This post is an attempt to bring out an understanding of Pastoral and Ministerial Considerations towards Person with Disability. Considering the reality the presenters have taken the step to combine the thoughts to make a positive move towards an ‘inclusive community’ for people living with disability in the church and ministry.
Ministry involves huge responsibility. The quality of ministry determines the quality of life, and relationships within a community and with others. The community is often described as the Church.
It is an idea of wholeness, of being together as a living community, helping, caring for one another. Over the years the idea of wholeness has been interpreted as ‘inclusive’ has not been taken into real consideration.
The mission of the Church has been directed so far towards the able-bodied people. In this process, the Church has failed to include ‘disabled people’.
Person with Disability in the Bible
In 2 Samuel 9:7, 13 King David’s act on Mephibosheth’s life is seen as an example of complete restoration of a person with a disability to normal life. There Mephibosheth restored self-esteem and his identity that is the status of a prince.
As like that Jesus Christ gave a special place to them in His ministry because they were oppressed and marginalized in their community. Jesus showed love and compassion for them and was concerned about their physical and spiritual well-being (Matthew. 15:30-31; Mark 2:1-12).
The apostles also followed this tradition (Acts of the Apostles 3:1-12). Consequently, the church finds its true identity by integrates itself with these marginal people, including those who suffer from physical disabilities.
Image of God in Person with Disability
God created all of us in His/Her own image in which there is no discrimination. All are equally important and mutually dependent. When we confess our faith that humanity is made in the image of God it means everyone is made in the image of God.
Each person has to respect the other person’s inherent dignity no matter what his/her race, religion, impairment, or physical challenge might be.
The church cannot claim the image of God without including the contributions of the persons who are disabled.
Jesus recognition of Person with Disability (PWD)
Biblical laws did not allow disabled people to live in the community and it also gave them the feeling of guilt and shame. Leviticus 14 highlights the need for guilt offering for the full cultic status of purity.
Healing a person was not enough to make him/her a fully accepted member of society again until a religious ritual was carried out.
In contrast, Jesus approached them without fear of impurity but with compassion, and made them whole.
Whether the people around him were sick or disabled, but he showed great concern and love for them. Moreover, Jesus recognises them as equal in God’s family.
a) Recognising Person with Disability as members of family
The church is that which happens in the life experiences of the suffering people. The church happens as fellowship, solidarity, love, care, compassion, justice, and restoration in the lives of people who go through the tragic experience of utter God- forsakenness.
As we are all in God’s image, without one the other is incomplete. Coming together in the church is not for relationship breaking but relationship making.
We, the gathered are gathered to love; the called are called to love; the elect is elected to love. Everybody is to be embedded in communion as one family, for “God is love”. This love has to express with pastoral care and concern.
b) Recognising is care giving
The Family of God has to be cared as one flock where the pastor should be the good shepherd, the wounded healer. The pastor as a trained minister should have the basic skills of ministry. His/her well-known task would be:
The pastors’ task is to heal sometimes, remedy often, comfort always. The ministry of comfort is thus constant in pastoral work.
The sustaining ministry is called to live, walk together, and thus enriching one another as each one fulfills life’s task. The caregivers should look at how the PWD can participate in society.
The pastoral guidance should be of ‘educative guiding.’ The educative guiding seeks to dig out the capability and interest of the individual to help using those potentialities.
Reconciling oneself with their condition (denial disturb the person) will also result in reconciling with God and neighbours.
The Pastor has a role to help the PWD to adopt a life-affirming attitude. It also includes the teaching of what the purpose of God for life is what God wants us to be, which often strengthens confident and joyful living.
The role of reinforcing the will to live
The pastor can be effectively helpful in enabling the PWD to cultivate or reinforce the will to live.
c) Recognising Person with Disability as equal
- God does not tolerate conditions that prevent the children of God from being fully human.
- The proclamation of the Gospel must bring hope, joy, and liberation not only to the selected few but also to the marginalized including those who have disabilities.
- The church is an agent of God’s healing for the world in every aspect of a person’s life.
- Church not only to be compassionate people but to empower others who need to help themselves.
