People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. (Mark 10:13-14 NRSV)
I wish Jesus had been more specific in his command, “Let the little children come to me.” For some reason it seems to cause a lot of confusion.
That’s right. There is confusion about inclusion.
For some, inclusion means there is a space and activity offered that is appropriate to a particular person’s needs. For others, inclusion means being in the same room with everyone else doing what they are doing alongside them. The way that individual participates may be different from everyone else, but they are still part of the bigger group. To my way of thinking, those are both examples of inclusion. It all depends on the perspective of the individual.
Inclusion is whatever feels welcoming and comfortable to the person who wishes to be included. For some, that means having a separate space and activities geared to their unique needs. For others it means jumping in with everyone else and feeling welcomed to do so. If they don’t feel welcome and wanted, then it isn’t inclusive.
Surprisingly, folks can be rather divided on this topic, which I find puzzling. Thinking of my own experiences raising a child with special needs there were times when what others decided was inclusive didn’t feel at all inclusive to us. My son is greatly bothered by loud noise due to life on the autism spectrum. His time in student ministry when they gathered and listened to loud praise music for fifteen minutes prior to breaking into small groups was stimulatory torture. In his case, being inclusive by saying “just come be part of the group, you are welcome to join us,” didn’t work. From his perspective, it was like a weekly invitation to listen to fingernails on a chalkboard. It also triggered obsessive thoughts about hearing damage that were only relieved by taking him for hearing screening. Following the example of Jesus each Sunday morning he went away to a quiet place alone, though in his case it had more to do with sanity than piety. He was welcome as part of the group, but he couldn’t tolerate being there. It really didn’t feel very welcoming despite good intentions. This was a great group of folks. I know they meant well, but…
Wouldn’t it have been nice for him to have company when he left the gathering? Wouldn’t it have been nice to have an alternate activity planned for him and others who share the same spectrum? Wouldn’t it have been nice to have a “non-loud” Sunday every once in a while so that everyone could be welcome as part of the larger group? Any of those things would have felt much more inclusive and welcoming.
The best way to know what feels inclusive to those we wish to include in the church is to have a conversation and ask them. Then actually takes steps to make the needed modifications so that everyone feels welcomed and included.
This week Key Ministry is hosting Inclusion Fusion. It’s a chance to learn more from leaders in special needs ministry about how to offer inclusive ministries. Check out this link to get the schedule of free webinars and to register: www.inclusionfusion.tv. I’m looking forward to this opportunity to get fresh ideas and connect with others who love kids like ours.
Holy God, help us to hear those who ask for change and truly make a place for everyone. Amen.
“Help and Care for Diasbled Person” Image courtesy of Teerapun at FreeDigitalPhotos.net