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People Say the Darndest Things!

by Rachel Chapman, Christian Fellowship UCC, San Diego

RachelcIt always amazes me the things people say when they see me on my scooter. “What happened?”  “I’m sorry you need that”  and a personal favorite (NOT!), “I need one of those, can I borrow that?”  Just recently at a church event, as I was walking with my cane, a gentleman (a minister, mind you) commented that it was nice to see me “upright.”  Admittedly, my first thought was something that should not be said in church so I settled for just saying, “Thank you.”

I understand that sometimes people want to show care and compassion but just don’t quite know what to say, so they may speak before really thinking it through. Disability tends to make people nervous. I’m not exactly sure why but I think it may go back to that “there but for the grace of God go I” thing.  Have you ever said that?  Have you really thought about it?  I admit that I have, but now having been the person it’s been said about, I have a different perspective.

From my standpoint (and it is just my opinion), that speaker is saying that she/he is so privileged, so special, that they are blessed by God’s grace but the other person isn’t. Surely they must have done something ‘wrong’ to ‘deserve’ it.  In today’s society we tend to think of and treat those who are differently abled as the other or less than.  Unfortunately our church membership may be the worst offenders. I have been to churches where I am totally ignored while those I am with are greeted with enthusiasm. I have also been to churches where I’m given too much attention such as being led down the center aisle to the front where it’s believed I’ll “be more comfortable.”  It’s as though my issue is my hearing instead of my mobility and making me walk further, in front of others, is going to fix that.

As we approach October (Disabilities Awareness Month) and especially October 12 (Access Sunday), I challenge each of you, collectively and individually, to be mindful of those who enter your church who may talk, walk, think, etc. differently than you.

Keeping in mind that not all disabilities are visible, look around your church for obstacles that may deter a challenged worshiper — wheelchair seating only in the very front or very rear of the sanctuary (or no place to park a scooter without being made to feel it’s in the way); small print bulletins/programs/songbooks; distracting sounds; stairs or heavy doors (especially to the restrooms).  Also, do you have clearly visible signage for the restrooms, fellowship hall and meeting rooms?  Is your greeter extravagantly welcoming to all who enter the space?

Recently our Southern Association sent by email information describing an opportunity to get involved with disabilities/mental health ministries. The Association is forming an Inclusion Team as encouraged by the United Church of Christ Disabilities Ministries and the United Church of Christ Mental Health Network for all conferences. The Inclusion Team would help “local congregations become more aware of the UCC’s “Accessible to All” (A2A) designation for congregations who specifically seek to include people with disabilities and people with mental health concerns in the life and leadership of the church.” 1

If you are interested in raising awareness in our churches about disabilities/mental health ministries and helping churches to become accessible to all, please go to https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1KiGwgDAAGj3O7VK5R3KaE-XZhIg9zg38Jzv-o-CNMS8/viewform.

Let’s help keep our church members from saying the darndest things and make everyone who walks…or rolls through our church doors feel extravagantly welcome.

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1 Southern Association email by Moderator Dante Griggs, dated August 8, 2014

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