Holland Heights Christian Reformed Church in Holland, Mich., held a special church service in November to both celebrate the presence of people who have disabilities and learn how the church can better enfold them into the congregation.
The service included a panel discussion with parents of children who have disabilities, adults who struggle with mental illness, and a worker for a person with autism.
“It was so beautiful to see the interest and willingness,” said Lori Slenk, whose 2-year-old daughter Anna has Down syndrome. “People are afraid of the disability and so don’t ask questions.”
Another member, Rachel Bylsma, 16, is profoundly deaf. She has been provided with a signer throughout the years for youth-group meetings, worship services, and Sunday school classes, and plans to assist in teaching a signing class starting this winter.
Sharon Hulst, the church’s ministry coordinator, said congregations can better include people with disabilities by adding, for example, valet parking and large print Bibles, tapping into community resources, and realizing that an “attitude of mercy includes an action.” She spoke candidly about her church’s struggle to incorporate the gifts of every member.
“We aren’t in this alone,” reflected Slenk. She said her family’s journey has changed dramatically, and their awareness of disabilities has grown since having Anna. “It’s opened my eyes,” she said. “Many have disabilities—visible or invisible.”