In his article “Gospel Accountability: When Can SpecialNeeds Adults Understand the Gospel?” Gene Nabi states, “Anyone with a disability, however severe, can come into God’s kingdom. They can be as receptive to the working of the Holy Spirit as anyone else. To question whether anyone has the capacity to come into the kingdom questions the power of the Holy Spirit.” Since differently-abled individuals are given the capacity to come into the kingdom (created and called by God and able to respond to God’s calling—Gen. 1:26; Eph. 2:10), how much more we should embrace that they, too, should also minister for the kingdom (specially gifted and invited to participate in ministry by God—1 Cor. 12:4, 7)?
Many times churches offer only two options for those with
disabilities: miraculous healing or heroic suffering. Neither option
is acceptable to people with disabilities. According to the
Bible, the church’s role is to promote wholeness and abundant
life in Jesus (John 10:10). Wholeness does not always mean
that disability or illness will be removed. When people are accepted
as they are, they are empowered to move toward wholeness.
The healing ministry of Jesus was concerned with the
whole person: body, mind, and spirit. This meaning has been
obscured wherever persons with disabilities become “victims”
of healing rather than persons whose lives are healed.
Your church’s planning for worship inclusion can provide for
wholeness of mind, body, and spirit by building on four principles:
• All people are created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26).
• All people are called by God (Eph. 2:10).
• All people have special gifts (1 Cor. 12:4).
• All people are invited to participate in God’s ministry (1
Beyond signing ministries or wheelchair ramps, little evidence
can be found for our purposeful attempts to include everyone
in the worship and activities of the church. As part of
your weekly worship planning, consider strategies that will enable
all people to feel included as they participate in worship.
Persons with disabilities are wonderful ministers to others; they
are not solely to be the recipients of ministry. Expand your disability
ministry and provide information to both your congregation
and the community regarding your inclusive worship opportunities.
1. Instead of offering only a Sign Interpretation Ministry, broaden it to Disability Ministry and look for opportunities to address other disabilities.
2. Conduct a basic assessment of your church’s accessibility or bring in a consultant for a full and formal assessment.
3. Make sure church members know it is unlawful to discriminate against disabled people.
4. Train pastors, elders, ministry leaders, and church staff on disability awareness.
5. Many of the people in our congregations are elderly and may have developed disabilities, particularly physical or sensory impairments. As the age of a congregation increases, so does the incidence of disability. Therefore, we need to be aware of people’s needs on an ongoing basis.
6. Review church activities regularly to make sure they are accessible to disabled people.
7. Review your church website to consider its accessibility
WORSHIP PLANNING SUGGESTIONS
1. When planning worship services, consider the abilities and disabilities of those you hope to include. Consider persons with disabilities who might serve as liturgists, ushers, communion servers, and preachers—all the ways people who are ablebodied might share their gifts with the church.
2. Ask people with disabilities how they want to participate in the sacramental celebrations of the church. Don’t presume to know or make decisions on their behalf.
3. Develop an awareness of the forms and amount of physical movement involved in worship. Consider the amount of time spent standing, kneeling, and sitting in worship. The flow among these movements may seem appropriate, but for some people—whether able-bodied or disabled—too much time may be spent in one of these postures. Solicit and be receptive to feedback. Help create worship services and spaces that welcome diverse forms of physical participation. Communicate clearly, both in attitude and in print, that anyone may choose not to participate in any action on the basis of comfort or conscience.
4. Provide general guidelines to your greeters and ushers on how to interact with persons with various disabilities, including hearing impairment, speech impairment, mobility impairment, learning disabilities, and other disabilities.
5. Encourage the use of multiple cues in worship. Combine
simple printed directions in the bulletin with oral and physical
cues that facilitate the participation of all people in worship. For
example, when the congregation should stand, a simple indication
in the bulletin combined with the verbal cue “please rise
as you are able” and the physical cue of raising one’s arms
effectively provide multiple cues to the congregation.
• Inclusion of people with intellectual impairment. People with an intellectual disability tend to learn more easily by using their senses of sight, touch, smell, and taste, rather than listening to words. Active learning is more effective than passive learning. The use of physical and visual props is very effective. Therefore, the use of drama, mime, music, and visual effects is very effective when including people with intellectual disabilities in worship, and, in fact, for the inclusion of all people.
• Inclusion of people with physical disabilities. Mobility and access will be the two crucial issues for the inclusion of people with physical disabilities. Once the disabled person is in the building, help him or her find an appropriate place to sit. Ask what his or her preference is for seating. It is often helpful to position a wheelchair within the body of the congregation rather than in an isolated position. A person with a walker or a cane will probably be more comfortable at the end of a row so that access is more readily obtained.
• Inclusion of people with visual impairment. Ask the person where he or she wishes to be seated. The position of lighting may be important. The provision of large-print hymnals, Bibles, orders of service, and well-lit and positioned hymn number boards or screens are important for those with little or no vision. It is important to have someone to accompany the person so that a commentary can be given on aspects of the service that are not auditory.
• Inclusion of people with hearing impairment. A clear amplification
system that doesn’t distort the spoken word is essential.
Speakers need to speak distinctly, not too quickly, and
should always face the congregation. A hearing loop facility is
also necessary. Visual cues— hymn number boards, designation
of readings, and printed orders of service—should match
the spoken word whenever possible. The gestures and facial
expressions of worship leaders are also important.
Michelle Riley Jones is Minister for Music and Worship at the Capitol
Hill Seventh-day Adventist Church in Washington, D.C., USA.
This article first appeared in Best Practice, August 31, 2015. It has
been lightly edited for Elder’s Digest.