The United Methodist Reporter is offering the latest headlines in the RSS format.
BOOK REVIEW: Author calls churches to welcome, empower those with disabilities David Mosser, Dec 10, 2010
By David Mosser Special Contributor
Beyond Accessibility: Toward Full Inclusion of People with Disabilities in Faith Communities Brett Webb-Mitchell Church Publishing Inc., 2010 160 pages, paperback
All of us, if we live long enough, face physical, emotional, relational, intellectual or spiritual setbacks—if not brokenness. For this reason everyone, and especially those within the fellowship of the church, should focus on being inclusive of people with disabilities.
The Rev. Brett Webb-Mitchell, a Presbyterian minister, explores what this means in Beyond Accessibility. Any church, he notes, may “have built an accessibility ramp and perhaps refitted its restrooms to accommodate a wheelchair. Now what?” His theories and observations merit reading, study and discussion.
Early on, he dismisses destructive theology that suggests disabilities in children are “somehow or the other related to the sin of a parent or forebear.” He offers biblical images addressing the theological metaphor of the body of Christ—that is, the Church—in which all members should be seen as full participants.
To help us understand that disability is common to all human beings, Dr. Webb-Mitchell covers a long list of conditions and their possible causes, from Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism, to allergies and hearing or vision impairments, as well as many forms of social disabilities. By providing this list, he convinces us that in one way or another, we’re all disabled.
One of the author’s most cogent ideas is that in the past churches, though perhaps with the best of intentions, have treated people with disabilities as objects of pity, charity or both.
He says the church has mirrored society in the “three stages of positioning people with disabilities: segregation and seclusion; mainstreaming; and inclusion.”
To foster inclusion, he advises us to recognize and use the gifts that each member brings to our common life as Christians.
Besides providing ramps, doors that open inward or automatically, room in worship halls for wheelchair and walker access, sign-language interpretation and other services, churches should become socially accessible. Make sure everyone can take part in study, teaching, worship, prayer, fellowship and service. On a broader level, those who feel called to positions of church leadership and service—including ordained ministry—should be actively encouraged.
Finally, Dr. Webb-Mitchell advocates for inclusion as part of our co-creation with God and the overarching Christian practice of love. He offers examples of groups that maintain a thin layer of separation between disabled and non-disabled members, but he also points out that few of those groups, up to now, have been churches.
Local churches that already embrace an inclusive approach to ministry with and for those with disabilities may not find much new in Beyond Accessibility. But for most of us, the book provides scores of mission ideas to reach people who for too long have lived only in the shadows of our congregations.
The Rev. Mosser is senior minister at First UMC in Arlington, Texas.