Gordon Temple, CEO of Torch Trust, braves a difficult topic
The truth is, many of us just don’t know what to say when we meet a disabled person, particularly when we know that the disability is permanent, chronic or life-limiting.
The light social chitchat we normally adopt for encounters with people after the morning service somehow doesn’t seem appropriate. How do we approach someone with dementia? How can we engage in conversation with an autistic person? Or with someone in a wheelchair?
Just what is an appropriate pastoral response towards someone who has just told you that they are going blind? How can we say something meaningful to an overwrought carer?
Will I say the wrong thing, provoke an angry response or accidently say something that will cause hurt or upset? If I offer help will I appear patronising? And if I don’t, do I appear uncaring – and leave the disabled person feeling unwelcome?
It’s easy to see why some of us find reason for a hasty retreat, or make an excuse to leave – or stick to benign remarks about the weather! Disability can certainly be the elephant in the church!
The Enabling Church day conference won’t give you pat answers to these genuinely challenging issues. But it will give you the insights and confidence to talk to people with disability and chronic illness.
It will give you some pastoral understanding of what’s involved in being a disabled person in a world focused on achievement and physical perfection. It will begin to equip you to engage with a largely-overlooked but growing section of the community who all too easily find themselves isolated, lonely and frankly marginalised.
It will give you the courage to communicate with people humiliated by popular misconceptions about benefits scrounging. It will help you take a big step forward in valuing people who need to know that God loves and cares for them and that their disability is no barrier to them becoming valued and contributing members of their local church.
Disability affects the lives of more than one in six people in the UK – a number that’s on the increase. The simple truth is that most of us are going to experience disability or disabling illness at some point in our lives – and we’d like to be talked to, wouldn’t we?