The way we understand and interpret the word ‘disability’ differs depending on what we’ve heard, read and experienced.
Sometimes the word disability is used to refer to someone who is medically unwell, sometimes it’s used to express that someone with health conditions or impairments is restricted by their surroundings. These are often referred to as models (the medical model and social model are explained briefly above).
As you might know, I have recently been reading a book called ‘Unleashed’ by Gavin and Anne Calver. It focuses on the early church and expresses the differences between the Church then and now. One thought that is repeated throughout the book is that we are all important and needed in the Church as we all have our part to do. It doesn’t matter if you’re young, old, poor, rich, strong, weak or anything else, you are a part of the body of Christ and have your place in the Church. It’s interesting that the word ‘disabled’ or ‘ill’ never comes up in the book, but maybe that’s because it doesn’t often come up in churches either. People with chronic illness and/ or disability are often thought of as ‘other’ – the people who lack faith or who don’t pray enough. ‘What can they bring to the Church?’
I briefly explained the medical and social models of disability above but there are many more. One of these models of disability is referred to as the limits or limitness model. This defines ‘disability’ as ‘with limits’. I have limits as a result of my chronic illnesses. I can’t always eat the same things as others, work as often or do as much in a day as others, or walk and exercise as much as others. However, that medically healthy person down the road has limits too. They might not be able to sing, play a guitar, run, drive, be good at numbers, do DIY etc. We all have things we do well and things we can’t – our limits. As Anne explains in ‘Unleashed’, ‘being overlooked, poor, weak, old, or any other reason, does not mean they are relegated… or not a key part of the unfolding mission of God.’ You might be reading this and thinking, ‘Yeah, I know that.’ And that’s great! I think lots of us know that God loves us and has a plan for us no matter what our lives have been like and the challenges we have had to overcome. More often than not, it’s the Church who don’t understand this.
A major part of the work of YouBelong is to educate the Church that although people with chronic illnesses have limits, everyone does. We are all needed in order for the Church to function as it was intended, with every person playing their part.
There have been a lot of damaging and harmful theologies thrown about in the Church which have affected many people’s understanding of disability and restricted those of us who have health issues and chronic illnesses. But it’s time for us all to be unleashed, no matter who we are, what we do and what our limits our. Where there are limits, there will also be strengths and gifts, and we all need to be given the opportunity to offer all of us to God for the development of His Church and Kingdom.