By Pamela McCort*
According to national statistics, one in five people in the United States has some type of disability. Why, then, are there so few people with disabilities actively a part of a faith community?
We began examining that question after being given an opportunity to partner with an organization that advocates on behalf of people with intellectual and physical disabilities.
In the summer of 2017, The Arc of Ohio contacted Thoburn United Methodist Church (Ohio Valley District) to see if the church would be a Belmont County host site for monthly family-support group meetings. This would be an opportunity to be in ministry to, and with, a segment of our local population that has been largely ignored and neglected. We agreed, and The Arc meetings are now held at Thoburn at 6:00 p.m. on the first Friday of the month.
This partnership with The Arc opened the door for us to learn more about inclusiveness and why so few people with disabilities attend church. What we learned is that, in many cases, they do not feel welcomed. That is why we invited Rev. Dr. Beverly Hall, chair of the East Ohio Conference DisAbilities Awareness Team to Thoburn in November. She led several members of our congregation in a Saturday morning workshop where she presented ideas and ways for us to become more inclusive and welcoming.
We are all children of God and people with disabilities also have spiritual needs. While a lack of ramps or assistive listening devices are barriers to worship, the biggest barrier to becoming involved in a faith community is a lack of understanding and acceptance. We want to remedy that.
In the coming months, we will begin preparing ourselves, and our church facility, to be even more hospitable and accommodating to our friends and neighbors with disabilities. We are excited about the possibilities as we look for ways to share the love of Jesus Christ with people of all abilities!
*Pamela McCort is a member of Thoburn UMC and is Communications Coordinator for the Belmont-Harrison-Noble County Boards of Developmental Disabilities Alliance.
Chair, DisAbility Awareness Committee
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