From Pastor Pat Kriss: Anybody, Everybody, Christ’s Body
(Posted October 7, 2017)
A couple of years ago I linked up once again with the very special person who was my Maid of Honor some 48 years ago. It had been a long time since we’d seen one another, and so when Sue Rayment McMahon was passing through the Danbury area, I invited her to meet me at First Church, and see our church.
We had a great reunion. As I took her on a tour of our Sanctuary, she seemed a little pensive. Then Sue said, “We haven’t been to church in over 15 years.” This shocked me. Sue had always been a very spiritual person back when we went to chapel together in college. And then she started to explain that among the four children she and her husband Tim had welcomed into their life was a daughter, Betsy, who was born with a genetic disorder that makes her cognitively challenged. Betsy is a dear, very gregarious, sometimes talkative young lady who loved going to Mass at their parish. On occasion, when their priest was giving his message, Betsy would add a little audible commentary to it. Their priest made a point of weaving Betsy’s comments into his own message, and would often come down and hug her and make her feel loved. But then one day, Sue explained, their priest was transferred a long way off, and a new priest was named pastor.
Service begins at 10 a.m. All are welcome!
After a few Sundays of being interrupted by Betsy’s sermon additions, this priest called them into the office and suggested that “Betsy would be happier if you left her at home.” That was 15 years ago. The stinging hypocrisy of a church where all are supposed to be welcome but only some actually are put an end to the McMahons’ ability to trust and draw strength from their church.
This real life story comes to mind as I prepare to welcome Chaplain Jacky Schofield to join me for our first Real Theology Sunday this weekend. Like Sue, Jacky and I met in school. But in Jacky’s case, her studies with me at Yale Divinity School were deeply complicated by becoming legally blind WHILE she was a student at Yale. Jacky co-founded and now leads the Disabilities Ministries Team of the Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ. The lesson that she will bring to us this Sunday has everything to do with how we, as a congregation, either make a welcoming environment for ALL people who enter our doors or, as in Betsy’s case, make the church experience anything but loving and Christian. During our service, Jacky will draw on the story from Mark of blind Bartimaeus, crying out at the gate and who the people were trying to silence. Jesus saw Bartimaeus, not just as a beggar at the gates, but as a human being whose future was full of potential. In our second hour this Sunday, Jacky, chaplain at Stamford Hospital, will explore with us in our informal coffee hour setting the topic, “Accessible to All Disability Etiquette: What You Need to Know.” For all of us who encounter (as we all do daily) people who are differently abled, this will be an interesting topic. Please join us this Sunday.