February is Low Vision Awareness Month
Anabaptist Disability Network encourages you to reflect on how your congregation welcomes the full participation of those with vision impairments in your church life. Below is a past ADN article that provides practical advice and tips on how to make your church more welcoming to those with vision impairments..
Additionally, ADN is fortunate to have Mark Pickens on board as a field associate. Mark has lived his adult life with low vision. As a trained minister, Mark is passionate about educating faith communities to see those with disabilities for their full range of gifts to be given within the body of Christ. His article below asks the church to not only accommodate people with vision impairments but to invite their service as well.
I was born with the ability to see, and never expected the vision loss that happened during high school. I was diagnosed with two rare eye diseases that were caused by high spinal fluid pressure. The pressure damaged and destroyed most of the optic nerves in both eyes.
The medical prognosis I received as a teenager was that the damage was incurable. However, healing has come through a renewed and redefined sense of vision. Just as Jesus declared that the blind will see (John 9:39), I have been given the gift of seeing through faith; a spiritual, emotional, and moral deepening from which to view the world.
Healing remains a lifelong process. While I believe that while God has the power to heal my physical eyesight, I also believe, that God is more concerned about our faith, growth, and development as God’s people. God’s vision extends deeper, wider, and further than any human eyes can see or even imagine. As the body of Christ, we are called to another way of seeing.
As I work with Anabaptist Disabilities Network churches as a field associate and provide disabilities consultation and education, I encourage this expanded version of vision. “God’s vision” means seeing each person as a whole being. God’s vision responds to people’s needs and disabilities, while encouraging their strengths and abilities. As a member and a trained minister of the Church of the Brethren, I am mindful of the church’s need to better view people with disabilities as a whole being.
This need stands out to me during church potlucks. Because of my low vision, I need assistance identifying and being served food. Caring and well-intentioned fellow church members insist that they extend their assistance to carrying my plate of food, my cup, or even my dirty dishes, despite my not needing this help. While I fully appreciate assistance in some needed ways, I also want to be recognized for my capabilities. A full invitation to enjoy this potluck, for me, would be assistance in identifying food and then, dishing it out myself, and perhaps being put to work by helping to clean up afterwards. This approach is empowering. It means that I, or others with disabilities, feel fully “seen” and understood. Dignity, respect, and value is communicated to people with disabilities when we are not just seen for our need, but also enabled to serve from our gifts.
These types of experiences have led me to envision a body of Christ that practices hospitality to those with disability through a “kingdom-model.” A kingdom model means that we not only provide accommodations to those with disabilities, but also provide opportunities for them to serve others. This is crucially important when it comes to creating positive and reciprocal relationships.
My recommendation to those with vision impairments or others with disabilities is to develop a network of support and advocacy constituted of people in your congregation that know you well. This group of people that can advocate or remind the church of your needs, but also your capabilities and the areas in which you can be of service. I have learned to rely on these people and believe we can all use such supportive relationships, no matter what kind of abilities we have.
It is my prayer that the Church may continue to grow and develop as a faith community under the teachings of Jesus and expanding our vision in order to be a healing, welcoming, and inclusive community. Let us bring forth God’s vision of each person’s gifts amidst disability.
Mark Pickens is a field associate for ADN. He is open to consulting, preaching, and answering questions about how the church can better welcome and reach out to those with disabilities. To reach Mark, visit the 'Contact Us' page and leave a comment.