Our churches are called to welcome all.  In Luke 14:21, Jesus says:

“Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.”

Do we do that?  Perhaps we do invite them in, but once people come, what do we do to help them feel welcome?  

We say we are hospitable, but are we?  Do we truly welcome everyone into our churches or are there unseen barriers that prevent a person or family from feeling welcome?

Feeling Unwelcome

I had the great honor to be the mother to by son Chris, who also had Down Syndrome. I also experienced the pain of a parent of a child with a disability not feeling welcome by the church.  Prior to Chris, as a single woman, I felt connected to my church community, singing in the choir and participating in a small group.  All that changed when Chris came. They were hesitant to have him in the nursery while I participated in worship. There was no place for him unless I was with him.  It was heartbreaking to me and in the end I choose to leave that church.

Extending Our Hospitality

I believe that these things are often unintentional.  Churches are busy, are comfortable with how things are, and overlook what is needed to help someone feel welcome.  I don’t want other families to feel the way I did. I want them to feel that they have a place in our churches. Joni and Friends International Disability Ministry likes to refer to the church as the “Irresistible Church: a church that becomes an authentic community built on the hope of Christ that compels people affected by disability to fully belong.”

How do we become the Irresistible Church?  There is no one way. We have to seek God and ask for His wisdom and guidance and to prepare the hearts of leadership, the congregation, and families with special needs.  I know it may appear to be overwhelming and frightening, but these families need Jesus and the support of the church. Perhaps even YOUR church community.

Back to my story, my son and I were invited to Brunswick Presbyterian Church by some of the teachers of a special education class where Chris was attending.  They made sure that there were supports available so that I would feel comfortable leaving Chris is childcare while I was worshipping.  Overtime, Chris started attending worship services with me. He participated in worship enthusiastically and was accepted for who he was, the wonderful parts and the difficult parts.  They even provided him with an opportunity to volunteer cleaning which was a job he loved.

Accessibility issues, vision and hearing concerns, developmental delays…I feel called to problem solve these challenges.

I have personally walked this journey.  I’ve worked in this arena. I’ve volunteered to serve in disabilities ministries.  I have gone to countless training sessions, conferences, and workshops. It is my heart’s desire to help churches to become the “Irresistible Church,” a place where individuals with disabilities and their families are welcome and supported.  It isn’t easy, but it is possible.

Can I help you or your church community?  If you would like more information I would love to talk with you.  You can reach Connie at: connievooys@yahoo.com

About Connie Vooys

Connie grew up in Canajoharie, NY and at 30 felt called to adopt Chris, her 2 1/2 year old son who also had Down Syndrome. During his life, he was able to give her the experiences, the joys and sorrows, of being a mother. Connie also worked for the Early Childhood Education Center (ECEC) as a special education teacher and a teacher to the visually impaired for 36 years. She recently retired and feels it is time to answer God's call to help ministries find meaningful ways to be offer hospitality to individuals with disabilities and their families. She is serving on the Albany Presbytery’s Committee on Church Mission, served as a Deacon at the Brunswick Church, and has been a planning member of the founding team for the New Worshiping Community, TrailPraisers.

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