Does your church ever offer an "Access Sunday"? At certain times of the church year in our lectionary, lessons seem to call to us to focus on those in our midst who have a disability, that may inhibit their ability to "access" many places and opportunities that so many of us take for granted. The Sunday gospel reading for Proper 23, Year C is about Jesus healing the ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19). The United Church of Christ offers these resources for this Sunday. How might we use this time to focus on the gifts and needs of people with disabilities?
Many denominations celebrate an Access Sunday each year on the second Sunday of October. Many preachers are reluctant to abandon the assigned lessons and prayers, so if sermon preparation looked at lessons which have to do with people with disabilities or with disability concerns new conversations might be opened up. For example, we have two stories which feature men who are blind, a story of people with mental illnesses, a leper story in both the Old and New Testaments, and several other stories which feature deafness, lameness, etc.
The Episcopal Disability Network has many Access Sunday resources and suggestions:
- Gather a few interested people together to plan the service. You might want to designate your Worship Commission as that group. Make sure that all your plans are approved by your clergy. If your priest or deacon is unwilling or unable to preach about disability concerns, choose someone else or ask us for the sermons we have on hand.
- Ask persons with disabilities to be among the readers, chalice-bearers, ushers, or others serving in the service.
- Plan an adult educational program about disability concerns, preferably one which involves one of your parishioners with a disability or a guest leader. This would be an excellent day for your children to have the experience of being disabled. A little thought will suggest how this exercise might be structured or we would be happy to assist you.
- Weave prayers for people with disabilities into the prayers of the people or create special prayers. Be sure to think about and include some of the inequities which still exist for these people. For example, in many cities, people with disabilities are placed in nursing homes because there is not enough accessible housing available.
- In some way – perhaps a coffee hour devoted to the people with disabilities in your congregation – celebrate the gifts which these people offer to God. If you have not yet discovered these gifts, this is a good Sunday to do so.
- Remember that the largest group of persons with disabilities is your own group of parishioners over 76. Each of us, if we live long enough, will incur one or more disabilities. Make sure your bulletin and other worship materials are in print large enough to be read by everyone. Make sure that everyone can hear especially if you do not have an adaptive sound system. If there are steps up to the chancel and sanctuary areas, think about having a Communion station on the floor of the nave.
Other ideas and resources: The Beatitudes for Disabilities
Prayer for Disabilities Ministry
O God, we are always surprised by You. In stories of healing by Jesus, we discover other ways in which difference is denied. We feel called to seek clarity about the lives of persons with disability in terms of high unemployment rate, high poverty rate, and high social exclusion. We seek to be in solidarity with people with disabilities although we do not always understand the differences. And yet, we discover community exists between persons with disability and with allies. Jesus created hope by healing. We create hope by welcoming and empowering in the name of Jesus. Amen. (from UCC resources)
Sharon Ely Pearson is a 30+ year Christian formation veteran, currently serving as an editor and the Christian Formation Specialist for Church Publishing Incorporated. Wife, mother, grandmother, and author, she enjoys connecting people with each other and the resources they need for growing in the knowledge and love of Jesus.