- People with disabilities praise and worship God through their limitations using the gifts that are in them.
- A person with disability has a unique gift or gifts to reach and achieve his/her full potential and become a productive member of the family, church, community, and society.
These show that in an inclusive community how we have to accept a PWD as equal.
d) Recognition leads to acceptance
Today our churches neglect to work with the disabilities in our midst in breaking down the walls of injustice that victimize people and cause them untold suffering. Often, the church uses prayer only as a convenient way out for people in misery.
Accepting all as full members of its life and ministry can be understood by Gaventa’s threefold ministry response. The first is our presence – provide companionship, the second is providing guidance – to find their own answers, the third is shepherding – advocacy.
In Pastoral care and concern, acceptance is proved by our attitudes of inclusivism. They are empowerment of the individual, case management, and monitoring and advocacy.
Empowerment of the Person with Disability
Empowerment of the PWD is rediscovering one’s gifts and celebrating the fact that the same gifts can be used to influence one’s web of relationships with the life of community.
It is a process of redirecting the focus and decision – making power from the providers and professionals to the clients themselves.
Monitoring and advocacy
It is all about educating the public to be supportive to PWD to have powerful voice.
Pastoral guidance for social action
The pastor can be a reformer to put forward the needs of the disable people in the church and society. For example Father Cutinha had created awareness on Indian Government’s Education policy published by Rajiv Gandhi in 1985, which did not consider the disable people.
As the result of his effort in the final draft 1986 disable people were included in the education policy. Fought for PWD’s rights is too a ministry of God.
a) Using different gifts
Disable people wants to celebrate his/her God-given gifts in all endeavors of life. Many societies are still not prepared to accord persons with disabilities their full rights as citizens.
In church plans and programs we need to offer them opportunities such as ushers, altar servers, decorators, liturgists, singers, readers, and facilitators. They want to exercise their full potentiality not only for themselves but for others in spite of their limitations.
b) Church is a voice for voiceless
The Church should be a voice of advocacy along with the PWD and it has to promote its relationship with government organizations for disability issues.
Because according to a data of 2012, 87% of disabled people are not aware of the government’s various schemes available to them such as marriage assistance; self-employment loan, Bank stall subsidy, tricycle, wheel chair; hearing aid, crutches, artificial limb, sewing machines, travel concessions, scholarship; training for entrepreneurship, etc. It may reduce their pain one way or another.
c) Eucharistic hospitality in community
Hospitality is a major theme in the Bible. Jesus’ mere presence created hospitality for the tax collectors and other socially unaccepted people. The invitation to God’s great banquet is another example.
The early church practiced the fellowship of the ‘community hospitality’ as recorded in the 2nd chapter of Acts. They had a sense of the community. Today we have lost the sense of community and solidarity.
The tragedy of the church is that the gate keepers of our faith always try to deny disabled people to enjoy this hospitality spread over the Table. Today’s Churches are inaccessible to the disabled. Some congregations are inhospitable and insensitive.
There are no ramps, no seating arrangements for wheelchair users. There are no special arrangements for the visually disable or the hearing disable. Any inclusive community has to have a hospitable mind.
The Grace Episcopal church former Bishop has termed a new phrase for Eucharistic Hospitality as ‘Open Commensality.’ It means not only to practice but to celebrate Christ’s radical inclusivity.
Integration means recognising differences
We have a notion that disabled people are more dependent than non-disabled people. The truth is that the able persons are also dependent, using a remote control to change the channels in the TV; a motor car with electric windows, etc (now accepted as standard) are derided as a symbol of dependency.
But the real integration of disabled people can be achieved only on the basis of full recognition and celebration of their differences. How can disabled people express and celebrate their differentness? – by coming together in groups, by forming a movement, by developing their own culture. The celebration of difference is the celebration of humanity, of being members of the human family.
“Living into the Body of Christ: Toward full inclusion of people with disabilities” is the title of one of the Pastoral General Assembly held at Birmingham, which proposes:
- The church as the body of Christ is called to translate the vision and mission of Christ into action.
- Disabled people must be given priority and not just sympathy.
