9: Ministering to All of God’s Children
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27
According to a 2012 report from the United States Census Bureau, nearly 1 in 5 people living in the US has a disability. As we think about how this number applies to the people of our parish, it provides an excellent opportunity to ponder two very important thoughts; who needs something “different” and how can we bring the Gospel message fully to everyone. Pondering the needs of those with disabilities, whether they are physical, emotional or mental, we are inspired to consider the frailty and dignity of all human life. We must also consider not just what can we do for them, but the richness of the contributions peoples with disabilities can bring to our parish family.
No matter what the outward appearance of brother or sister in Christ, it’s crucial to remember the truth of Genesis 1:27, we are ALL created in his image and we all have a need for his love and his mercy. As a parish, we need to know who these people are, what they need and how we can help them participate fully in parish life. Knowledge is powerful in helping those with disabilities. If you are unable to speak with the person directly, speak to their family to see what you can do. Acquaint yourself with the characteristics and needs of those who need adaptations. It’s important not to judge or assume; information can change everything. Here are just a few ideas about how information can lead to adaptations that allow people with disabilities to participate more fully in the Liturgy and Parish life…
- For those with physical disabilities, barrier free access to all parts of the parish campus and transportation and physical assistance to make worship possible.
- For those with autism, Masses without music, without physically offering the sign peace or absence of full church lighting can be helpful for those who experience sensory and auditory sensitivity.
- For those with respiratory difficulties, Mass without incense and abundant altar flowers.
- For those with food allergies gluten-free hosts and nut, dairy and gluten free offerings at fellowship gatherings.
A friendly warm welcome to everyone who enters the parish space is the cornerstone to parish hospitality but be sensitive to those who might struggle with anxiety. Be respectful of personal space and boundaries. Not everyone enjoys a hug or a handshake, it’s best to begin with a warm smile and a kind hello. When parishes consider those in their family with disabilities, the need to ask, “Who’s here and what do they need?” and they also need to ask, “Who’s not here and what can we give them to bring them back?” Sacramental prep and Liturgy participation are areas that need special prayer and conversation. We are each uniquely called to the Table of the Lord but our journey there is different.
Thank you for reading and may God bless you richly as you continue on this journey to Entertain Angels.
Adam Janke & Sheri Wolhfert