Recognising the gifts and purpose of all people – Disability and the Church
How many churches would encourage someone with a speech impediment to become a preacher and leader? Most would recommend a role behind the scenes. In church and in our society as a whole, disabled people tend to be hidden from view, their gifts going unused. Yet looking at the Bible, we see a radically different way.
Moses pleaded, “O Lord, I’m just not a good speaker. I never have been…for I have a speech impediment.”
“Who makes mouths?” The Lord asked him. “Isn’t it I, the Lord? Who makes people so that they can speak or not speak, see or not see, hear or not hear? Now go ahead and do as I tell you, for I will help you to speak well, and I will tell you what to say.” Exodus 4:10-12
Moses had a speech impediment? I was taught as a child that Moses was ‘making up an excuse’ because he didn’t want obey God’s tough calling at the burning bush. But there’s no indication that that’s true. In fact most Jewish and Christian scholars agree that Moses had some type of speech impediment. We don’t know if it was a stutter or part of a larger physical impairment. But we know that God took it seriously enough to provide Aaron to help Moses in his mission.
So Moses, both disabled and filled with God, walks out of the wilderness into Pharaoh’s court. He proclaims God’s message and leads the people of Israel out of slavery, changing the history of the world.
At Livability, we are determined to see disabled people living lives of purpose and opportunity. We work with churches to help them become livable communities – places which everyone can call home. Welcoming disabled people is about so much more than building ramps and accessible toilets. It’s about investing in people, looking beyond appearance and beyond impairments, looking for their God-given gifts and abilities, and encouraging them to take risks for God. We want to see disabled people growing in faith and developing gifts, and able to find a place of true friendship, acceptance and belonging.
How does Livability do this? We have a strong track record of offering advice and training resources to raise disability awareness in the Church.
- Livability carried out an audit for Holy Trinity Brompton, then provided advice and training to help their children’s and youth teams become more inclusive.
- We’ve spoken to church leaders across the Dioceses of Lichfield and London and trained up hundreds of ‘dementia friends’ in churches across the country.
- We’ve written materials including The Dementia Friendly Church, the Churches Inc. charter, and collected mental health resources at www.mentalhealthaccesspack.org.
- We’ve helped put on Enabling Church
- We have created safe spaces for people with mental health issues to talk about the support they need, and for parents of children with autism spectrum disorders to come together to share their experiences.
Livability are convinced that the church should be a place that everyone can call home – a place where everyone is encouraged to develop and use their gifts. And at Livability, we are hard at work to make that a reality.
Mat Ray is Livability’s head of church partnerships. A writer, trainer and facilitator, he is passionate about church, disability and mental health. He is a member of the Church of England’s Disability Task Group and represents Livability in the ‘Churches for All’ network. Mat is a member of the Borough Common, an experimental church in South London.