When Inclusion Works

As you know by now, I really believe in inclusion. I think inclusion is nearly always best! I agree that there are times — very much the minority, in my opinion — when full inclusion is not what’s best for an individual with disabilities. But most of the time, I am a strong proponent for inclusion. I think it’s best for the individuals who live life with a disability and best for the rest of the world — sometimes especially beneficial for those without a disability. It is a win-win, in my opinion, most of the time. (No secrets here … you already knew that about me!)

I have also mentioned before the ironic and terrible issue of people with disabilities oftentimes not being welcomed in church. I know it sounds awful, but churches are not real open to someone who may disrupt the service or the flow or the peace of their Sunday morning for the most part. Most families who have someone who has a disability just do not go to church. Crazy, right?

Thankfully, my church is the exception. (And again, I think the number of churches open to those who have disabilities is growing. Thank God!) We have had a great experience with our church as a whole and with the children’s department at our church.

The people at our church know Chloe and accept who she is and how she operates. They appreciate her. They talk to her. They let her hug them or ignore them, whichever Chloe happens to do on any particular day. They enjoy it when she dances in church. And they are okay with her choosing a lap to crawl up into.

In the children’s ministry area, each Sunday, there is an older elementary or junior high girl assigned to Chloe. That helper is to keep her safe and help her stay on task during the service. That helper sits by Chloe during the lesson and helps her participate. Oftentimes, it’s that helper who dances with Chloe during worship. It’s that helper who redirects Chloe when she needs it. And it’s that helper who alerts an adult if Chloe has a need that requires an adult.

Mostly, the people at my church aren’t surprised by Chloe. Mostly, no one is uncomfortable with Chloe. Chloe fits in and people move over and allow her space to participate.

The amazing difference that Chloe’s being included in this part of society is making really came to fruition one Sunday when a family visited our church for the first time. This family had a daughter who was close in age to Chloe. While their daughter had a different diagnosis than Chloe, she presented in many similar ways to Chloe. Their daughter is mostly nonverbal; she needs support when standing and walking; she might tend to wander if not reigned in a little. By the time we got to church that Sunday, a couple of the older girls had stepped in to be this new girl’s helpers. These helpers weren’t scared of this new girl; these helpers didn’t have to stare or laugh at this new little girl; the adult volunteers weren’t at a loss of how to minister to this family. It was very easy and very natural for our church to step in and support this new little girl and her family.

And it was all because of including Chloe. Since they have been including Chloe so beautifully and successfully, it was natural and easy for them to reach out to this new family.

Knowing how going to church can be with a child with disabilities, I am sure that this new family was thrilled and surprised and blessed that their daughter was so easily accepted and cared for.

And it was one of the happiest days of my life. Really.

And it reminds me that the more our children are out and about, the more society will accept them. The reason people get nervous around folks who have a disability? It’s because they’re not used to being around folks with disabilities. Plain and simple.

But if they’re regularly around folks with disabilities? Well, then, it’s no big deal.

Will effectively ministering to all of these families who have disabilities take time and practice? Will it take lots of support and volunteers? Yes, it will.

But I’ve experienced it. And it works.

Praise God! Let all families who have a child with a disability praise God, too, if they choose to!

(BTW, I used the example of a child with a disability in this post, but another huge hole in the church is accepting and ministering to adults with disabilities. The same sort of plan would work for that population, too. Again, the more they are out in the community, the more the community gets accustomed to supporting them. It could prove to be a lovely circle of effects!)

{Do you have stories of how churches have done well or not done so well in this area? I’d love to hear about it!}

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4 responses to this post.

  1. I have an uncle with severe development delays (and was born at a time, 50 years ago, when that was the only diagnosis) the church leaders of the church that my grandparents went to at the time did and throughout their life were not overly supportive to my memory, but the other members were amazing! The would come a babysit for my uncle so my grandparents could go out as it is hard to find a babysitter for a 30+ year old and since my grandparents were both eme’s (Catholic) they would sit with my uncle during communion. These people made all the difference. The church leaders went from not allowing my uncle to take communion (another soap box of mine for another time) to full inclusion after some time and (i believe) prodding!

    Reply

    • Wow, Katie. What a great story! So thankful your grandparents had that support and that your uncle had those relationships and that experience! Thanks so much for sharing!

      Reply

  2. Posted by Patricia Netherton on June 16, 2012 at 9:59 AM

    Kelly, our church in Macon has a group of volunteers called Heart Buddies. They help the children be included in the activities on Wed. and Sun. When their disabilities allow. Our pastor recently baptized one of our children. It was so precious. Our program has been re agonized in CBF and it’s organizers have gone to other churches to give info about starting such a program. While I am not sure it is as inclusive as your church, it has met a need and we have had families seek us out because of the program.

    Reply

    • Mrs. Netherton, that sounds great! And certainly inclusive! I do love the Buddy system so many churches use. I wonder how many of them have considered the idea of peer buddies for those individuals who could benefit. It’s a great mutually-beneficial relationship and helps the non-disabled kids learn selflessness and compassion in action. Love it! Thanks for sharing!

      Reply

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