His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him” (John 9:2-3). 

I was born with one arm. I was 10 when I heard my mom tell the story of bringing her newborn to worship, only to be confronted by another member who insisted that God was punishing one or both of my parents by sending them a child with one arm. 

Experiences like this have left me asking: “Is that what the church thinks of people with disabilities?” 

When congregations never talk about disability, it sends the message to people with disabilities and their loved ones that they don’t really matter to the church. And when congregations talk about disability thoughtlessly or unkindly, it sends another message—that people with disabilities aren’t really welcome. 

I’m a lifelong Lutheran and a lifelong person with a disability, and I need both of those parts of my identity to be welcome in the church. It’s not just up to leaders like pastors and deacons to make a congregation welcoming to people with disabilities. Every member of the body of Christ has the responsibility and power to make every other member welcomed and included. 

How can congregations make intentional space for people with disabilities? There is no one right way, but rather many opportunities to be inclusive.  

For example, in my congregation we pause long enough between prayer petitions to allow time for those who need a little longer to get their responses out. You could also use large-print bulletins. And ask yourselves and others if the language used in worship unintentionally sends the wrong message. For instance, the hymn “Amazing Grace” with its line “was blind but now I see” may sound different to a person with a vision impairment than one without. A leader could also easily say, “Please stand in body or spirit” instead of “everyone rise” to include those who can’t stand. 

How can congregations make intentional space for people with disabilities? There is no one right way, but rather many opportunities to be inclusive. 

It’s simple to ask your congregation if any accessibility challenges prevent them or their loved ones from participating, yet so often we don’t even think to ask. 

In addition to including people with disabilities as equal participants, we need to include them as equal leaders. I was in my 20s before I knew of any people with disabilities who served as leaders in the church.  

How might you make room for a person in a wheelchair to read the lessons during worship if your lectern is up a set of stairs? Your microphone could be moved to the floor. 

How could you make sure youth with intellectual disabilities are included in Christmas programs with their peers? Check with them and their families to see how their gifts can shine. 

It might take creativity and work, but I’m certain it’s worth the effort. When I serve communion, I place the bread on a small stand made by a member of my congregation to leave my hand free to distribute it. It’s not the way other pastors have done it, but it’s a way that, as Jesus put it, “God’s works might be revealed.” 

When congregations include people with disabilities as full participants and leaders, God’s work is revealed. God works through people like me—people with disabilities—knowing that we are truly part of the community, truly part of the body of Christ. May all our congregations be places where God is revealed through people with disabilities. 

Beth Wartick
Wartick is pastor of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tipton, Iowa.  

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