Disability Theology:  A Priest of the Edges

It’s a very odd feeling not being in church of a Sunday especially at Pentecost – a season where we celebrate the vibrancy and rich diversity of a healthy, witnessing Church.
I may well have gone if I had my new powered chair.  Without it I’m stuffed.
I haven’t much to be thankful for in the process of being further disabled by not having the right mobility equipment.  However, it’s helped me get very angry.  I’m normally someone who focuses on how something feels for others.  This last further diminishment of who I am is teaching me that focussing so much on understanding and forgiving can be a very subtle form of avoiding the issue too.  Damn.  I thought I was better sussed than that.  
I’d be a lousy therapist if I didn’t try to take this insight; transform my perception.
I am angry.  Livid that the Church I gave up my passionate first love of theatre and writing to serve, is not using me more effectively.  I am on fire with frustration that more hasn’t been done.  It is discriminatory.  It is wrong.
I’m ashamed of the Church.  Appalled by how people like myself, disabled clergy in particular, are treated.  We are expected to sit idly by, quite literally, and accept our lot.  The Church can’t change to accommodate you it is inferred.  We have enough on our plates keeping things going as it is.
Yes, you do and have, but you also need to change your understanding of me.  Of us.  I’m not a liability, I am a credit to your imagination and creativity 28 years ago when you selected a visually-impaired, soon to be guide dog user to train for stipendiary ministry.  I have served you well as an incumbent and theological educator.  As my disabilities become more marked you have done the opposite of the Samaritan at the roadside.  You’ve been too busy, too caught on your own household and grandiose plans to think what can we do to celebrate Jane’s gift to us.  You have crossed the road to the other side.  I can’t decide if it’s laziness, fear, a lack of imagination or all three.
Yes, I’m well pissed off.  I don’t need to celebrate Mass every five minutes to know I’m a priest, but I do need my vocation to be taken as seriously as non-disabled priests.  A Church that doesn’t do this is a disgrace.  It isn’t excising a ministry of love, but one of exclusion.
Our faith communities are ageing.  The need for positive role models for managing impairment couldn’t be stronger.  
I understand that buildings can’t be made accessible overnight but how long is long enough to stand back and be generous, allowing these things to happen?  I’m happy not to celebrate and lead services if a church won’t make an altar accessible to me, but why am I not preaching regularly?  Why am I not using skills as a creative to produce exhibitions? Facilitate groups? Teach clergy?  Beyond me.  Leaves me speechless.  Why am I not doing those things I have been created to do?  I am being buried against my will in a weird re-enactment of the parable of the talents.
I was saying to someone the other day that I need to come to terms with the prejudice of the Church and move on.  As she rightly pointed out, there is another option.  Sit your ground and fight.
For once in my life, this one’s for me.  My prayer this Pentecost is that the Church matures.  Inclusivity isn’t a state of mind alone.  It’s a state of being in community.  We have nothing to offer in the name of love, if some are left outside.


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