Disability Awareness Sunday 2005
by Helen R. Neinast
Adapted from UMC Interpreter Magazine Online www.interpretermagazine.org
Disability Awareness Sunday is both a celebration and a challenge. We celebrate the lives and witness of those with disabilities who contribute so much to our faith community. We also open ourselves, our churches, and the Church to the call to full inclusion and full accessibility for those with any disability – physical or mental. This is an opportunity to raise awareness and to find solutions to the physical, architectural, communication and attitude barriers to those with disabilities.
Some Ideas for the Service
This Sunday, observed annually on a date determined by the Annual Conference, gives your church the chance to challenge its hospitality toward and inclusion of all persons in the life of the church. Ask persons with disabilities to participate in worship as liturgists and leaders in worship. If there are no people with disabilities, this is a good time to examine why that is – is the church open and actively seeking to make itself open to all? You could invite someone who is or works on behalf of persons with disabilities to preach this Sunday.
Set the scene for the worship service.
If it were possible to gather all the people with disabilities into one nation, that nation would number over 650 million women, men and children. That nation would be the world's third largest country, after China and India. (World Health Organization statistic)
That nation would have the least access to education. Many people with disabilities receive little or no education, especially in developing countries. That nation would have the highest unemployment rate in the world and be the poorest nation on earth. It would have the least access to any sort of transportation. And, it would be the least evangelized nation with the lowest proportion involved in a church.
Try to interpret for your church the status of the people with disabilities in the United States and beyond. Go to www.icdri.org/Statistics/mainstats.html. This site gives an extensive look at statistics and public policy regarding people with disabilities. It will be an important tool for you as you prepare for Disability Awareness Sunday, and it will be important for your congregation as well.
THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH BELIEVES:
Park Street Church in Boston has a Special Needs Ministry that encourages, assists and enables people to participate more fully in church activities. The ministry includes anything from working one-on-one with children during church events to assisting individuals with limited mobility to supporting families of special needs children with occasional childcare or help with housework.
"We Meet You, O Christ" (UM Hymnal 257)
Genesis 1:26-27 "We are created in God's image"
People with disabilities are trying to be included in the life of the faith community. They, too, want recognition of their values as children of God worthy of unconditional love and acceptance.
Hunger, more specifically malnutrition, is the number one cause of disabilities worldwide. Accidents and disease are the leading causes of disabilities in the parts of the world where hunger is not a factor.
However, even if we are fortunate enough to live without material deprivation and with outstanding medical care, all of us face the toll that aging takes. Eyesight, hearing, mobility, memory – these disabilities await most all of us. Disabilities do not know boundaries of age, race, sex or social status. And yet disabilities are the biggest barrier to full participation in our churches. Someone has pointed out that a person in a wheelchair is not disabled in a community or building that has wide doors, slight ramps in place of stairs, and furniture that is wheelchair accessible.
Genesis tells us that we are created in the image of God. Yet we are all different – skin color, personalities, mental and physical capabilities. This passage, then, must refer to something besides the physical. God is spirit, and to be created in the image of God is to have a spirit that is in God's image.
And yet we – like Jesus – are incarnate. It is with our bodies and our minds that we live out our lives. So to have a mind or body that is different is not a judgment on our relationship with God, but is a statement about our humanity.
As we read the Bible, it is clear from beginning to end that God wants to be in a relationship with each and every one of God's creatures. Therefore, it becomes clear that our God is a God of accessibility – to all – and that we therefore must make our churches, and our hearts, accessible to all.
Leader: We come together today as people with different skills, different
abilities, different disabilities.
May the God of hope
Date posted: Apr 27, 2005