We at Hebron also began to learn how as a church we need to be prepared to accommodate disabilities. For Jason for example, our church's wheelchair lift is incredibly important. The lift at Hebron was installed about 10 years ago, and completely refused to work at all one Sunday when Jason was at church. Hebronites received a dose of reality that day—Someone who wanted to join us for worship couldn’t because our equipment wasn’t functional. It was a first for the congregation. someone who wanted to join us for worship couldn't because our equipment wasn't functional. It was a first for the congregation. Jason was gracious about the situation and continued to attend in spite of this experience. We’ve since had the lift fixed and now know to continually monitor it.
Jason began attending Hebron when we needed team members on our Mission & Outreach Team. He had been active in the United Methodist congregation he had attended before moving to Hagerstown. He was an acolyte and choir member and recorded the worship service. So Jason was looking for ways to connect with Hebron and volunteered to help out however he could—particularly in assisting the Mission & Outreach Team director. Jason leads worship and is also one of the storytellers during children’s worship. He has sung for us a number of times.
Jason introduced me to “disAbility Awareness Sunday” when he asked if we had one. I replied that we didn’t, but… that we could have one! As we continued to talk about possibilities, Jason explained his usage of the term “disAbility Awareness Sunday.” He pointed out how the change of letter case can lead to a different way of thinking about the word “disability.”
We all have abilities and disabilities. No one is able to do everything on their own. When we choose to capitalize the A in “disAbility,” it can be a sign that we choose to focus on and be defined by what we’re able to do rather than what we can’t do.
When we choose to capitalize the A in “disAbility,” it can be a sign that we choose to focus on and be defined by what we’re able to do rather than what we can’t do. Jason encouraged us to make this language the practice at Hebron.
So Jason and I have worked together in thinking about and planning for a disAbility Awareness Sunday worship service at Hebron in the fall of each of the last three years.
Each year has included a special theme. In 2013, Milt Stoltzfus came from Ephrata, PA, to talk about his experiences of working with people who have disAbilities (Milt has been a board member of ADN since 2003). That Sunday a number of Hebronites chose to become temporarily “disAbled” during the worship service by wearing blindfolds or using crutches or placing a sock over one hand. During 2nd Hour we talked about those experiences.
In 2014, Jason shared his personal story with the congregation. His openness and vulnerability has helped the congregation understand the accommodations he needs in order for him to be involved and share his many gifts.
For our 2015 disAbility Sunday, we were encouraged give attention to the prevalence of depression that accompanies life with a physical disability. In light of this, we invited Michael Shea, Director of Outpatient Services at Brook Lane Mental Health Services, to speak to Hebron about the challenges this doubled disability. We used materials created by the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church’s Commission on Disabilities for and found these resources to be helpful in guiding our annual disAbility Awareness Sunday.
Jason continues to be as active as possible in our church congregation, joining in our 2nd Hour classes and LIFT (Learning In Fellowship Together) He is a blessing to our congregation.
Over the years, Hebron has offered refuge to folks who need a place to belong. We have been enriched and blessed by all those who have found their home at Hebron. We are glad that Jason too found a place to belong at Hebron and we continue to learn from him as he graciously reminds us that all people are God’s beloved children, regardless of their abilities. This is an awesome and blessed truth.
Marilyn Henderson is pastor at Hebron Mennonite Church in Hagerstown, MD.