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Churches to address needs of disabled

October 29, 2012
Kylie Saari , Fairmont Sentinel

FAIRMONT - "When you give a banquet, make it your habit to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind." Luke 14:13

Those words from the Bible teach Christians not to exclude people from their ministry because of their differences, and to embrace those with disabilities.

But practical application can be a challenge for some churches when needs can be so varied. How does a church alter curriculum to best suit the needs of intellectually challenged members? How can it best support the families of children with disabilities? How can the church body make it easier for people with disabilities to come to church.

Those are some of the topics the Fairmont Ministerial Association will be addressing Friday, as Joni and Friends, a non-profit organization dedicated to reaching people affected by disability around the world, offers training to church leadership on how to fully integrate people with disabilities.

Tim Dahlin understands the challenges from both sides. As a parent of a teenager with autism, Dahlin knows how it feels to have a child who behaves differently from his peers. As a pastor, he understands what it is like to want to help, but not fully know how.

Dahlin's family attended a Joni and Friends family camp last summer, and learned about the training offered to churches.

He knew it was something Fairmont could benefit from.

"We have the conviction that everyone loses if (disabled) people are not in church," he said. "The body of Christ is dismembered."

Statistically, people with disabilities are underrepresented in churches, largely, Dahlin believes, because it is simply too hard to go to church.

Sometimes it is physical needs not addressed - like elevators. Other times, it is handling disruptions due to overstimulation, unexpected seizures, or verbal outbursts.

It could that assisting those families is a matter of simply being willing to listen to their story and learn what they need from the church.

Dahlin said that is something he sought out from church leadership when he was learning to understand his son's disability, and it led to an understanding of how to best serve the family's needs.

But that isn't always easy for families living with disability.

"We are self-sufficient," he said. "We like to think we can do it ourselves, until we snap. We don't want to come across as complaining, or entitled."

And really, according to Dahlin, church is about disability.

"We are all disabled," he said, "and church is a place of hope and healing. For some it is more obvious, the rest can mask it. But we are all disabled."

The workshop is scheduled 10 a.m. -12 p.m. Friday at the Martin County Library in Fairmont.



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