Saturday, September 1, 2012

Including Those Who May Be Difficult to Include

On the question of being inclusive, often the answer is intuitive. Of course we should be inclusive. And of course we are--we are Christian, we love everyone. We say this quickly, I think, because we fail to have a broad imagination about what kinds of diversity are possible.

Being truly inclusive is not out of the goodness of your generous heart allowing someone who is different from you in your presence so long as they are willing to continue doing things your way. Rather it means entering into community with people who may be different in many ways, and may also have different ways of engaging in community, and different ideas about how to do things.

Today I met with Jeanie Mason from the ARC of Atlantic County, which serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Jeanie is working to organize places of worship that will work with the ARC to provide an option for individuals living in a group home or on their own. The trick is, they don't need a place where people will "put up with them" or even a place that will "take pity on them" or even "minister to them." They will need congregations that are willing to incorporate them into the entire life of the church. To engage them as beloved creatures of God.

In this particular case, true inclusion requires a delicate balance. It requires the grace of God. On the one hand people with disabilities need to be treated like anyone else. They are not a target for ministry, but people with whom relationships are to be had. But just as a family with a person of unique needs requires unique care and provisions. That might mean a person from the church picking people up from their homes to bring them to church. It could also allowing for less predictable moments during worship, or otherwise helping in ways we don't normally help one another. And yet all the while doing so with love, and with the mindset that this is not a job, or even a ministry, so much as it is living in the way Jesus called us to live.

I suspect this is something our church can handle. I honestly believe we are strong in the area of providing an inclusive environment, and I think we would learn new depths of love and grace along the way. So I am asking you to consider this possibility. In what way might God call you to serve in a ministry like this in the future?

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