A church where everyone is valued
17 July 2019 IN: Parish News
One strand of our diocesan vision, to be Church for a Different World, is to work for a world where people with impairments, cognitive conditions and various forms of dementia are not seen as disabled, but differently abled, with gifts, insights and wisdom borne of their experience. A world where all are valued for who they are.
However, if we think of people with disabilities, most of us (if we are honest) think of people who are ‘less able’ – people who can’t do some of the things we consider to be ‘normal’. And many of us can find those described as having a mental disability – autism, learning disabilities or some form of dementia –disturbing because of their unpredictable and sometimes challenging behaviour. They don’t conform to the social norms that we rely on in our day-to-day relationships.
It is a small step from being seen to be less able, to being seen as of less worth and value; even, in some ways, less than fully human.
The Bible presents us with a different picture: that of everyone being made in the image of God; all children of the same heavenly father; all of equal worth in God’s sight. Whatever our human abilities and disabilities, all are called, equipped and gifted to work with God in loving the world into wholeness and completion. And, as Jean Vanier noted through his own experience, those who we might consider disabled have the most to teach us about what it means to be human and a child of God.
But disability can make us feel uncomfortable. It reminds us of our own vulnerability and our instinct is to want to heal people with a disability so that they are more like us and we no longer feel challenged by them. Bob Shrine, a former Chaplain to the Deaf Community and Deaf himself, has written extensively on Disability Theology and turns this instinct on its head. “Rather than focus on the healing of individuals to fit into communities”, he says, “we need to consider the healing of communities to include disabled people.”
The Church is no different. Indeed, it should be leading the way; holding to the image of the Body of Christ where all have a part to play and those members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable. Reflecting this, the World Council of Churches has stated that “when people with disabilities are missing from the Church, the whole Church is disabled.”
The diocesan Disability Task Group is working to establish a Church where everyone is welcome and everyone’s gifts and insights are valued and used: Church for a Different World.
Archdeacon of Rochdale, The Ven Cherry Vann