The Church and Disability
Every Sunday morning for most of her life Akilia Moore begged her mom to let her stay home while the rest of the family attended church. Physically disabled and partially deaf, 11-year-old Akilia, who has an able-bodied twin, says she always felt left out and misunderstood whenever she went to church. She could never hear what was going on and many people stared at her and her family as they struggled to get into the building, which didn’t have a ramp or any accommodations for the disabled for years.
Only within the last year, when her mother started taking the family to a different church that had specific programs for the deaf and accommodations for the disabled, has the seventh-grader been excited to attend church.
“Church was never fun for me,”said Akilia.”I never could hear properly and my mom or sister would eventually get annoyed when I had to keep asking what was going on. We started attending another church, Calvary Bible Church or sometimes Grace Gospel, every now and then and I really get excited because they have a special program for the hearing impaired. I feel more welcomed and I am liking church more.”
Many other disabled persons face similar issues as Akilia and her family, and find themselves not wanting to attend church. Local ministers say that this should not be.
Pastor Howard Mills, senior pastor of Baptist Bible Church, one of three churches with specific programs for the disabled, said that it is important to include everyone, able-bodied or not, in the church service.
“The church’s primary duty is to meet the spiritual needs of all people. This is why this church has put a special effort in catering to persons with hearing impairments through a deaf ministry. Like anybody else they need to hear the gospel in their own language which is signing. We should not be excluding them.”
The Deaf Ministry at Baptist Bible has become such a success that there are even special services that program director Rose Rahming says brings the audience and the participants much joy.
“We have had a deaf ministry in place for about the last 17 years and it is thriving,”said Rahming.”We have 40 members who are deaf or hearing impaired in our congregation and about 28 adults will come and about six kids will attend the Sunday School.
“We have several persons who are qualified to interpret the service to the hearing impaired and we constantly try to train more as time goes on. We do our best to make our members hearing and those with impairment feel like family. We do a lot to ensure they are comfortable and we even have some that are mentally challenged as well but they even feel at home.
“Baptist Bible is about evangelizing and it is important to be able to reach everyone. We have a deaf choir called’Hands of Praise’that performs at different events in society and we have special events especially for them as well. It is just important to embrace everyone. At the same time while we are helping and welcoming them we are showing our kids and the un-impaired congregation how to be sensitive to the needs of others so that when we go out into society empathy can overflow there too.”
New Covenant Baptist Church’s senior pasto,r Bishop Simeon Hall, says that although his church does not have a special ministry that caters to the deaf or the disabled, the church still does what it can to be sensitive.
“A person having disabilities does not make them any less of a human being,”said Hall.”It does not diminish their humanity. So, we who are different need to be aware and sensitive to their differences and needs.
“In our church we have five persons who are wheelchair confined so we have to cater to them. We have special parking spaces and ramps for them so they can easily access the church. Being considerate of them is also being considerate of their family members and what they have to endure to ensure their disabled relative can be included as well. You have to be sensitive to everyone.”
Bishop Hall feels that not too many churches are as sensitive as they should be toward persons with special needs in their congregation. This insensitivity often is to the point where the church doesn’t even have a ramp or special parking for these persons. He feels that this can alienate many persons who want to attend church but may choose not to because of the hassle it takes to do so.
“As Christians and spiritual people we need to be more empathetic to others around us. Sometimes just lending a hand to assist a family who has a disabled relative makes all the difference. As imitators of Jesus who concerned himself with the least, the lost and the left out, we need to do the same,”he said.