On Wednesday nights I take Grace to church. She participates in the jr. high ministry program. (Seriously…jr. high ministry…hardly seems possible).
We were there last week. Grace and I were in the front row. We were with the other kids in her special needs class and all the 6th graders. It was “Ask the Pastor” night. We’ve been talking about the Bible and the week before kids were asked to submit questions that they had for the pastors to answer. The two pastors walked out with what looked to be a pretty substantial stack of questions. In the midst of answering questions about why there are no dinosaurs in the Bible, why God made cancer, why it’s important to go to church, how long it takes God to forgive, and where God came from, the kids in Grace’s special needs class were all over the place. One girl was up out of her seat multiple times. I could hear the volunteer behind me encouraging the boy next to him to stay seated and quiet. One volunteer jumped from kid to kid helping where she was needed. The sign language interpreter just kept signing. We were disruptive. I kept waiting for someone to walk one of the kids out of the sanctuary. I watched for glaring looks or raised eyebrows to come from the pastors answering those 6th grader questions – but none of that happened. Our class was exactly who we are. During communion, Grace added to the disruption in her own way. Pulling away from me at times to walk towards the band as they played, the pull of the guitar, the lights, and the patterns behind the power point slide showing the lyrics all drawing her away from our seats.
Frankly, it felt unreal and I continued to wait for the shoe to drop. Would our class leave early? Was there an alternate route for Grace’s wheelchair if I had to get out of there quickly? I panicked a bit when I realized there wasn’t. We were blocked in. We would have to leave through the crowd and out the main doors. We were part of the group for better or for worse. But my worrying was for nothing. We stayed and continued to just be us. We were there the whole time and then after a prayer made our way to our classroom for our own lesson.
I told Kevin about it when we got home. I still think about it. It was this glimpse of how all are welcome…eerily accompanied by the pastors answering questions that pointed to everyone being loved and that everyone has a place and a purpose.
The first memory verse of Grace’s junior high ministry years is from Romans 12:9. It starts like this…”Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them.”
That really uncomfortable (for me) 35 minutes felt like real love. Real love that I can’t explain.
I have so many questions about disabilities and the church. It’s one of those areas that Grace has pushed us into just because she’s Grace. Just like learning how to give a shot or replace a g-tube it’s a competency area I gave no thought to prior to Grace’s diagnosis. But once you learn something new you can’t help but see it.
As I walked through our church on Sunday morning I saw multiple kids with disabilities. There were volunteers sitting with them in nooks and crannies. Volunteers dancing with a partner where there was no music. A volunteer in a hallway carefully holding a hand and walking slowly while chatting about nothing I could overhear. I wondered if other people saw them? Do the people that work and go to this church know what that group of volunteers is doing for those kids and their families? Do they know how welcoming it is that when you get to church and find the handicapped seats are all taken but the congregation is so quick about making room the ushers don’t even have to intervene? Do they know that with the few days they give me to prep I can make most any lesson adaptable for Grace and I’m happy to do it? Do they know what it means when they can admit upfront they aren’t perfect but they are willing to work with you? I wonder.
Someday I want to have something profound to say about disabilities and the church. In the meantime, I’ll keep watching.