Let me start with a question, do businesses care more about disability than the Church? Perhaps some do, but it’s much more likely that many adaptations are made due to obligations and carefully planned and costed strategy.

Should the church follow suit? Does it already? Some churches operate as a business, with a large staff and budget who can be fully aware of and actively pursue accessibility compliance, so what sets them apart from companies like Coca Cola, or Apple?

One of the things I’ve learnt, especially in the last few years, has been the importance of empathy. This Christ-like heart is the one great advantage that the Church has over the world.

When it comes to adapting to disability, businesses have regulations, but families have needs. We certainly weren’t prepared for a child with special needs; we had to adapt quickly and still are. We had to learn fast, change on the fly and learn not be disappointed when things inevitably didn’t go to plan. Sometimes we might learn from the example of others, other times it’s Petey himself who teaches us, like when he sat on stage for 45 minutes at his nursery school nativity and took part in every song.

Families have needs. What is the Church if not a family?

Just as we weren’t prepared, it’s ok that the Church isn’t either.

If you don’t have have congregants in wheelchairs then there’s no need to put an ugly wheelchair ramp out front?

If no one in your church suffers from epilepsy, are strobe lights and laser shows during worship fine?

These statements might be true for you and that’s ok! The important thing is that we are aware of others, sensitive of their needs and have empathy with them.

While it’s easy to think that we don’t have congregants with a specific need and therefore don’t need to make adaptations, chances are we don’t have those people because they’ve went elsewhere, or worse, nowhere.

More than anything the Church needs to reveal the Father’s heart to the community; it’s ok to not be prepared as long as we have love. We’ve already talked about how difficult it is for us and for other families of children with special needs, to do something new. Almost a year go we came here, to morning service backed up by nothing but Google and prayer and were welcomed and loved immediately. We didn’t judge the church because they didn’t meet every single of of Petey’s needs, because how could they prepare for a child they’d never met.

That’s not to say that we’d just visit anywhere. What brought us to our current church was prayer and Google. We had to make a shortlist of churches that had certain facilities and at least one was dropped from the list for having no useful information on their website.

I could talk for another hour about the importance of having a relevant church website but you’ll be glad to know that now is not that time! A church website only can take you so far, to the door. What made us stay, even in the face of David McBride’s hugs, even when people didn’t completely understand, was that we felt accepted and loved.

What good is the great commission without love? If we go in obligation and not love, then what good can we do?

The Church is stronger as a family. As family we can adapt to changing needs through love and as a family we can bring the kingdom to all around us.

This article was originally published as a podcast, available here

At first glance people with Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, Depression or Anxiety may appear “normal”, leading to that all too common moment when we suddenly realise and quickly followed by us becoming awkward and uncomfortable; unsure of how to behave around them. The end result? Adults may ignore the person altogether while children may resort to insults or bullying. For the person with the disability just leaving home can become a massive challenge; an obstacle course of uncertainty and judgement that you have to navigate whilst carrying a ticking time-bomb.

A few years ago I used to dread going to church. Trying to handle that with a toddler with ASD was just too much. There was nothing motivating me beyond obligation and even that wasn’t enough when a simple trip to Tesco could be as tiring as a day out.

If I was to ask ask you to think about people in the Bible who have a disability we’d probably end up with the same list of obvious candidates, but there are others that don’t often get considered because perhaps their disability isn’t outwardly visible or immediately apparent.

One example was a man who was called of God to carry out a very important task. To the outside world he was well educated, rugged and probably had an epic beard. He had no statement of special needs, or parking permit but when given a mission for God he argued with Jehovah himself saying that he couldn’t do it. Not arguing against the seemingly impossible task at hand but that he just couldn’t say the words God wanted him to speak. That man was Moses

> Exodus 4:10,15

> But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.”

> You shall speak to him [Aaron] and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do.

We don’t normally think of Moses as having a disability and people may say “it was in his mind” mental illness is a real problem and for Moses it was so big that God had to send Aaron, Moses’ brother, to speak on his behalf.

Throughout history people who suffered a neurological or developmental disability were seen as unsafe, possible criminals and best to be avoided and t’s very easy for that sort of negative attitude or bigotry to spread. In Bible, time and time again we see shocking examples of bigotry in how society’s outcasts were treated. People continually took customs into law and then turned it up to 11.

People often wonder what Jesus looks like, I imagine most of the time it was like this:
After all he spent a great deal of his ministry course correcting daft customs that followed that letter of law but forsook empathy.

One really interesting example of bigotry in the Bible comes from an unlikely source. Job, destitute, penniless, sick and alone and with some of the worst friends in history contemplates his lot.

> Job 30:1-12

> But now they laugh at me, men who are younger than I, whose fathers I would have disdained to set with the dogs of my flock.

> What could I gain from the strength of their hands, men whose vigor is gone?

> Through want and hard hunger they gnaw the dry ground by night in waste and desolation; they pick saltwort and the leaves of bushes, and the roots of the broom tree for their food.

> They are driven out from human company; they shout after them as after a thief.

> In the gullies of the torrents they must dwell, in holes of the earth and of the rocks.

> Among the bushes they bray; under the nettles they huddle together.

> A senseless, a nameless brood, they have been whipped out of the land.

> And now I have become their song;

> I am a byword to them.

> They abhor me; they keep aloof from me; they do not hesitate to spit at the sight of me.

> Because God has loosed my cord and humbled me, they have cast off restraint in my presence.

