Heather Avis, mother of two children with Down syndrome and author of Scoot Over and Make Room, wrote an article over on The Week about the relationship between churches and families with special needs. In it, she shares her own struggles with finding a place for her kids in the church and argues that it’s the church’s duty to find ways to include those who are differently abled.
As I've raised my kids and fought for an equitable space in this world for them, I have often found myself disappointed with the Church and its lack of inclusive practices. And I'm not alone. I've met countless other parents who have stopped going to church once they had a child with a different ability. The environment was just too difficult for their child to navigate and they did not feel welcomed anymore. Christian churches must do a better job.
Our society as a whole makes little to no room for people with special needs, and unfortunately, the church isn’t doing much better. When those with disabilities, especially children, walk into our sanctuaries, they often feel overwhelmed and unwelcome. Sometimes even unwanted. And that is simply unacceptable.
The good news of Jesus Christ is for everyone, and part of that gospel is that every single person is created in the image of and loved by God. If the community of faith can’t create space for some of the most vulnerable and overlooked people in our society to hear and be transformed by that message, then what are we even doing?
I don’t think it’s that churches don’t care about people with special needs. It’s just that creating space for them is inconvenient and often, churches often decide that being inclusive simply isn’t worth the inconvenience. This should not be so. It’s our responsibility to love and create space for everyone, even when it’s not easy.
And when we do, I think we’ll find our communities enriched by these people who suddenly find themselves included. They have access to skills and insights that neurotypical and physically capable individuals simply don’t have. The church needs these people if we’re going to be all that we’re called to be and reach the world with God’s love.
What does inclusivity look like in practice? That’s something I’m trying to learn about myself. We should be listening to experts like Avis and taking seriously what they have to say as we grapple with this question. Part of it is simply getting educated and learning how to speak on these topics. And of course, pastors and volunteers need training so that we can be prepared for new scenarios that will inevitably arise. That means it’s going to take time, money, and effort, all of which would be well spent.
Whatever form the solutions may take, it’s clear that something must be done. We can’t ignore the issue any longer. We can’t exclude these people any longer. Now that we know better, we need to do better. Will you commit to being an agent of change on this issue in your church?