I was talking to the parent of a child who is diagnosed as on the autistic spectrum a few weeks ago. I asked her what her hopes and dreams were for him. One of the things she highlighted was “being given the opportunity to serve”. This particular little boy is very intelligent, has an amazing understanding of theology, and can explain it. And in a way that probably only he and God can understand, he has a real faith.
It does seem that in our churches, children are rarely given the opportunity to serve their church families – but for those who have a disability or additional need, the chance to serve is even rarer.
The mum I was talking to said that she would love to see her little boy’s Sunday teachers give him the opportunity to give out the biscuits, pour the squash, put away the chairs. Yes, he would need a little help, but it would do his self esteem a lot of good.
Another parent I spoke to was the mum of a teenager, also diagnosed as on the autistic spectrum. She thought a little differently. He was struggling to maintain his faith journey. He had a good understanding of his Bible, but needed fellowship. It was a much longer conversation, but it ended up with me suggesting he would be able to not only attend a bible study designed for those with his special needs, but he was more than capable of leading it himself. This idea was obviously a step too far for his mum. But why?
Who decides who can serve in our church families? I myself have a disability, and will rarely say how things are for me. This is because I know there will be someone who will wrongly assume that I am unable to continue my ministry because of it. This is obviously NOT the case. The only thing that sometimes stands in my way are issues of physical access.
Churches are doing better when it comes to ramps, accessible toilets, and lifts. But another ‘step’ to accessibility could be giving both children and grown ups who have disabilities or additional needs the chance to serve. Yes it’s scary, but it will also be a blessing.