How is your pastoral leadership shaped by vision loss?
Early on in my ministry, I tried to minimize my limitations and resisted extra attention given to my disability. When a few years ago my condition worsened and I lost sight completely, I was forced to recognize and accept my limitations and challenges. Since then, I’ve come to see these challenges as ordained by my loving Heavenly Father.
In pastoral leadership, I’m learning the value of leading from a point of weakness instead of strength. It’s a rather uncommon leadership style, but -- imagine that -- it’s a Biblical concept! The Apostle Paul reminds us, “For in my weakness His strength is made perfect,” (2 Cor 12:19). Marsh Creek was aware of my disability when they called me to ministry. Because of their acceptance of my disability, I’ve been candid about my limitations. At times I’ve even become emotional with church members while discussing my eyesight loss. I believe this openness about my struggles has freed others to be at ease around me and helps people express their questions without fear of offending me.
How is your congregation enriched by your experience with disability?
Members of Marsh Creek Brethren in Christ Church
My own experience over the years has given me a greater appreciation and understanding of those who experience some form of physical or intellectual disability. When appropriate, my messages and teaching include illustrations, humorous or serious, about my disability and the daily challenges it brings. I hope this enables others to experience, explore, and accept their own disabilities and limitations.
I believe an upside to my disability is that it creates opportunities for other members of the church body to get involved in serving the Lord. Some traditional pastoral responsibilities assigned to a sighted pastor have been passed along to other individuals in my congregation. Church leaders assist me in serving communion, and when necessary, help by reading materials that I haven’t been able to scan and read prior to a meeting. Property maintenance and yard work are handled by a group of trustees. Can you picture me mowing the church lawn? Scary! Involving the congregation in these ways isn’t a burden, it’s a blessing.
Oh yes. There have been difficult and frustrating experiences in performing my role as pastor with low vision and now, blindness. But even these difficulties have turned out to be opportunities for me to learn, trust, and depend on God.
How do you recommend fostering a church climate of sensitivity to disability?
Learning to be sensitive to the needs of those with disabilities takes time, alertness, and compassion. A first step toward being a sensitive congregation is to observe and listen. Often out of fear, a person may attempt to hide their disability. It takes a gentle and observant community of people to draw a person out of their fears and into participation.
So what can your church do? First, form a small, trusted group to attend to the extra needs of the individual with a disability. Providing them a natural source of support will help to integrate the individual in a non-threatening way. Second, incorporate activities into congregational life that sensitizes the whole church to disability awareness. For example, try an activity that simulates the experience of someone with a disability by using blindfolds, earmuffs, crutches or a wheelchair. Foster sensitivity by creating understanding and compassion for the experience of disability. Third, as much as possible, find ways to include individuals with disabilities in your worship services, leadership teams, and planning committees. Allow your services and gatherings to be shaped by their input and gifts.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid of a member/attender who has a disability. Treat them as you would anyone else within your congregation. Personally, I am not offended when people ask,” Did you see this” or “Watch this”. Awkward words or encounters are far less harmful than leaving a person out of a conversation, activity, leadership, or church community.
Dan Longmore has been a pastor for over twenty years and has been at Marsh Creek Brethren in Christ Church of Howard, PA, for nearly twelve years. Dan welcomes your comments, questions, and thoughts. Please visit the Contact Us page to be connected with him.
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