Creating Communities of Wholeness & Healing in the Way of Jesus
This was originally posted on the blog for Shepherd Heart Ministry Consulting found here.
At Beloved Everybody Church, a church I pastor that we started in October 2017, we welcome the full participation and leadership of all of our members, with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities, collaborating and worshiping together. Too often people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are considered objects of ministry rather than co-laborers in the work of the gospel. We recognize each person as an essential member of the body of Christ who is a gift in themselves, has God-given gifts to share with others, and whose presence makes every community more complete. We all need each other.
We also seek to be a community of healing, as we all journey toward wholeness. “Healing” is one of those concepts that can be pretty malleable depending on context. It can describe all kinds of positive transformation a person or community may experience – emotionally, spiritually, socially, physically, and in all kinds of ways; and often in more than one way at the same time. But for some reason, when we bring the conversation around to Jesus and people with disabilities – a group of folks he interacted with frequently in the Gospels – we tend to think only about bodies and curing. But healing bodies is only one piece of what Jesus was doing in his work of healing. The fact that Jesus did bring transformation within people’s bodies does call us likewise to pay attention to how people experience God and healing in their embodied selves, but the focus cannot end there.
For a number of folks with intellectual and developmental disabilities, worship gatherings that are more passive, and emphasize lots of words, listening, and abstract theological concepts can be inaccessible. For some, these kinds of practices don’t allow for real engagement, mutual sharing of gifts, or discipleship. So at Beloved Everybody Church we continue to find ways to gather and worship that create space for all of our members – both with and without disabilities – to engage God and one another in ways that are accessible to them, and to be transformed in the process. Our gatherings tend to be highly interactive, relational, participatory, multi-sensory, and embodied. This way of creating gatherings to connect on multiple levels and to be accessible is another way of healing in the way of Jesus – it opens up space for social and relational healing, allows friendships to be formed and gifts to be shared across abilities, and it communicates to everyone that we are all loved, welcomed, and gifted. This happened when Jesus healed as well.
Even though this welcoming people with and without intellectual disabilities is a key focus of our community, the inclusive space we have created has proven to be a place where others – who may have not even thought much about disability before – are also finding deep welcome and encountering God. This is no coincidence. A number of people who have not been to church in years (or ever) have found their way to our gatherings, and encountered there a nourishing space where they can belong, and have a experience of God in the midst of community. We are not perfect, but by God’s grace we continue to grow to embody our name, as we recognize that everybody is beloved and strive to treat them that way.