Beloved Everybody Church started meeting in October 2017 as a community committed to welcoming the full participation and leadership of people with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities, collaborating and worshiping together. It was important to us to include shared leadership across abilities as essential for our church, because too often people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are considered objects of ministry rather than co-laborers in the work of the gospel. We recognize each person as an essential member of the body of Christ who is a gift in themselves, has God-given gifts to share with others, and whose presence makes every community more complete. We all need each other.
…too often people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are considered objects of ministry rather than co-laborers in the work of the gospel.
For a number of folks with intellectual and developmental disabilities, worship gatherings that are more passive, and emphasize lots of words, listening, and abstract theological concepts can be inaccessible. For some, these kinds of practices don’t allow for real engagement, mutual sharing of gifts, or discipleship. So at Beloved Everybody Church we continue to find ways to gather and worship that create space for all of our members – both with and without disabilities – to engage God and one another in ways that are accessible to them, and to be transformed in the process. Our gatherings tend to be highly interactive, relational, participatory, multi-sensory, and embodied. For example, we’re likely to embody a scripture text either by assigning roles for characters to dramatize a narrative or to create movements that correspond to what’s happening in a non-narrative text. I don’t think any of us will soon forget Jesus blowing on us (as his disciples) after his resurrection, or the movement in Psalm 23 from fearfully huddling as we went through “the valley of the shadow of death” to sitting up tall as we declared that we would “fear no evil, for you are with me.”
We all need each other.
We are a community that intentionally welcomes people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (and other types of disabilities), because without this intentionality our practices and spaces would almost certainly not be truly accessible. But even though this is a stated focus, the space we have created has proven to be a place where others – who may have not even thought much about disability before – are finding deep welcome and encountering God. A number of people who have not been to church in years have found their way to our gatherings, and found there a nourishing space where they can belong, and have a experience of God in the midst of community. We are not perfect, but by God’s grace we continue to grow to embody our name, as we recognize that everybody is beloved and to strive to treat them that way.
Blog post by Bethany McKinney Fox, MDiv, PhD.
Bethany also has a book coming out in May 2019 titled, Disability and the Way of Jesus: Holistic Healing in the Gospels and the Church.