Recently, I asked some people what Presbyterian churches in NSW are doing for and with people with disabilities.
How would you have answered that question?
I got two common responses.
The first was, “We run Allowah, a hospital for children with disabilities.” Another common reply was, “We have a disability advocate.” Although more than that is happening in Pressie churches in our state, these answers give some food for thought.
Marlies Hartkamp is an ADM Senior Fellow. She’s passionate about disability theology and ministry. She lived and worked overseas for many years and now resides with her family in Sydney.
Disability Ministry by the Experts?
It’s exciting to hear that, as a denomination, we can extend loving care to children with complex disabilities and their families through Allowah. It’s also great that Jason, as the disability advocate, can help us think through how we can include people with disabilities in our churches. However, I wonder if there’s more we can do as congregations? After all, relating to people with disabilities is not something that we can outsource to a few experts or specific ministries.
Hospitality as a Way of Life
This morning, I read a book about being hospitable as a Christian community.[i] Hospitality is about welcoming strangers in our midst and embracing those who are marginalised or vulnerable This may include people with disabilities. The author speaks of hospitality as “a way of life.” It’s not a ministry program we set up at church, but it’s about our attitude toward people different from us. It’s about being hospitable and welcoming towards others that come into our midst. It is about extending God’s welcome to us in Christ. He has welcomed us into His family. In turn, we may invite others to enjoy His love and care.
Hospitality within the Church
The Bible calls us to be hospitable. In Romans 12:13, we read, “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” This verse speaks of hospitality within the church community, among the Lord’s people. It’s about sharing with brothers and sisters who experience need. At times, the needs of a person with a disability may be similar to ours. While at other times, their needs may be unique to their situation. For example, families of children with disabilities in our church may need practical or emotional support related to their child’s disability. If we want to support them, we first need to understand their needs. Being hospitable to others in our church starts with asking questions and listening to them.
Being Hospitable to Outsiders
Besides hospitality within our church community, the Bible also tells us not to neglect hospitality to people outside our community. Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers.” Because by doing so, we may be welcoming angels without even knowing it! We are also called to be hospitable to people we do not know, including people with disabilities in our communities. A while ago, I heard of a church that runs a group for mothers of culturally diverse backgrounds who have a child with a disability. These mums hardly received any support in their communities but were welcomed in Jesus’ name.
Jesus himself models hospitality as a way of life. He actively sought encounters with strangers and those who were marginalised by society. Remember how the crowd told the two blind men at the side of the road to be quiet? (Matthew 20:29–34) They rebuked the two blind men and considered them not worthy of Jesus’ attention. Jesus responded quite differently, though. He took them seriously. The passage says that Jesus stood still and called them. He asked them what they needed. Jesus welcomed these two men into his life. What a beautiful example of being hospitable! I wonder if we relate to people with disabilities in our local community in the same way. Are we willing to reach out to them like Jesus did?
I know of multiple Presbyterian churches that show hospitality to people with disabilities. They are welcomed and accepted for who they are, and they can share their gifts. Praise the Lord for that! And let’s build on that! As believers, we are called to be hospitable. We should welcome people with disabilities – as well as those without – into our midst. It’s not just the responsibility of a disability advocate or Allowah’s staff. Hospitality as a way of life starts with you and me.
[i] Christine Pohl, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1999.
Want to know more about Disability Inclusivity?
Why not arrange for Jason, Jericho Road Disability Advocate, to visit your church, Bible Study or fellowship group?