So, it went like this. We went into lockdown, and I thought we would be equal. All of our activity restricted the same, our freedoms curtailed similarly. All permitted one exercise a day, all directed to stay away from friends. But quickly, too quickly, it became apparent that we were not equal. Some still had to work, unsafely, vulnerability highlighted in death statistics, sickness statistics. Some, struggling with children, or with caring responsibilities doubled, became more frazzled than usual, denied their reprieve of childcare support, caring support. Others, by dint of location, tied to class and race, were squashed in with others, and soon became clear that, they too, were uniquely vulnerable.
The world around us fell silent, but some were screaming in their houses. Domestic abuse rose. Some screamed due to mental anguish. Loneliness amplified. Hear stories of older people more isolated than ever, disabled people more impaired than ever before.
In the silence, hope bloomed. The world stopped, maybe when we restart it, we can make different choices.
Then George Floyd was killed.
The collective scream seemed to turn to a gasp.
As my black and white friends shared information about how to be anti-racist, how to be better, how to love more and lift up those who have been trampled for too long, I read and absorbed and was heartened, so heartened, to see organisations take notice. My university was ‘doing the work’. And, my church was ‘doing the work’ too.
In a church it is easy to spout the lie that we are colour blind. God created us, so the tautology goes, so we do not see differences. Only this is not true and not helpful. And so we reminded us that as church, we are part of a ‘body’ – some parts of which are deserving special care. These words from the bible have been filled with meaning for many years. I feel vulnerable. As a disabled woman my place often feels precarious. And yet, as we paused, and I noticed, I saw others who’s place is more precarious than mine. And so we listened and heard and thought and began to act to protect those black and brown brothers and sisters who have been ignored by our colour-blind churches.
But something else happened, to me, too. I realised that just as we don’t want to keep ignoring the differences in our skin shades, but want to celebrate them, so too I want the disabled people in our churches to be acknowledged and celebrated.
This is not new. I have thought this and prayed this for a few years, but, somehow, the silence of lockdown, the screams and the gasps and then the words, enabled me to join in. I spoke about how I wish that we addressed disability as a factor in our church, how I wish that we could come together to support and value and celebrate and include. I spoke and I was heard, and I found open doors, because it isn’t just me thinking these things, and now, it turns out, it isn’t just me saying these things either.
I know that there are people in church who see me as a disabled woman, as a valued member of the church, and see no conflict in acknowledging both those parts of me. I want to thrive in my church, to know that there isn’t fear of my disability amongst the rest of the members, but that we know that we can discuss disability, as well as God, because God created me disabled and for some reason, wants me disabled too. And I know He loves me, disabled, flawed, vulnerable. And now that I am speaking, I am excited for the power of my words to make change, to speak with other disabled people, and carers, and allies, and to make our church the welcoming, fearless, inclusive, wonderful place I know it wants to be.