Our friend, Michael Sherriff from Parkside Community Church (Westwood, New Jersey) saw a need within his church to welcome and include people with disabilities in their congregation. Last February, he applied for and received our free G.L.U.E. (Giving, Loving, Understanding and Encouraging) Training Manual and DVD and soon set out to organize an inclusion training day for volunteer members of his church. Michael shared with us some of the immediate and long-term changes Parkside Community Church made to welcome people with all levels of ability.
One immediate change was to invite everyone to read Scripture during church services. Our participation in reading Scripture during worship has been embraced with more enthusiasm than I ever expected. I’m not sure our pastor even planned on receiving such a large response. Parkside Community Church is a relatively small congregation with Sunday attendance averaging between 30 – 50 people. The list of participants just started their second round of reading about 2 months ago. In the planning stage, my pastor mentioned that anyone 13 years old or older who could read could sign up to read during worship. I disagreed as that was not the intention; anyone from infancy or older should be able to read during the service if they are led to participate. I promised to assist anyone in whatever capacity was needed to allow each person the chance to read Scripture during service.
Scripture doesn’t need to be spoken perfectly for us to hear, because really, what we are hearing is not what Jesus hears. What matters more is what we are sincerely offering to Jesus from the heart. The Scripture text is emailed or handed out a week in advance. It is also printed in large print and left on the lectern where the reading takes place. This proactive approach has yielded positive results by helping participants prepare prior to their opportunity to read scripture. On the other hand, there are some folks in the congregation who still struggle with the idea of reading scripture due to their anxiety and fear. I am praying with time we can encourage and work with them to get involved because the barriers of exclusion are constantly being broken down.
Another way we have met people’s unique needs is by switching over to a large print bulletin (as opposed to our folded 8½ x 11 bulletin). This larger bulletin has a larger font size, making it easier for everyone to read. We did not want to single any person out by offering some a large print, while others received regular bulletins. As a result, everyone at a Sunday service receives this new bulletin.
In addition to the announcements listed in the bulletin, we now also display them on the screen at the end of service while Pastor Rodney shares them with the congregation. People are less likely to get distracted by this visual reinforcement. We hope this will be helpful for persons with invisible disabilities such as ADHD.
We also wanted to express God’s love to the greater Westwood community. Pastor Rodney approached me about a local recreation program for children with different levels of abilities. We decided to partner with this community program by providing scholarships so families who lacked the funds could participate. Pastor Rodney said he was truly blessed when he showed up at the recreational meeting and presented the check for the scholarships.
Since presenting the G.L.U.E. training, I have seen a desire from both the church leadership and the congregation to become more inclusive. I have seen a majority of the congregation experience a transformation in their own attitudes. The result is a desire for more training and people willing to embrace the G.L.U.E. model of Giving, Loving, Understanding and Encouraging.
For me, the best outcome from the G.L.U.E. training was it started a necessary conversation. I feel most people believe it will be expensive to embrace inclusion. But, we have been able to implement very low or no cost solutions with positive outcomes to further welcome everyone and become more inclusive as a larger community. The G.L.U.E. materials are presented and supported throughout with strong Biblical principles. In addition, participants learned to recognize how each person is a piece of the larger puzzle and is therefore, crucial in the kingdom of God.
From the G.L.U.E. process, I believe we are better equipped moving forward and asking the right questions:
For example, what does it mean to be accessible, inclusive and mission- driven within our own community? What blessings has the church been missing by not recognizing the principles taught throughout the G.L.U.E. process? Can we welcome and bless more individuals throughout the community by understanding each person’s inherent value in the Kingdom of God? Can the church continue to move forward and eliminate multiple stereotypes and barriers which prevent individuals from worship?
With the CLC Network and their G.L.U.E. training curriculum, I was able to provide answers to these questions in a comprehensive manner. The program is accompanied by a wealth of resources and tools which has helped me to implement the G.L.U.E. process.
Michael Sheriff is the disability concerns regional advocate for the Greater Palisades Classis and local advocate for Parkside Community Church.