I was practically born into the church and I became a Christian at a very young age. My faith is a huge part of who I am - it shapes my identity. I see the value in gathering as a community of believers, and finding a church to belong to is usually the first thing I do when I move to a new city. But, church is also a place I struggle deeply to feel accepted in. When I was 19, I became sick with a chronic illness that I will have for the rest of my life. My illness changed the way I can navigate the world, the way others see me or interact with me, and it changed my relationship with the church.
Over and over again I have experienced churches making decisions that are inaccessible for those of us in the disabled or chronic illness community, without any awareness. Why is there no awareness? This question is one I’ve struggled with. As the physical embodiment of Christ on this earth, we are called to love others as Christ loved us. And yet it seems only too easy to ignore extending this love to those in marginalized groups.
As the physical embodiment of Christ on this earth, we are called to love others as Christ loved us.
One of the excuses is that there aren't any members in the church with access needs, but if there were then they would be provided for. But, we aren't there because we cannot come! Again and again accessibility is simply not considered. Prayer meetings that are meant to be standing only with no seats provided, stairs the only way to access a location, flashing lights and smoke machines to turn the stage into a show, the constant request that everyone stand during worship. The insurmountable inaccessibility can be exhausting to confront for those of us within the community, and for some it doesn't even allow them the opportunity to voice their needs at all.
Besides various accessibility challenges, there is also an ocean of toxic interactions to wade through when engaging with the intersection of church, church culture, and culture in general. Chronic illness and disability are seen as a lack of faith. Surely God would not leave us in pain or discomfort, so it must be hidden sin. Maybe we haven't prayed often enough. Or in the right way. People don't know what to do with someone else’s pain, so they try to brush it away or cover it in platitudes. Insisting that God doesn't give us more than we can bear, or that if we pray correctly He will heal us.
While it’s true that throughout the gospels Jesus healed many He came into contact with, He did it with love. Personally. Seeing the individual and not just their needs, or pretending they didn't have any. He met them where they were, with an overwhelming love and respect for who they were. God is at work in the lives of disabled and abled Christians alike. We are all His children, and we are all made in His image.
While it’s true that throughout the gospels Jesus healed many He came into contact with, He did it with love. Personally.
When I think about what a church that feels like it’s our church too would include, it's not a simple list of “include these 5 things and you will always be accessible”. But rather, I think it starts with a heart that wants to listen to the needs in the community. To begin to include accessibility at the start of decisions, instead of as an afterthought. A church that sees individuals and their stories as beautiful. Important. And making steps to create a space that is inclusive in doing that. Jesus met people where they were at, with overwhelming love. As His hands and feet, may we do likewise.
Genevieve shares openly and honestly about their experience in the church.
When my dear friend and mentor died I was in graduate school training to be a clinical psychologist. Before her death my Christian friends freely...