On the show today we are talking with Author and advocate Amy Kenny and her book My Body is not a Prayer request.
I was in my late teens and my church at the time was in a building project.
It was a very exciting time for our church, we were growing and it seemed like every week there was a new family. For some our small town church might seem small at 500, but for our world community here in Canada 500 was a big deal.
At the time, I was part of the school of ministry and I can remember the conversations about the design of the church building. I wasn’t in those conversations, I was just a kid, but I distinctly remember when I heard that they made the decision to make the children’s ministry rooms in the basement and not put in an elevator.
The thought was that we would do that in phase two. A spot was designated for an elevator and there was agreement that children could be carried downstairs if needed.
I’m not trying to demonize this church. I still love them deeply. The fact that they made plans to put in an elevator in the future, ensure that there was full accessibility to enter the building and there was accessible bathrooms on the main floor is much more than any church.
Leaders had hard decisions, they were facing a lot of constraints from land size to finances, and every ministry had a long wish list. They did the best they could with the information and resources they had.
But 20 years later there is still no elevator.
If you take a moment and reflect on your church you can see how decisions have been made around access, doesn’t matter if those decisions were intentional or not.
In fact, I was in a church recently and I overheard a conversation about soap in the lady’s washroom. It was about whether soap should be scented or not. It lead to a discussion about whether they should be using air freshers in the building and the decision was made that this church is not considered a scent-free building so keep the scented soap. it’s better than the bathroom smell.
And again I’m not trying to point out, bully or demonize these decisions but I had just recorded the podcast with Amy several and it has caused me to rethink how we create spaces that are accessible and welcoming for everyone.
The conversation with Amy has really stuck with me and I have thought back to it often. This was the kind of conversation is one you just can’t shake off and it opens your eyes to ideas and thoughts that you have never considered.
I’m excited for you to listen in but let me warn you, this episode might live in your head for a while. It might make you rethink what it means to create accessible spaces and how to offer care and support in a way that is welcoming to everyone.
Like myself, you might be challenged in how you do ministry and this challenge is a gift. It’s not meant to confront, or bring shame but as you are making ministry decisions you will be more aware of the needs of those with disabilities and you are able to make a more informed decision.
My hope is that by listening to Amy, you will grow your awareness and we can become churches that are welcoming to all.
Who is Amy Kenny
Amy is originally from Australia, she studied in the United Kingdom and now resides in California.
Growing up in Australia, her parents believed it was important to ensure their home was a welcoming place for all.
Amy recalls that there would often be friends staying for dinner, community members who were struggling with addiction, homelessness, or co-workers joining them for dinner.
As an introvert, it felt like there were always lots of people but the value of community and creating safe and welcoming spaces was sowed into Amy’s life.
Amy studied Literature, Shakespeare in particular, and while the theatrics and drama were entertaining it was the community and how storytelling allowed us to step into the lives of others and have compassion for them.
What Inspired her to write her latest book
Amy’s book is titled My Body is not a Prayer Request and it’s about her experiences as a disabled person in church spaces.
Amy grew up in the church and was often prayed for without her consent and there was an assumption that she needed to be prayed for or something about her needed to be changed.
This led her to write her book as a polite clap back to people to rethink their assumptions about disability and that we all have a shared humanity.
Amy also shared that too often disabled folks are not treated as fully human.
A disabled person’s experience at church
The majority of times when disability is brought up in the church, it is from a negative point that it is connected to sin and suffering. Even when disability is used in songs or metaphors, it is always in the negative sense
Amy also noted that she doesn’t remember being involved in church growing up and while the people she interacted with in the church were accommodative, it was hard for her to live in a community where people thought her disability was connected to sin and wanted her erased.
There tends to be a lack of value for disabled people in the church, their disability is questioned and in Amy’s case, she has been asked what kind of sin was stopping her from walking, offered essential oils to help, and yet still she remains disabled.
The lack of accommodation for people with disabilities who occupy a quarter of the population in the world is appalling.
How to support people with disabilities
Amy hopes that the church would support people in practical ways and she shares them in her book as an invitation for the church to understand disabled people.
Some practical steps include learning from the wisdom of disabled people. Ministry should not only be done to them but they should be included in ministry by being caregivers, occupying leadership positions, and speaker roles.
Unless people have lived experience being disabled, too often exclusion goes unnoticed. It’s in simple things like the lack of a ramp where stairs are, videos without captions, portions of the service that requires people to kneel or stand, the lights and colors, and much more.
According to Amy, accessibility means that when disabled people ask for their access needs to be met, it is not faced with critique but rather with an openness and a willingness to change.
When disabled people identify their needs and are criticized for them, it reflects a lack of inclusion for them.
How can the church become accessible for disabled people?
The church can carry out a disability audit, in and around the church community to ensure that they provide a safe space for people with disabilities to be present.
Another way would be to start doing the internal work by unlearning ableism. This is the discrimination of, and social prejudice against people with disabilities based on the belief that typical abilities are superior.
We tend to believe that ableism happens outside the church yet most of us have it and it comes out through our words and actions.
God wants us to be accommodative for all people and the Bible shares a number of scenarios where disabled people were honored for example in Luke 14, the parable of the Great Banquet where Jesus extends grace to those everyone and also to those who have been shut out of an invitation. These include the poor, the disabled, the lame, and the blind.
Another scenario is when Jacob wrestles with an angel and he gets disabled. Jacob thought of this experience as a great encounter with God.
There is a tendency to pretend disability does not appear in scripture and sometimes erased yet scripture highlights that disabled people are welcomed as they are we should be able to do the same.
CONNECT WITH AMY KENNY
Book: My Body Is Not a Prayer Request
CONNECT WITH HOPE MADE STRONG
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