No one who is disabled is allowed to enter the sanctuary of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Casper, Wyo. As the new pastor of the church, I make sure the rule is strictly enforced.
Our ELCA church, begun nearly 30 years ago, is one of a few in the nation that is a full-fledged congregation on the campus of a major long-term care facility. We have a passageway that connects our sanctuary with Shepherd of the Valley Care Center, a facility of the ELCA, so residents can join us Sunday mornings with their wheelchairs and walkers.
After three months as their pastor, I told our members and guests in a sermon that we don't allow anyone who is disabled into our worship. As the congregation quieted, I said no one in the sanctuary is disabled. Instead, we are human, although some of us have disabilities. One of our frequent guests from the care center, Bill Webster, a Roman Catholic who has one hand, said from his wheelchair, "I'm not disabled. I'm a person. I have a handicap, but I'm not disabled." The congregation erupted in applause.
At the close of the message, I shared that I've been wrestling with a disability that has raged against me like a monster since junior high—attention deficit disorder. I recalled that when I was young, someone sternly told me for the first time that I was disabled. Those words cut into me like a knife, making me feel helpless and inferior. Then I told the church that I never let anyone call me disabled anymore. I am not disabled. I am human, and I have a disability, and keeping that distinction clear has made all the difference in the world to me.
A large portion of Good Shepherd's congregation is comprised of elders, many of whom have a history of loss, injury or disablement. We reflect the American population in general. Everyone eventually encounters issues of limitation, some of which are obvious, like using a wheelchair for mobility, and some of which are well hidden.
Good Shepherd will continue to welcome members and guests of all ages, nationalities, races and ethnic origins, but we will never allow anyone who is disabled into our church.
We thank God for that.
© 2013 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers