REST MINISTRIES, the largest Christian organization that specifically serves the chronically ill, recently did a survey and asked people to 'List some of the programs or resources a church could offer to make it more inviting and comfortable.' They have provided a small sampling of the 800+ responses, all of which could be done in 20 minutes or less.
1. Send out encouraging cards or emails that say, 'You're in my thoughts and prayers!'
2. Make sure the handicapped stalls in the restroom are functioning and clean. Add some decorations that make them look more normal and cheerful like regular bathrooms.
3. Add padded chairs or cushions to make church easier to sit through. Room for wheelchairs is essential and be sure to include extra space for family members.
4. Have an open mind about a support group for the chronically ill like HopeKeepers. It would make me feel very special that there was an understanding of people's needs that are not always visible.
5. Add more disabled parking, even if they are temporary spots.
6. An awareness on the part of the ushers that those arriving late may have difficulty walking or getting out of cars.
7. Have a group of people who call the chronically ill members and check on them when they can't make it to church. (It really makes people feel special to know they are missed!)
8. One lady shared, 'When suppers are given, I may need help getting my meal - or at least understanding I cannot wait in a long line.'
9. Be cautious when hugging. It may literally cause physical pain to someone and even may cause a fall.
10. Video tape the service and put it on a DVD, don't just do a live web cast. Many responders said, 'My computer doesn't work that well so I'm not able to watch web casts.'
11. Check out the church doors and see if someone with an illness can open them with ease. If not, install a mechanical button to push them open.
12. Many responders said some form of the following: 'Stop telling me that if I truly believed and had faith, I'd be healed by now. Please don't go on and on about how good I look even though I know for a fact that I look terrible and miserable that day.'
13. Offer ways to serve within the church that can be performed regularly, but not on a set schedule so that I can still contribute, but there's enough flexibility that I can do the job when I feel well enough to do so.
14. Provide sermon notes in case I can't make it to the worship service and want to listen/take notes later.
15. Acknowledge National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week each year. Rest Ministries has a book list of the top 100 Christian books for the chronically ill. Having some of those books displayed in our Church Bookstore, Church Library and even in our Care Counseling Center would be great!
16. Just mention chronic illness occasionally! Talk about it in sermons as one of the challenges many people face just like unemployment or divorce.
17. Let me know about any Christian volunteers from church who would be willing to clean my house or do other odd jobs for a small fee. Some have offered to clean my house, but I am just not yet able to accept charity. But neither can I afford to pay a regular house cleaning service.
18. Have the church help with some of the small costs of providing encouraging books and resources for the church library. The chronically ill often cannot afford all that they'd like to read and will check them out.
19. Remember all of the caregivers in the church--not just caregivers of parents, but spouses and ill children as well.
20. Provide copies for free of the sermon on CD.
With just a few small changes, your church can become a more inviting and encouraging place for those with any form of chronic illness - invisible or otherwise. Most of these changes are very inexpensive but could most likely even be FREE if a few special people came together and gave just a little bit of their free time to serve and share their gifts and talents. They could make a HUGE difference in someone's life!
I really hope this will inspire at least one person to try and make a difference at their church OR any other facility that isn't disability-friendly; and believe me, there are plenty of them out there!
I really never thought much about this until I was the one faced with these obstacles. It is extremely humbling and down right humiliating when you find yourself in a facility that does not have a handicapped accessible bathroom stall AND you can't get your wheelchair anywhere close to any of the others. Plus, there is the fact that the only person with you that can help is your husband. Unfortunately, there are about 5 gazillion women and girls running in and out of the place, so he definitely can't come in and help.
That is exactly what happened to me when my husband and I were at a high school stadium during one of our daughters' marching band competitions in the Fall of 2008. Needless to say, my whole perspective about disability and ADA requirements has changed since that night. You just never totally understand something until you are put into the situation.
Thanks so much for stopping by today AND for taking the time to read this. I hope you have a wonderfully blessed day!
Author, Lisa Copen, lives with rheumatoid arthritis and is the founder of Rest Ministries, an amazing Christian organization dedicated to serving those who are chronically ill. Lisa is also the author of 'Beyond Casseroles: 505 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend' and founder of National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week. To find more articles similar to this one and overall support while living with a chronic illness and/or pain, please visit Rest Ministries.