(The following is a transcript of remarks given as part of the Connectional Ministries Address at the 2016 Annual Conference, June 10, 2016).
By Rev. Dr. Thomas Logsdon
IGRC Director of Connectional Ministries
I am a broken man.
It happened in November of 2009 as I was coming out the church I was serving and fell on the ice in the parking lot, severely injured my back – something two surgeries and lots of physical therapy have not been able to fix. Now I walk with a cane and can’t stand for praise songs. As an ordained United Methodist pastor, I can still pray the prayers to bless Holy Communion, I just can’t stand long enough to serve the body and blood of Christ to Christ’s body, the Church, and I have to sit while greeting people at the end of worship.
I am a broken man, but I can still lift up Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior so that he can draw all people unto himself and I can still serve this Annual Conference as your Director of Connectional Ministries, supervising a wonderful staff as they make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world by equipping your local churches for ministry and by providing a connection for ministry beyond the local church; all to the glory of God.
Our churches are full of broken people – old gray mares and stallions who “ain’t what they used to be” but are filled with passion, gifts, skills for ministry honed over a lifetime that they can still use to build up the body of Christ. Some of them have handicapping conditions they were born with or developed through age, accident, or illness.
They and I are children of God and can and should be contributing members to the Body of Christ, but are often overlooked because we lack the vision to see them.
There are many more people, broken people, who should be in our churches, but can’t leave their homes due to temporary or permanent disability and, even if they could, are concerned about how to safely get into our buildings, find a place to sit, use the bathroom if they need to, and receive what’s shared in worship and elsewhere in a way they can understand.
Bishop Keaton has already told you to open your eyes and look around, the Fields are Ripe for the Harvest. One of the most overlooked groups needing the Gospel of Jesus Christ are people with handicapping conditions but they’re not simply objects for ministry, passive fields to be plowed, fruit and grain to be harvested; they are an intimate and integrated part of the body of Christ, gifted as all are gifted with the passions and skills necessary to contribute to the good of the whole and the advancement of God’s Kingdom.
The fields are ripe for the harvest, but people with handicapping conditions are not merely harvest, they are fellow harvesters, working alongside the rest of us to establish God’s reign of peace, justice, mercy, and love.
Retrofitting our church buildings can be expensive. The church where I worship is in the middle of a million-dollar project to make our building more welcoming. Lot of changes can be done cheaply, however, and changing your attitude and learning to see those with disabilities who are here and notice who aren’t won’t cost you a dime.
My wife is a brain cancer survivor. With aggressive treatment, she beat the odds and drove the cancer from her body, but not before a severe reaction to chemotherapy hospitalized her for a month and almost killed her.
The cancer is gone, thank God, but it – along with chemotherapy and radiation – has left her speech permanently slurred and her unable to walk without a walker.
Last Thanksgiving, we went to see our daughter and grandchildren in Southern Indiana. Janice fell trying to get into our SUV. It could’ve been tragic.
We’ve had stairs for her to use ever since the cancer, but her legs have gradually grown weaker and, on that day, they gave out as she was getting in.
We were left with two choices. We could either stop visiting our grandkids or do something radical, so we installed an electric seat in our SUV that rotates, extends, and lowers so she can wheel her wheelchair right up to the seat, transfer with our help, and be lifted into the vehicle.
It wasn’t cheap – I had to refinance our SUV to afford it – but now Janice can join me in going to see our grandkids.
Why spend that kind of money on something that’s only going to be used a few times a year? Because Janice is my wife and we love our grandkids and want to see them. Why spend a lot of money changing our churches so a handful of people can join us in worship and use their gifts to help Christ bring in His Kingdom?
For the same reason! They’re family. We love them. We want them comfortable. We want them safe. We want them here.
Look around you. The fields are ripe for the harvest and there are fellow harvesters who could join you with just a little accommodation.
Go make disciples of all people for the transformation of the world!