> On my right hand the rabble rise; they push away my feet; they cast up against me their ways of destruction.

This is Job, a man described as “a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” in Job 1:8 outraged that the outcasts of society mock his situation. This same Job in Job 29:12-16 says:

> I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; my justice was like a robe and a turban.

> I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame.

> I was a father to the needy, and I searched out the cause of him whom I did not know.

How can a man who has done all these good works, a man that God says is blameless, have such an attitude of elitism even now?

Job compares these people to criminals, which suggests that they aren’t. Job 30:2 describes them as “men whose vigor is gone”, being unable to work with your hands in an agrarian society would certainly be classed as disability and not being able to work would lead to homelessness and exclusion from community. Job’s discrimination may not be out of malice, but based on social norms. That doesn’t excuse it but it also doesn’t mean that God will rebuke him for it.

Instead God takes a different approach.

Starting at chapter 38, God begins to work on Job. Not just to lift up his spirits but to set right as heart. By the end of the book, Job’s family and livelihood have been restored, but curiously there is no mention of his health. We don’t know if Job was healed but by the end of the book that’s no longer important. Although it was never the point of his suffering, Job’s situation and corresponding time with God, teaches him empathy to the point where his ability no longer mattered.

> Job 42:5

> I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;

Job’s relationship with God changes and deepens, before he could only hear God, now he can see him too; he learns to have a heart like the Father.

We will likely all suffer disability in our lives at some point. For some it might be temporary, for others it’s a life-changing condition. We’re constantly looking for ways to prevent, treat and cure. Some people may be healed but ultimately the rest of us that are saved will have to wait until that last day to be gloriously transformed. Until then what can the Church do? In the same way that a pair of glasses or a hearing aid can help restore sight or hearing, how can the the Church assist in bringing people to Christ?

It’s really pretty simple – **don’t get in the way.**

That’s true if a person has a disability or not, nothing we do should putting up barriers that stop people reaching the gospel.

_This article was originally published as a podcast, available [here](https://soundcloud.com/gracecommunitychurch/autism-and-the-church-andrew-and-lila-gribben)_

> A peculiar people – 1 Peter 2:9 (KJV)

When you stop and think about it, the (big C) Church is a really odd place, full of peculiar people. Just take a look around you and tell me if I’m wrong?!

To the outside world, our customs, our order of service is completely alien. We live in a “post-Christian” world, where even here in Northern Ireland there are many people who have never stepped foot in a Christian church, even if only for a wedding, baptism, or funeral.

Many churches are now having to react and change tactics to reach a people that never had faithful parents or grandparents who sent them out to Sunday School or the Good News Club. They have no idea what we do or who we are.

If we get too comfortable with our own culture we can easily loose the empathy that we need to reach people who are different than us. Changing culture doesn’t mean throwing out the gospel – just recognising that we can’t reach everyone with the same tactics. The most common place we see that is on the mission fields around the world, but in some ways even that has become familiar. It’s almost as though those big, grand acts of service have somehow become easier than small gestures of love. Is it really easier to tithe than showing empathy for people who don’t look like, or act like us?

As a parent of a child with special needs appropriate I can confidently say, appropriate church behaviour went out the window a long time ago and Lila and I are both so thankful for the leadership team and congregation at Grace Community Church for making us feel so welcome; from the very first day!

You might be thinking:
> “Warmly Welcoming new people to church? That doesn’t sound revolutionary!”
You’d be right, but for parent like us who have a child with special needs, or another learning difficulty or disability, that’s not something we can take for granted!

We have family and friends that support us, but that doesn’t mean they don’t don’t struggle to understand our needs and our patterns as a family. Sometimes a big gesture can have disastrous affects or friends get upset and confused when you have to cancel events because you haven’t had a sold night’s sleep in 3 weeks or you know that their house isn’t prepared for a curious and energetic 4 year old who likes to disassemble everything.

When struggles or difficulties are hidden, even actions offered in love may not be appropriate and when it comes to the fulfilling the great commission of going into all the world and preaching the gospel we must do so in the light of the great commandments:

> Matthew 22:37-39
> And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

For the church to reach sinners, regardless of their socio-economic background, ethnicity or level of ability it must adapt its ministry, but it must never forget about love.

– How can we be inclusive as a church?
– How can we make the gospel accessible?
– How can we share with others without it being an afterthought?

As a father I ask myself these same questions and as a parent of a child with autism I say “how on earth can I do that?” Especially when, at times, it feels like my life is being held together by nothing but duct tape and prayer!

If I struggle with that balance, what hope is there for family and friends? What hope is there for the Church? The only way to adapt is to know needs of the people we’re working with and have empathy for them.

Our son’s behaviour, the way he lost the words he once knew and struggled to communicate with us, or maintain eye contact and the fact that he would rarely give hugs or kisses didn’t mean that he had nothing to say. I remember very clearly how he used to climb up beside us on the sofa and while sitting there would tap gently on your arm 3 times. It took us a little while to realise what he was doing but then we realised, this was Petey saying “I love you.”

Petey couldn’t express how he felt in the same way as us, but he found his own way, he adapted and in turn so did we, but in order to do that we had to learn to “listen” to him.

_This article was originally published as a podcast, available [here](https://soundcloud.com/gracecommunitychurch/autism-and-the-church-andrew-and-lila-gribben)_

♻️ [A web that excludes only people with disabilities – Medium](https://medium.com/content-uneditable/a-web-that-excludes-only-people-with-disabilities-4b03ee3d1425)