No Barriers

I have not been a very faithful blogger. There are several reasons for that. A big one is a relatively new project that has taken quite a bit of my time.

Last November, I met for the first time with a small group of lovely people who comprise the new No Barriers special needs ministry team for the church we attend. It’s something that’s been percolating for a long time, at least since spring of 2016, when I attended a regional conference on inclusion in faith communities.

This is not new territory for me. My dad is blind as the result of a bicycle accident. My parents got involved in church disabilities ministry when I was still pretty young, and I spent a lot of time traveling with them as they conducted awareness and accessibility seminars at Seventh-day Adventist churches all over Florida and, eventually, all over the South. It wasn’t always the most thrilling way for a pre-teen and teenager to spend the weekend, and I’ll be honest: I didn’t envision myself taking on that mantel as an adult.

But, as so often happens, life took some turns, and here I am. I believe churches should be a place where people of all abilities find inclusion, belonging and purpose. I saw needs around me, and after I attended that conference last year, a fire was lit. After talking to our senior pastor, I appointed myself the special needs ministry coordinator for our church and set about recruiting some help. I found some fantastic resources, including the Joni and Friends ministry Irresistible Church.

Our No Barriers team spent some time in the beginning talking to members and families of members with special needs. How were we doing? What was working? What could we do better? We’ve made some small changes as a result, like creating a larger diaper change area for a family with an older child who wasn’t able to fit on the infant-sized changing table. We’ve been working on general accessibility by obtaining a stair lift (donated by a business that was installing an elevator to replace their lift), improving signage for accessibility features, adjusting the pressure required to open doors…

We’ve been at this now for seven months, and tomorrow is a big day for our baby ministry. (I should explain that we attend church on Saturdays, just in case you’re confused by the day.) It’s the first week for our buddy program for a lovely 13-year-old girl with Down syndrome. The program is pairing this young member of our church with two peer volunteers who have gone through some simple training. They will alternate weeks to provide one-to-one support, helping their friend to participate with her class, freeing her mom to attend an adult class, and bringing down some of the barriers that separated this family’s experience from that of other members.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few weeks and months on program policies, training materials, log sheets and information binders, but this week is happening because other members of our church – many of them members with no direct connection to special needs – have shown they care and are willing to step up. Church is not a place for perfect people. We’re all pretty screwed up and dealing with our own personal failings. But when church is working like it should, it’s a place where we come together and support each other as we try to know God better and let Him work in our lives. Church as it should be is a place where we allow our needs to be known and watch as God moves us to take care of each other. Church as it should be is a compelling place to serve and belong.

I don’t know exactly how tomorrow will go. We’re new at this, and I have a feeling there will be hiccups along the way. I honestly have no idea what I’m doing most of the time. I don’t know where all this is headed long-term. But I sense God at work, and I am so grateful that when I have presented the needs I see, people around me have responded with genuine enthusiasm and caring. It gives me hope in a world where too often, the name Christian is wielded as a weapon to bludgeon and divide.