Friday, January 11, 2019

Is Our Church Broken?

In recent weeks and months I have read many articles and Tweets about the importance of church as a physical entity and whilst agreeing with the sentiment I have been left simply feeling sad and maybe even a little hurt.

I've been working and living in the disabled world for quite some time now. Way back in 1995 when I read the first Part of the Disability Discrimination Act I was hugely encouraged and felt we might be on the verge a huge cultural change, change that I felt sure would sweep not just through wider society but through the church too. In fact it was my hope and prayer at that time that the church would become the shining example of best practise that I could point to when talking to other organisations. 

The sentence from DDA that I found most inspiring at the time was that "we should aim to remove all barriers to access, be they physical or intellectual".

It feels to me now all these years on that what happened was the church to a large extent regarded these changes in law as "project fear" rather than a golden opportunity to embrace the disabled community in ways they had never done before. 

I often compare the situation to the one the church faced over child protection. We need to get real and be completely honest here, child protection did not become the focus that it is now out of an act of compassion, good conscience and concern. The church's first reaction was to try and burry the issue. It was only through high profile legal action that we began to take it seriously. 

Disabled people who have had issues attending church are very reluctant to make a fuss let alone take legal action and it is this very reticence which has led to them being largely ignored. 

Let's go back to that phrase "removal obstacles be they physical or intellectual". I have to admit that many churches have done much to improve physical access but what about those intellectual barriers? 

Many of us cling so tightly to tradition over liturgy and forms of worship that in themselves exclude people by their use of complex language. 

Often we will offer alternative services for those with special needs. Let me be clear, this is NOT that version of church that I talked about at the beginning of this article. Those people who insist online church is not a corporate experience have to see that alternative "special needs" services are also not corporate services. 

Until we the church are ready, willing and able to provide truly physically and intellectually experiences of church we can not then condemn those forced in to trying to have an online experience of church when our physical churches have failed them so badly.

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