My name is Amie Spriensma, and I have cerebral palsy. I currently work from my home in Allendale, Mich., as an online chaplain for Family Fire (part of Back to God Ministries International).
As a person with a physical disability, I am happy I can work from home right now during the COVID-19 pandemic. I miss the face-to-face interactions that chaplaincy usually provides, but I do not miss struggling with transportation or wearing personal protective equipment, which would otherwise be necessary components of my ministry life.
Working from home via my computer is safe, convenient, and often global. Using Facebook as a social media platform, I am able to connect with people in other cities, states, and countries. I can empathetically respond to prayer requests, minister to hurting people, and suggest helpful resources without leaving my home.
My experiences remind me that the intersection of faith and technology is a mixed bag for people with disabilities. No two disabilities are exactly alike, and no two people with disabilities are exactly alike.
My friend who lives in a group home and has been quarantined there is desperately missing social interaction with his friends from church. Going to church and participating in church activities is a major part of his social life. When activities are not allowed to take place and indoor visits to his group home are banned, he struggles to remain encouraged and hopeful.
Another friend lives with spina bifida and anxiety. She is glad that she can worship from home on any given weekend, and she urges churches not to give up their virtual platforms anytime soon. She appreciates worshiping in her living room without the threat of crowded spaces, loud music, and multi-sensory overload. She can breathe freely and not worry about becoming overwhelmed.
As for me, I like to connect with clients and friends online, but I also miss the power and presence of physical touch. Online relationships do not allow me to fully experience a friend’s hug or their supportive hand on my shoulder while we chat. I confess to missing church fellowship meals when I worship online. It’s hard to virtually enjoy a taco salad or an extra piece of blueberry dessert. Hearing someone laugh with you on Zoom is nice, but it can’t really compare to a moment of shared laughter when two people are standing nose-to-nose. Singing with others in a virtual meeting is nice, but it doesn’t really compare to raising hands together in the same assembly.
As we continue to move through stages of recovery from COVID-19, I would like to encourage churches and ministries to keep their virtual platforms for individuals who need them even as they also encourage people to maintain face-to-face and elbow-to-elbow relationships in ways that are safe, accessible, and possible. Disability Concerns maintains a library of resources for ministering with people experiencing physical and mental health challenges in the face of COVID-19 that might be of use to you.
The Christian church has ministered to people from many different walks of life for centuries. We must not allow fear or discouragement to keep us from doing what we can in days yet to come.