The United Methodist Church promises “open doors,” but many people with disabilities and their families perceive barriers to full life in the church. The number one reason why people with disabilities don’t attend church, according to Rhoni Standefer, Director of Church Relations, Knoxville Joni and Friends, “is that they are not made to feel welcome!” It is attitudinal barriers — not architectural barriers — that tend to keep them away. "It's not because they are mean or don't want to (be welcoming). They just don't know how." Families and individuals that live with disability have a deep need to be welcomed and accepted, as well as, a need for practical assistance from their church families. In a world that judges a person’s worth on physical attributes and performance, these families long for a community that will love and embrace their loved one, just as they are, no matter their physical, intellectual, emotional, mental, or behavioral abilities.
In ministering with persons with disabilities and their families, the church is following the example of Christ. One of the major aspects of Jesus' earthly ministry was His interaction with and outreach to people with disabilities. Time and time again, He offered invitations for the deaf, lame, diseased and blind to enter the Kingdom of God by the gift of salvation. Jesus also performed many mighty acts in these people's lives by healing them. We who are Christians should follow Christ's example. Just as He made ministry with people with disabilities a big part of His ministry, so should we!
Statistics also show why Christians should care about disability ministries.
• There are 84,000 people living in the state of Tennessee with disabilities. (This does not include those persons living in institutions.) According to the tn.gov website.
• Statistics show that 90% of people with disabilities do not attend church!
• 85% of all marriages end in divorce once a disability enters the family.
• Depression is 15% to 20% higher among those who are chronically ill or disabled. (NOTE: However, the significance of one's faith has shown to lower the risk of depressive symptoms and aid in better handling a stressful medical event!)
• Various studies report that physical illness or uncontrollable physical pain are major factors in up to 70% of suicides; and more than 50% of these suicidal patients were under 35 years of age.
• One major disability in our area is Autism. Currently, the nationwide statistic is that 1 in every 150 births will become a child with Autism.
Is your church thinking about starting ministries for the disabled? Would you like to talk with professionals who could help lead your church in that direction? On Saturday, November 5th from 9:00am-2:00pm, the Social Concerns Committee of First United Methodist Church Oak Ridge will be hosting a Disability Ministry Conference for pastors and lay leaders, Sunday School teachers, Stephen Ministers, friends and family, caregivers, and anyone with a commitment to finding ways to become more inclusive of those who live with disability. The cost of the conference is $10.00 (lunch included). Childcare will be provided. To register or receive more information call or email Rev. Crystal Smith at 865-483-4357 or firstname.lastname@example.org.