to personal tasks but also promoting their strengths, understanding their challenges, and relinquishing expectation that they might fit an able-bodied mold. While many of Christian Horizons’ service principles serve to enhance personal development and interpersonal connections, the first one may be the key to influencing positive systemic changes because it reaches beyond the scope of support services.

One might think of the rights of full citizenship in terms of things like passports and voting privileges, but it is much more than that. In the wider community promoting full citizenship may mean not only ensuring that people with exceptional needs are able to utilize the community resources they require or desire. It also means that people with exceptional needs have means of sharing their perspective on issues that affect them directly or issues that they care about.

Direct Support Professionals can and do promote the implementation of these values in many ways such as fostering self-advocacy of people with exceptional needs, advocating on their behalf, or providing moral support throughout the potentially long-term implementation process. Yet, it can be quite disheartening if the only people championing the causes are professional accessibility advocates. Rather than deferring to professional support workers, the church’s witness could be more powerful by reflecting the principle that “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it,” (1 Cor. 12:26 NLT).

Faith communities can model the principle of promoting full citizenship by ensuring that people with exceptional needs are always welcomed into worship services and times of fellowship. Promoting full membership within the faith community might also mean ensuring that religious education is adaptable and communion or other liturgical components are accessible. Churches can also help people with exceptional needs to realize the responsibilities of full citizenship by recognizing that every part of the body functions differently and has different gifts to offer; In turn, finding ways for such gifts to be developed and utilized so that the whole community may benefit.