As someone with a physical disability who’s been in the church since college, I never thought I’d join an all-abilities church—one where, no matter one’s disability, every person is included fully.
In Holland, Mich., that’s the Church of Benjamin’s Hope.
Until two years ago I was doing mental gymnastics. I was haughty; I placed myself above people with intellectual disabilities and emotional disabilities. Until recently I thought of Ben’s Hope as for people whose outbursts are considered disruptive in other churches. I now understand those outbursts differently. I’ve grown to appreciate and understand and relish how my fellow congregants praise God, audibly and in physical activity, and I have heard God’s voice in the men and women there.
My heart breaks for each one of them who couldn’t find a place in any other church. I have had a taste of what they must go through.
For many years, I’ve tried to fit into other congregations, looking to serve as well as be served. I have cerebral palsy, which affects my movement and speech. That hasn’t been a barrier to me having a part-time job teaching and being involved in Toastmasters International. But recently, in a typical congregation, my speech became a barrier. Some people find my speech difficult to understand. I was no longer allowed to read Scripture or lead prayer in front of the congregation. This was a big letdown because in so many ways I have to be a taker because of the care I need to live. Every Christian is called to give of their talents, and mine are my writing, my teaching, and my voice.
I have found solace at Ben’s Hope, a place where my speech is never an issue and I’m free to be me—disability and all! The fight is over. I have found my home. I wish the same for every person with a disability, whether in a mainstream church or an all-abilities one. It’s a shame that for someone with a disability finding a church congregation is this hard. Jesus said, “Let the children come to me!” (Mark 10:14, CEV). If the church doesn’t start accepting people with disabilities or founding more all-abilities congregations, we are lacking in our mission. This is why I’m excited that in October City Hope, another all-abilities congregation associated with the Christian Reformed Church, opened in Grand Rapids, Mich. All are welcome, all are served, and all serve.