'Online worship has fulfilled a long hoped-for dream'
Baptist minister Glen Graham urges churches to continue online services that transform disabled people’s experience of worship
"Two men look out through prison bars: one sees mud, the other stars." The truth is all of our lives are a mixture of mud and stars - even in a year like 2020. For many in church life only mud is in view. This was meant to be the year of 2020 visions and mega evangelistic activities, instead Zoom services are normal and ‘lockdown’ is the most used word of the year. However, for many people with disabilities, stars are breaking through the mud.
Online worship has fulfilled a long hoped for dream. More disabled people have accessed church fully for the first time. Many are using their gifts for the first time and are shaping worship for everyone else. I have the privilege of chairing a network campaign of Christian organisations and churches called Churches for All, and our member organisations have many good news stories to tell about disabled people feeling they belong in church for the first time.
I am a totally blind Baptist minister so have always been at the forefront of church life. Lockdown afforded me the opportunity to put myself in the shoes of those for whom this is a permanent state of affairs. I am aware that lockdown has made many disabled people feel more vulnerable, and I must confess in the early stages I felt that way myself. On reflection though, I found it a liberating experience. We are all on a learning curve and mine, like yours, isn't over.
The dream of Churches for All is encapsulated in the parable of the great feast in Luke 14. This parable is a picture of the kingdom of God in the present. The marginalised are invited to the feast and take centre stage. Finally this dream is starting to become a reality.
So as we navigate this new normal my plea is this: don't rush back to business as usual. Online church isn't the be-all for the future, but a blending of online with ‘in-building’ worship needs to be part of a future normal.
People with disabilities are a significant and diverse people group. We have tasted of the feast and we want to remain at the heart of things. Through its partner organisations Churches for All has the resources and expertise to help to make our churches inviting to people with disabilities, for church to be at the centre of all of our lives. God is doing new things, and Churches for All can help everyone to be involved and make it happen.
“Just as I am, I make my plea.
When lockdown ends, remember me.
My heart’s desire is to serve, you see.
O Church of God, I come.”
Image | Meridith Albert | Creationswap
The Revd Glen Graham is minister of Cullompton Baptist Church and Chair of Churches for All, the UK network of Christian disability-focussed charities.
Glen is a co-leader of the Baptists Together Disability Justice Hub.
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