Disability Awareness Sunday: Testimony
Westdale Reformed Church, Hamilton, Ontario
We celebrated Disability Awareness Sunday on August 14, 2011, by commissioning our church's disability advocate and seeking to carry a theme of welcome and inclusion throughout the service. On the cover of the bulletin was a graphic of a wheelchair and a cross and Romans 15:12-13 from The Message: "Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, ‘How can I help?'...So reach out and welcome one another to God's glory. Jesus did it; now you do it!"
In the service I as pastor attempted to stress that we need to help each other in our community of faith and outside our community of faith since all of us need assistance and support in one way or the other.
I entered in a wheelchair from the back of the sanctaury down the center aisle. I spoke Psalm 121:1-2 ("My help is in the name of the Lord") and cited statistics about how many people have disabilities or will at some point in their lives. We continued worship as I spoke Habakkuk 3:18-19 ("He enables me to tread on the heights"). For the children's message I interviewed a 6-year-old boy who was born without an arm from the elbow down. I asked him several questions, including: How do you answer children who ask about your arm? Do you still do sports? Does God use you in a special way through this? I had shared these questions with his parents and they were there to encourage him. (Upon reflection, I realized it would have been better if he and I had spoken in his home beforehand; it would have put both of us more at ease.)
We then sang the hymn "When Hands Reach Out" from the RCA Disability Concerns website. Our church Signing Choir used international sign language during this hymn. We then commissioned our disability advocate using the RCA liturgy. The sermon was entitled "You're Welcome?" and was based on Romans 15:1-13. I spoke of hospitality as "being fully attentive to another person." Hospitality, for Christians, is welcoming strangers to worship and in other activities and being attentive to people who live with disabilities (whether physical, mental, acquired through addictions, etc.). Christ has welcomed us in our need and so we welcome others, whatever their limitation, disability, need, sin, etc.).
After the sermon we spoke an affirmation of faith based on Heidelberg Catechism Question and Answer 1 ("that we are not our own") and the RCA Mission and Vision Statement (called to be in mission "to a lost and broken world..."). We concluded: "We pray and work to be as welcoming and attentive to others as Christ is welcoming and attentive to us. Alleluia! Amen!"
All in all, our worship helped raise awareness of our mission to be welcoming to people with disabilities and to all who come through our doors.
Stan Seagren, pastor