The Hardest Place to Go
This past Wednesday we were delighted to welcome Dana Tarter to share with us as part of our Accessibility Servant Team’s three week program to begin the conversation on how we as a congregation can be more welcoming to those with disabilities. Dana is a teacher at the Georgia School for the Deaf, and she herself is both deaf and blind.
Dana and her friend and translator Rebecca Cowen-Story, were both brilliant and offered us moving testimonies on their experiences of being a person with disabilities, in Dana’s case, and working with those with disabilities. But I’m especially haunted by Dana’s opening words for us.
She said, for a person with disabilities, “Church is the hardest place to go.”
Church campuses are often difficult to navigate for people with disabilities, as we know well here at the Top of Poplar. But more than being hard to physically move within, Dana described how its often hard for people with disabilities to feel included in the work and witness of the church.
Few churches offer ways for those with disabilities to participate in worship, bible study, or many of the other programs offered. The sum total of this lack of preparation communicates a sense of those with disabilities are not fully welcome and valued as a part of the body of Christ.
Rebecca challenged us with the story from the Gospel of Luke where the friends of a man who could not walk were able to work around the inaccessible house where Jesus was teaching, finding a way to lower their friend through the roof—going to great lengths to allow him to be among the community gathered in the presence of Jesus.
Isn’t this the model? she asked us. Isn’t this what we’re called to do?
But Dana’s remark about church being “the hardest place to go” also has me thinking about all the many other people for whom this is may be true.
In our worship this past Sunday and Global Women’s meeting that followed, we lifted up survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault and asked how we as church can be a place of support and healing. But we did this mindful that church is often not these things. While statistics show that 1 in 4 women in our country will suffer some form of violence by an intimate partner in their life, this is a topic we scarcely talk about in church. Worse, many churches often provide a structure and theology that perpetuates domestic violence instead of working against it. At the very least, churches often participate in and uphold power structures that are male dominant, creating a context for violence toward women to take place. For a survivor, church is often a very hard place to go.
In both of these conversations and others we’ve had as a church in recent years, we are learning the depth of what it means when Jesus says the emerging kin-dom of God we claim is alive and moving in the church will be defined by our willingness to offer generous welcome, especially to the most vulnerable among us. And like all the very best things we know—love, forgiveness, mercy, compassion—the further you go into welcoming others, the greater depths are revealed. Depth of pain and hurt—to be sure. But also, we pray, depth of truth and depth of blessing.