Have you ever felt like you dropped into a dream in the middle of the story? You find yourself trying to figure out what is going on and how you got to a place where you’re in the Oval Office making the most critical decision of the 21st century…while wearing a clown nose. You’re overwhelmed and you feel like you can’t catch up to the situation in which you find yourself. Too often, we fear this dream becoming a reality as we start disability ministry (minus the OvalOffice nose and the clown nose). But life doesn’t work like that. In most cases, things start small and, if we end up in the Oval Office, we lived through quite a journey of learning and growth to get there.
We’re part of an organization called The Banquet Network that primarily works with new and smaller churches to reach the most isolated, most marginalized, and most forgotten people with disabilities in their communities.
One of the first barriers that we have to overcome with church plants is the notion that they aren’t big enough or resourced enough to handle disability. Somehow an unrealistic notion about the realities of disability ministry has permeated much of the American Church’s consciousness. We tend to think that once we start doing disability ministry the flood gates will immediately open and both ourselves and our churches will be trampled by an influx of hundreds of people and situations that we simply can’t handle. Now, we’d actually welcome that happening in our church, but the fact is: this fear is almost never the reality.In reality, most efforts to reach and include people with disabilities start small. Just. Like. The rest of ministry.
The church we attend recently hosted its first ever respite night for families impacted by disability (we worked with a wonderful organization called 99 Balloons to do so). In anticipation of Christmas, we opened the doors of our church on a Friday night and encouraged parents who have children with disabilities to bring their children and siblings and drop them off for three hours—freeing the parents to rest, do some Christmas shopping, or go on a date. We had a nurse onsite and a group of trained volunteers ready to serve. We notified schools , other area churches, and friends and family of our own congregation. To me, this would seem like a pretty attractive opportunity and like something that would draw quite a crowd…
How many people actually came? One family.
And it was great. We were able to love and serve one dear family. We were also able to work out some of the kinks in our planning and administration. We sent some of our volunteers home early. We learned some things to prepare us for next time and for more attendees. We watched a movie, made crafts (using some materials we already had at the church), ran around, and had a great time. It was extremely manageable practically, financially, and otherwise.
If you’re a newer or smaller church, be encouraged. You can start some kind of disability ministry or outreach now. You don’t have to wait till you’re bigger and wealthier (that day may not come…and statistics say you probably won’t start one then anyway).
When you start something it’s probably going to be small. Really small. But it will be beautiful and it will transform your church. The word will spread and one by one your efforts will grow. If for some reason you are the “one-in-a-thousand,” and more people come than you know how to handle, rejoice in being the unusual recipient of God’s grace. You’ll be in good company with Jesus and his disciples (Mark 6:30-34). But most of us will be asked to be faithful with smaller things (Luke 16:10) before we’re entrusted with bigger things.
Hunter and Amberle Brown help lead an organization called The Banquet Network that is based in Baltimore, MD. TheBanquet Network primarily works with church plants to inspire, equip, and resource them to reach people with disabilities who are on the margins of their communities. Hunter works full time at Goucher College and is a part-time Masters of Theology student at St. Mary’s Ecumenical Institute in Baltimore. Amberle works full-time for World Relief, an international health and development NGO, and is passionate about helping churches include and reach people with disabilities based on her own experience of becoming visually impaired and her encounters with people with disabilities in her work in developing countries.