This blog post is part of Mennonite Church USA’s Welcoming EveryBODY: Learn, Pray, Join initiative.
Jeanne Davies is the Executive Director of Anabaptist Disabilities Network. She is ordained in the Church of the Brethren, has a Master of Divinity from Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Indiana, a graduate certificate in homiletic peer coaching from Vanderbilt Divinity School and a graduate certificate in disability and ministry from Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. Jeanne has a passion for disability advocacy and inclusion, and she believes that the whole church benefits when all the members of the body are actively connected. She lives in West Dundee, Illinois, with her husband, Joel.
A friend of mine, Mary, was volunteering in the church kitchen. Mary moves more slowly these days because of an age-related disability. As they were working, one of the other women in the kitchen suggested that she leave. She said they could all move faster without her. Mary did leave and has not volunteered at her church for anything since. She is a very intelligent, professional, kind and generous woman. Withdrawing her gifts from the congregation she has attended for many years is not only Mary’s loss. It is an even more profound loss for the church.
We live in a culture that values efficiency and productivity. People who don’t move or think quickly are discounted. This includes people with disabilities. But Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 (NRSV), “[T]here are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
Paul was especially concerned about including people who were marginalized in the body of Christ, not just for their own sake, but for the sake of all.
Paul speaks of these discounted members of the body, saying, “[T]he members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this” (1 Corinthians 12:22-24, NRSV). I think Paul is saying this because the church especially needs the gifts and wisdom of people on the margins, people to whom we do not ordinarily listen. We already know what the people who have the most power think. We need to attend to the quiet word from those who have been unheard in order to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15, NRSV).
John Swinton, a prominent disability theologian wrote, “In the 1960s, a Japanese theologian, Kosuke Koyama, wrote a book, Three Mile an Hour God. He noticed that the average speed that human beings walk at is three miles per hour. Jesus, who is God, walked at three miles per hour. God, who is love, walks at three miles per hour. Love has a speed, Koyama says, and that speed is slow. That speed is gentle. That speed is tender.” If we want to follow Jesus, Swinton argues, we all need to slow down and take the time to create relationships with one another. Being disabled often slows us down. And becoming friends with one another takes time. Love takes time.
How might we slow down and take the time to create communities where everybody belongs, including people with disabilities? Creating accessible church buildings is an important first step, but it is belonging that creates a church community. Belonging means that people would miss you if you were gone. Belonging means that you have friends. Belonging means that your gifts are seen, appreciated, and employed. And when everybody belongs, we more fully realize the body of Christ in this world.
 This name has been changed for privacy purposes.
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.