This blog post is part of Mennonite Church USA’s Welcoming EveryBODY: Learn, Pray, Join initiative.
Christle Hain is the marketing communications and engagement associate for Mennonite Church USA. She is located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and is transitioning her church attendance/membership. She graduated from Lancaster Mennonite School and, then, went on to attend Cabrini University, in Radnor, Pennsylvania, earning a bachelor’s degree in communications. Christle is currently working towards her master’s degree in humanitarian and disaster leadership through Wheaton College, part time. Christle previously worked for Mennonite Disaster Service, in Lititz, Pennsylvania, as a public relations and social media coordinator, where she served for four years.
As a person who experiences several physical “disabilities” daily, Mennonite Church USA’s Accessibility Resolution is exciting and encouraging for me, especially as a newer Executive Board staff member. The resolution itself and the fact that is being considered, with seemingly a lot of support, signals to me that we are ready to move into a new level of recognition when it comes to loving everyone and including all in the kingdom of God. It makes me feel that I am right where I need to be.
I have been part of the Mennonite church since birth and, for the most part, have had an entirely positive experience being part of the church while experiencing physical “disability.” For the most part, the community that I am part of has been warm, welcoming and inclusive.
When I have spoken in congregations, organizers have ensured that I have had extra time to get to the podium, so that I do not have to experience the slightly excruciating and sometimes embarrassing — emotionally and sometimes physically — walk up the isle and, then, the long walk up the stairs to reach the stage. When I have sung with churches’ musical groups, worship leaders have ensured that I have somewhere to sit, in case I get tired of standing.
Therefore, it is not the need for physical accessibility that I would like to call attention to but rather the “language” part of the resolution. I am referring to the language that we use when we discuss persons who experience a “disability.”
You see, I am a firm believer that the words and the language that we use when we talk to or about others has an impact on their lives, intentional or not, invisible or not.
“Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful.” (1 Corinthians 12:7-8, MSG).
Sometimes, the things we say out of simple curiosity or that we intend to be an encouraging comment are not actually received as such. We may or may not be unintentionally, or intentionally — though I do hope not! — negatively impacting the person’s view or experience of themself.
So, what are we to do about this?! It all starts with a little self-awareness and self-reflection. Start with active listening! Fight your brain’s urge to fill in assumptions about someone just because they happen to be sporting a prosthetic leg! That is only part of her story and testimony. Educate yourself first, and then, ask questions later! Be aware of what you say and HOW you say it! Anabaptist Disabilities Network is a great place to start, by the way.
You will soon come to understand that what persons with “disabilities” want most in life is to be accepted as they are. They are already excepted fully by Jesus Christ. Now, they yearn for your full acceptance, as believers in Christ. That is the greatest act of love and service to the persons in your life who experience these challenges every day. They desire to truly been seen, heard, known and fully loved by those that they hold dearest in their lives and, many times, by their own congregations. “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Psalm 139:14, ESV).
Welcoming EveryBODY: Learn, Pray, Join celebrates the many gifts that people with disabilities bring to our church communities. This initiative also calls us to repent as a church in the ways we have not fully seen or welcomed people with disabilities. May we commit to being more loving and aware as we care for one another.
This initiative is a partnership between Mennonite Church USA and Anabaptist Disabilities Network (ADN).
Find upcoming webinars and ways to get involved at https://www.mennoniteusa.org/ministry/peacebuilding/learn-pray-join/welcoming-everybody/.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.