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, for Grace Community Church.