- It is the duty of every citizen to empathize with the disability and they must be given due recognition, respect, and rights in society.
- Meaningful rehabilitation must be planned for them.
- Every child and adult, those with disabilities and without disabilities alike, will bring specific and special gifts and talents to the church, etc.
Suggestions for Pastoral consideration
a) Educate the Pastors and Church Leaders to build PWD friendly church.
b) Educate the Church Members to take care of the persons with disabilities and make friend with the PWD.
c) Provide Skills and Arts training for the PWD.
d) Support PWD to go for higher education, so that they will have equal chance to become professionals or leaders of the world.
The World Council of Churches’ wing Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network (EDAN) says that, when we think of the church as a community of God’s people as well as a called out people gathered for the mission, we cannot think of such a community of God excluding persons with disability.
God is the creator of persons with abilities and also persons with disabilities. All are equally meant to live, but this understanding took the other way round, where the PWD had to suffer.
God so loves the people, it does not matter what their physical or intellectual abilities are. God loves them as they are and sent His Son Jesus Christ to be their Saviour.
In spite of a person’s ability, appearance, behaviour, we should allow God’s love to flow through us to them and from them to us.
Pastoral care as discussed, there are lots to be done and also if the persons who are of many experiences can make a better chance than the counsellor who is not with disabilities, their experience will be a challenge for all.
In the context of India PWD is in large number, so if ways are paved then much of the problems faced to understand the PWD can be solved.
Balasundram, Pramila. “Reconstructing the Structure of Faith: A Disability Perspective” in Embracing the Inclusive Community: A Disability Perspective. A. Wati Longchar and R. Christopher Rajkumar, eds., Bangalore: BTESSC, 2010, 53-64.
Coleridge, Peter. Disability, Liberation and Development. Ireland: Oxfam,1993.
Durai, A. Arumai. “The Church and the otherwise-abled: A Historical Overview” in Embracing the Inclusive Community: A Disability Perspective. A. Wati Longchar and R. Christopher Rajkumar, eds., Bangalore: BTESSC, 2010, 17-33.
Hung, Wong Hin “Jesus and Disabled People: A Church Response to Disability,” in Doing Theology from Disability Perspective. Wati Longchar and Gordon Cowans, eds., Manila: ATESEA, 2007, 239-247.
Kabue, Samuel “Church and Society’s Response to Disability: Historical and Sociological Perspective,” in Doing Theology from Disability Perspective. Wati Longchar and Gordon Cowans, eds., Manila: ATESEA, 2007, 141-157.
Marama,Tauira. “A Ministry towards Disability,” in Doing Theology from Disability Perspective. Wati Longchar and Gordon Cowans, eds., Manila: ATESEA, 2007, 295-303.
Murry, Ezamo. “The Role of Pastors in Caring for Persons with Disability” in Embracing the Inclusive Community: A Disability Perspective. A. Wati Longchar and R. Christopher Rajkumar, eds., Bangalore: BTESSC, 2010, 102-113.
Pruyser, Paul W. The Minister as Diagnostician. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976.
Sahu, D. K. “People with Disability: From Hostility to Hospitality” in Embracing the Inclusive Community: A Disability Perspective. A. Wati Longchar and R. Christopher Rajkumar, eds., Bangalore: BTESSC, 2010, 88-101.
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Journals and Periodicals
Kurian, Jerry. “The Church, Human Sexuality and challenging the unchanged: Why the church needs to change in light of the Delhi Gang Rape?.” in Gurukul Journal of Theological Studies 23/2 (June, 2012): 66-71.
Rathakrishnan, L. and P. Balasubramani. “Inclusive Development Of Differently Abled Entrepreneurs in Tamil Nadu.” Vikas Vani Journal 7/1 (January- March, 2013): 23-33 .
Vivian, Tim. “Vindicated by her Deeds: A Preferential option for the Dispossessed.” The Anglican Theological Review 95/2 (2013): 312-322.
Zachariah, George. “Church without Walls: Church Happening in the street.” Masihi Sevak 38/3 (April, 2013): 18-24.