By Douglas L. Siebenaler
Cathy and her husband with three children moved into the Little Flower Church Community 59 years ago. At first, they attended worship services in an old, original church building. After a few weeks, the church was moved into the auditorium to accommodate a growing neighborhood community and the creation of a church school. Cathy’s family grew as God blessed them with four more sons. Two of their sons were born with cognitive disabilities and were not able to attend the church’s school. Yet, the Little Flower Church Community embraced them.
Cathy’s own journey took her to interaction with others who were striving to bring equality to people with disabilities and to a regional leadership position to serve in many areas including religious education, a task force on Equal Access Ministry, the Human Rights Commission, a seat on a national board for people with disabilities, and finally the establishment of a vibrant, regional Equal Access Ministry. Cathy was a seed planter in welcoming all people.
In early years, she entered the struggle with church communities to become physically accessible, plus to encourage the acceptance of all of God’s people no matter what shape they were in. Cathy helped her church community to have the door opened wide with constant improvements of an altar ramp, pew indentations and spaces for walkers and wheelchairs, excellent lighting and sound systems that benefit everyone. More importantly, now in her Little Flower Church Community, all people, with and without disabilities serve as greeters, choir members, lectors, ushers, and servers—with all people being accepted as alive and growing in faith together and all people being welcome.
Isaiah 56:7 calls us to welcome all people into our faith communities: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” The community of faith includes people with and without developmental disabilities (DD).
People with DD can be valuable employees, caring friends and contributing members of our community. They ‘can do, just like you.’ They can be included in the life of your church or synagogue in many ways:
- You can encourage people with DD to participate in activities in your faith community;
- You can welcome all people to worship services;
- You can invite all people to faith study groups or recreational activities;
- You can visit a ‘community home for people with DD’ in your neighborhood;
- You can teach your children to accept and value all people with or without DD.
God has given each one of us life. We can serve all people. We can welcome all people. Just like all of us, we can accept all people.