laity

Inclusion and Acceptance--of those already among us

By Rev. Mindi

Recently, my son AJ was invited to a birthday party. This is a rare occurrence for us, as AJ has special needs and is not included in a classroom with typically developing peers. Though he goes on field trips and is on the playground at recess and in the cafeteria for lunch, most of the time he is in a classroom with other special needs students.  We know families with typically developing children, but AJ is often not invited to birthday parties. I’m sure it is not on purpose; I’m almost certain that he wasn’t thought of, or it was assumed that we would find it too much trouble to go, or that AJ would not be able to participate. Even when he is invited, often the other children do not interact with him. They don’t know him and don’t know how to. He doesn’t go up and talk to them like typically developing children; they have to take the initiative to go up to him, say hi and try to communicate with him.

This birthday party was great because he was not only invited, he was included and some of the kids knew him from other parties and occasions, and some of the older children did communicate with him. And when he didn’t respond at first and I told the older girl who was asking him a question that he had autism, she replied “One of my friends has autism” and went on to tell me about their friend.

This experience led me to reflect on the church, as all too often we say “no one is coming” or “there isn’t anyone to ask.” How many people do we not think of because of their age, or perceived ability, or perceived allowance of time? How often do we ask the same people over and over again, and not realize the people who are missing out on being involved in ministry?

And though I know we are all tired of the generational divide discussions, how many of our churches do not ask folks in younger generations to participate in the leadership and ministry of the church because of the assumptions we make? “They’re too busy,” or “They only come once in a while so I’m not sure how committed they are,” or even “They don’t know how to do it yet.”  I have heard all of those assumptions made about Gen Xers and Millenial church members that really wanted to be involved, but were never asked. And I wonder if the problem might be that we don’t know how to communicate past our assumptions.

Often the reality is that we act like parents planning a party, and we don’t even realize who we are not inviting. And when we do, we come up with quick excuses to dismiss them, and we’re not even conscious of what we are doing. We don’t want to be overbearing on the new family. We don’t want to burden the individual who started coming six weeks ago. We don’t want to ask the college graduate because they might get a job and be too busy or move away. We don’t invite the person who said no last time we asked because we assume they will say no again. And so on and so forth.

We need to be open to all of God’s people for all of the ministries of the church. And while I am thinking of my son AJ, I am reminded that folks with disabilities in our church are able to participate. There are a variety of ministries and a variety of gifts.

Inclusion is something we are constantly working on as a church. We want to extend the welcome to participate in the community of faith to all—but we often still have to work on including and accepting the people who are already part of us.

Breaks and Interruptions

By Rev. Mindi

I haven’t written something new for Dmergent since before Christmas. I was all set, after the holiday break and our “Best of 2014” series to write something new on January 6th, Epiphany.

Then my son fell and broke his ankle at school. On Epiphany. He gets the cast off on—you guessed it—Ash Wednesday. He’s definitely a PK.

On those first six days of the New Year, I had grandiose plans. I and another clergy friend launched autismandchurch.com, a new blog about autism and church that incorporates personal stories, resources and reflections, from both family members of people with autism along with individuals on the autism spectrum. I was going to try to blog almost every day, and I started thinking about ideas to write here… and then the break happened.

When I was in high school, discerning a call to ministry, my pastor would sometimes bring me to the local clergy text study. I remember the Lutheran pastor in our town say once to me, “A day in pastoral ministry is a series of interruptions.” How true. How many times I have sat down to work on the worship service and received a call from a member who needed to speak to me. A person drops by the office in need of assistance. The office administrator needs the Call to Worship for the bulletin. A series of interruptions.

There is no time for a pastor to have a personal crisis, but here we were, on Epiphany, waiting for hours in the emergency room for xrays, for results from radiology, for pain medication that never came, for a referral to Children’s, for discharge papers. My husband had to come home early and join me at the hospital while we waited for all the news and instructions. Twenty-four hours later, we were at our son’s orthopedist appointment at Children’s, breathing a sigh of relief that our son would not have to have surgery, and that he would spend six weeks in a hard cast, and six weeks from that day will be Ash Wednesday. The entire Season After Epiphany will be marked by a green and purple striped cast for this clergy family.

But what I had forgotten, and was reminded so beautifully by my congregation, is that people are always praying for us. A wonderful card came for AJ the very next day. The member who runs the prayer chain called me on the way home from the hospital to see how AJ was doing. Others sent text messages and Facebook messages. People celebrated when he came to church on Sunday in his wheelchair. We were prayed for and cared for by the congregation.

Almost six-and-a-half years ago, one week after giving birth to AJ, I was rushed to the emergency room because I had an infection after my C-section. As I was admitted to the hospital and given a room, the head nurse on the floor that day was a church member. She came to greet me as I was rolled in and said, “I saw the name on the chart and began to pray.”

What happened next still brings me to tears. She made sure we were comfortable in our room, showed JC where the coffee was at the nurse’s station and to help himself, made sure we had everything we needed for AJ and then turned things over to another nurse. Instead of being my nurse, she asked, “Pastor, can I pray for you?” And she took my hand and JC’s hand and prayed for me, for AJ and JC. She was strong, and certain, and was a better chaplain that I could have been to a patient that day. She took the priesthood of all believers seriously, and made sure my spiritual needs were cared for while the other nurse took care of any medical needs.

Pastors and leaders, we need to remember to let ourselves be ministered to, as well as our families. We need to know that interruptions are going to happen, and that sometimes we need to let go, and let someone else minister to us. As we enter 2015 (three weeks in now, I realize), may we learn to let go a little easier, and let others minister to us, and with us.

Educating Ourselves on Racism

By Rev. Mindi

Once again, I am going to make an assumption that most of the readers of this blog are white.

Once again, I am going to raise the issue that we need to educate ourselves (read: white congregations) on racism in America, that racism is still alive and well, and that we white Christians need to listen.

The events in Ferguson, Missouri go to show us that racial profiling and anti-blackness are systemic. This is not just the beliefs of a few racists in a town far away. This is a systemic way of thinking that infiltrates our education, economic and prison systems. You probably have heard about the school-to-prisons pipeline before.

Black leaders have been using Twitter and other social media to inform the public about what really is happening in Ferguson and what is continuing to happen. The hashtag #FergusonSyllabus has been an excellent and eye-opening tool to learn how to talk about systemic police violence towards black individuals. The resources being shared across the country include historic resources about slavery and Jim Crow, personal experiences of black women and black men, the history of police violence in the United States, and continued discourse in civil rights.

Our mainly-white congregations need to be using these resources too. First, clergy and lay leaders need to familiarize themselves with recent history and see that the latest events of police violence are part of a systemic history of violence towards black people in the United States. We need to understand ourselves and then bring this to our congregation, in Sunday School and in the pulpit.

Secondly, our congregations need to become involved in anti-racist work. Partnering with local organizations already doing this work is key. Find other churches to connect with as well. But do this after you have done the educational piece first.

Thirdly, listen. Hear all the stories that are often not front-page news. Listen to your community members. It is easy for us to ignore stories and reports when they don’t affect us. I know that I still fall short and fail to listen when I hear stories that affect my neighbors of color.

Fourthly, remember your Scriptures. Remember the stories of Joseph in prison, the Hebrew people in slavery, the exile and return. Remember Daniel and the Hebrew children. Remember Jesus. How does the Gospel speak in these times? Who does the Bible call us to listen to?

Don’t let this fade away as Ferguson fades from the news. Take up the challenge to remember Ferguson, to remember Michael Brown and keep his family in your prayers, and to work for justice for all.