Vital Worship Scholar Grant

In 2021, I got a grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship that allowed us to continue our work at the Inclusive Design Research with Our Doors Are Open: Welcoming Person with Disabilities in places of Worship. The grant supports integral research that connects worship with other disciplines of study and practice. I will share the results of our work:

Project Summary 

The project aims to shift how the individuals who visit and use religious complexes for events and activities think about accessibility and create a culture of inclusion in congregational communities. To support this goal, the project team provides resources, activities and workshops that build empathy and understanding and offers practical advice on approaching accessibility to create a welcoming experience for diverse individuals. In addition, we encourage organizations to initiate practices that bring accessibility and inclusion into their planning processes. We also develop inclusive online best practices for congregations and support inclusive cultures in worship services and online and in-person gatherings. 

What questions have you asked about worship in the past year?  

Our experts (faithful with lived experience of disability) have raised intriguing theological, liturgical, and pastoral questions to the team with this principle in mind. For example, why is it so difficult for some communities to see that people with disabilities can actively participate in the community? How can the entrenched concept of charity be changed to one of inclusion and participation? How can people with disabilities be given a voice in the Church when they are treated as people who have nothing to say? 

In what ways has or will your project strengthen the worship life of congregations? 

Nothing about us without us is a statement used to communicate the idea that leaders should decide no policy without the direct participation of groups affected by that policy. The United Nations used the phrase as the International Day of Persons with Disabilities theme. We developed Our Doors in this spirit, including people with disabilities in its design. They provided keys to welcoming and actively including people with disabilities in the congregations’ lives by offering new worship visions. The impact of our ten workshops, one Seminar and the latest resources resulted: 1- A shift in participants’ attitudes. 2- Implementation of accessibility features in their worship services. 3- Two participants chose the theme for their master’s thesis. Truly inclusive worship practices and theological reflection empower faithful of all abilities to flourish and support each other. 

What have been your greatest challenges (or challenging opportunities)? 

One of the significant pastoral barriers is that many communities treat people with disabilities as having deficits and requiring assistance and compassion from the Church. It can be challenging to shift the mindsets to understand that accessibility is only one component of the Church’s holistic and ongoing preparation for the Kingdom of God. At the same time, inclusion and participation are vital attitudes in the divine economy where God will restore creation to its excellent and redemptive purposes and enable his children to love one another. Therefore, we encourage communities to practice inclusion in all that they do. 

What advice would you like to share with other Teacher-Scholars? 

The most significant revelation for all of our participants was discovering that people with disabilities are part of the Church, THEY ARE CHURCH, and have much to say. To open our doors is to open our ears to listen to people with disabilities and what they have to tell us. The big problem is paternalism, which can only be reversed by recognizing the dignity of disabled people. If we preach that the Church is the home of all, it is time to open our doors where people with disabilities can say, “I feel part of the Church.” 

What products will emerge from your project? 

-Download the Workshop for inclusive Zoom meetings

Our Doors in Spanish – translation of the Guide for Accessible Congregations, the workshop, and the Accessibility Checklist.

Our Doors in Italian – translation of the Guide for Accessible Congregations, the workshop, and the Accessibility Checklist.

Our Doors in Punjabi

Free Course in OER Commons

A new Disability Studies page on Our Doors website – includes resources from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.

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