Recently, I attended a gathering with many dignitaries from the Canadian ecumenical movement in attendance. As I was chatting with a representative from a Catholic diocese, I was mentioning my project EcumenAbility, promoting inclusion of people with disabilities in church life. I usually get quite positive and supporting feedback from whoever I speak to about this project.
Not so this time. After telling me that he “does not know much about disability”, this individual immediately changed topic and pretended to be otherwise occupied. End of conversation.
Yes, what was that all about?
I finally decided to believe this was a traditional knee-jerk reaction to a subject matter that one feels uncomfortable talking about. Unfortunately, this type of reaction is still all too common in society and church and one of the reasons why so many people with disabilities don’t feel welcome in church.
You don’t have to KNOW anything about disabilities. You are not asked to provide a diagnosis or a therapy for a person with a disability. All you have to do, and yes you HAVE to do it, is make that person feel welcome and maybe provide a little love, regardless of the disability. Isn’t that what church is supposed to do? There are many ways this could be achieved without being an expert on disabilities. Addressing the individual with a disability or any family member would be a good starting point.
After having attended many conferences about fostering a climate of belonging, which do exist through many initiatives across the Christian spectrum, I realize that the most difficult barrier to overcome on the road towards inclusion is the invisible barrier in our heads, that knee-jerk reaction towards anything unknown and uncomfortable. Pushing it away is still easier that dealing with it.
Well, the road towards inclusion is still steep and rocky.