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How Abilities and Disabilities Reveal God

While ramps, accessible restrooms and hearing loops help to remove physical barriers that keep people with disabilities out of churches, it takes more to truly welcome everyone into God’s kingdom, according to an article on the website of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving and supporting worship in Christian faith communities.

“[T]o truly welcome everyone and create a picture of God’s kingdom, congregations also need to journey towards attitudes and relationships in which everyone can give and everyone can receive,” according to Dan Vander Plaats and Dan Quist, who led a discussion exploring attitudes toward varying abilities and disabilities at the 2014 Calvin Symposium on Worship. The discussion focused on Erik Carter’s book, “Including People with Disabilities in Faith Communities,” which offers a blueprint for increasing awareness and acceptance of people with disabilities, and linking to community resources. The book offers checklists, surveys and tips that may help congregations see beyond someone’s wheelchair or syndrome to their God-given gifts for church work like greeting visitors, counting the offering, praying for others or creating art. Vander Plaats, director of advancement at Elim Christian Services in Palos Heights, Illinois, which helps people with disabilities reach their God-given educational and vocational potential, has identified five stages of disability attitudes, which he shared with the group: ignorance, pity, care, friendship and co-laboring.

“Each state teaches us more and more about from whom our value really comes,” Vander Plaats said. “Disability is neither a curse nor a gift. How do you see the value of someone who is on feeding and breathing tubes, who is nonverbal and doesn’t acknowledge others? The value always and only comes in relationship with God, by what God is doing in, through and around your life. Our relationships with someone who is vulnerable teach us about our own vulnerability before God.” For more perspective and resources, see our feature article, “From Accessibility to Inclusion.” We also highlighted Vander Plaats and his work in our annotation, “People with Disabilities: Your Church’s Great Overlooked Asset.” 

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