Dedicated to helping congregations live out the statement “Everybody belongs, everybody serves,” the Christian Reformed Church’s office of Disability Concerns is now celebrating its 25th anniversary.
Disability Concerns began after Classis Rocky Mountain asked Synod 1978 to appoint a committee to study the church’s ministry to people who have disabilities. The request came after many Christian Reformed families were affected by the 1977 closing of the “Children’s Retreat” at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, Grand Rapids, Mich., a live-in program for children who were severely cognitively impaired.
Synod expanded the mandate of the committee in 1987 to “reflect the church’s concern for persons with all types of disabilities.” In 1982, Disability Concerns was fully established when the CRC hired a paid staff member and the ministry launched its newsletter, now called Breaking Barriers.
Since then Disability Concerns has developed curricula and workshops for churches, initiated support groups for church members with disabilities, and established a network of church and regional “advocates.”
Current director Rev. Mark Stephenson says much has changed in the past 25 years. “There’s been a greater awareness of the importance of ministry for people with disabilities. It’s exciting to me that more than 80 percent of Christian Reformed churches have accessible sanctuaries, large-print bulletins and songbooks, and are looking into educational programs.”
But, he said, there is more work to be done. A lot of people with disabilities still feel they are not welcome in some churches. In fact, 80 percent of people with disabilities do not attend church regularly. “It’s not a matter of churches not wanting to include them,” said Stephenson, “it’s that they don’t know how.”
That’s where Disability Concerns hopes to help—by connecting churches to resources that will teach them how to be more inclusive. “We’re here to foster healthy churches by helping them learn how to include all members, with a special focus on people with disabilities,” said Stephenson.
Stephenson urges individuals and congregations to become active with Disability Concerns by praying for the ministry and for people with disabilities, by reading the Breaking Barriers newsletter, and by developing relationships with disabled people in their own congregations.
“People with disabilities have unique gifts to offer a congregation,” said Stephenson. “When a church opens itself up to all the members, everybody benefits. There’s a giving and receiving.”
For resources and more information, see www.crcdisabilityconcerns.org.