Are disabled people represented within your church?
As Livability visits churches and Christian events all over the country, church leaders often tell us that disability is not an issue affecting their church: ‘We don’t have any disabled people in our church.’
For 99% of churches this is just not true.
The UK government recognises 11 million people as having long term illness, impairment or disability. That’s one person in six.
The prevalence of disability rises with age so that almost half of all people over state retirement age are disabled.
Disability is dynamic – people become disabled every day. Whether born with a disability, or acquiring it in a crisis, over time, through illness or old age, today’s ‘able-bodied’ church member is tomorrow’s disabled church member.
Seeing the invisible
What is much more likely is that we can’t yet ‘see’ disability. If disability is something that has not affected us personally, through family or friends, it can seem invisible to us.
We don’t realise that those sitting in the pews around us have often overcome barriers of all kinds to be there. Many people experience ‘hidden’ or ‘invisible’ disability in the form of mental illness or chronic condition. Or they may be disabled by barriers that society puts in their way. These could be barriers of other people’s lack of understanding and prejudices; or barriers to their opportunities and access to a wide range of activities and experiences.
From welcome to participation
Every church that wants to be a place of radical welcome needs to start by learning to see the invisible or learning to take a closer look / seeing barriers. Churches must work to create spaces of hospitality and belonging, yet even a community of people who are superficially similar will reveal enormous differences. Only when we consider the needs of others – and treat them as ourselves – can we truly create a place of welcome and participation.