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Christianity in the West has a specific vision of what the good life looks like. It’s physically strong, youthful, active and disability-free. Yet we know that the reality of life is not always so well-ordered. Everyone’s ability is different for a variety of reasons. Consequently, schools, municipalities, and other organizations have taken measures to be more inclusive of people’s distinct physical and developmental needs. Today, however, many churches still find themselves playing catch-up to secular environments in providing access and involvement to people with different abilities.

One of the paradoxes in Scripture is that while God acts to restore and renew, God also works creatively and powerfully through human limitations. Jacob gained a limp after wrestling with an angel. Paul’s mysterious thorn in his flesh taught him about God’s grace. God does not restrict participation in God’s redemptive work to people who have certain physical characteristics.

Changes that churches made during the pandemic have provided extraordinary support to families and individuals with special needs. As we continue to reconstruct the post-pandemic church, we should carefully consider the ways that technology has made worship more accessible to more people. We also need to reflect on the radically inclusive ways that God often works. In this week’s resources, the Rev. William J. Barber II talks about how he was advised to leave the ministry because of his disability. He chose to stay, and we have much to celebrate because he did.

The church has come a long way in being more inclusive. We are not there yet, so let’s keep it going.

Resources

William Barber departs pulpit of Greenleaf Church with an ode to the power of disability

The sermon, which capped his 30-year tenure as pastor of the Disciples of Christ church in Goldsboro, North Carolina, was unusually personal.

By Yonat Shimron

Perspectives from disabled Christians enrich our theology

A scholar’s book emerged from theology done in partnership with disabled Christians.

By Sarah Jean Barton

Quitting online church is abandoning the one for the 99

With online church, disabled people — including me and my family — were welcomed to church in more ways and more often than ever before. Let’s keep that up.

By Shannon Dingle

Disability is not a ‘problem’ to be solved

The whole church benefits when those with special needs are welcome in worship, writes an academic who focuses on disability theology.

By Brian Brock


Before you go…

1 Corinthians 12 reminds us that we are all part of one body. We all have different gifts, and each gift contributes to the body’s flourishing.

Some estimates suggest that 20-25% of the U.S. population has a disability. How does this impact people’s experience when they come to church? What does your congregation do to make room for a range of abilities? How do our physical buildings and classroom management practices communicate God’s hospitality to a wider group of people and learning styles?

Recently, in a series of prayer meetings, I talked with a member who has an auditory processing disorder. Although he can hear me, he can’t understand what I am saying during the sermon, so he uses an app to transcribe my sermons in real time. Listening to this man’s story made me wonder what other stories like his are in our congregations. How are we going to make room for everyone?

You can always reach me and the Alban Weekly team at alban@duke.edu. Until next week, keep leading!

Prince Rivers

Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity


Through the Nurturing Children Through Worship and Prayer Initiative, Lilly Endowment seeks to support highly promising and creative endeavors that help children come to know and love God and grow in faith.    

The Endowment is especially interested in supporting programs that help congregations address one or more of the following objectives: 

  • Strengthening worship and prayer practices that attend to and respect how children experience God and express their faith.
  • Enhancing worship and prayer practices that are more fully inclusive of all children, including children with disabilities.
  • Drawing more fully on the arts (e.g., music, visual arts, drama, etc.) to enhance the experience of worship and prayer for children.
  • Creating opportunities for Bible storytelling that help children hear and tell stories of faith through worship and prayer practices.
  • Enhancing worship and prayer practices that more intentionally connect worship with the daily lives of children and their families.

The Endowment will offer information sessions on February 26 and 27 to discuss the aim and objectives of the initiative, eligibility and the application guidelines. Each session will cover the same information.

Proposals are due by 5 p.m. (ET) on Monday, May 6, 2024.

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