Someone recently asked me an interesting and great question.
“What does the vision of ecclesial integration look like? What does disability integration look like?”
My response? “It depends”.
As unsatisfying as this answer may seem, there’s a very good reason for it.
In general, a parish that has reached a high level of disability integration is one in which parishioners, especially parishioners from the various disability communities feel not only welcome and not only a sense of belonging, but also a sense of ownership within the parish community. There is a communion of diverse cultural experiences – the many parts, but one body of St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.
What exactly that looks like, though, will be different at every parish and depending on which phase of the process of integration a parish is journeying through.
Disability integration isn’t a program or even a ministry – it is a process.
A program is a tool. It is something you can “plug and play” like a new printer for your computer. You can take a program and pick which parts suit your group’s needs and drop which parts don’t meet their needs. A program isn’t an end, nor is it even a means to an end. It’s just a tool.
Disability integration is a process. As a process, it is a journey, guided by the Holy Spirit, with intentional planning, thought, and prayer, that assists us towards our end; the end, of course, is always relationship with our Triune God and His creation, the promise of salvation. We can’t pick and choose which parts of disability integration to do – it wouldn’t be true integration; it would be a silo ministry at best – another thing we do for a group rather than with a group as part of a whole community.
A program is static and object oriented. A process is dynamic and relational. A program is perfunctory and milestone-oriented. A process is creative, transformative, and ongoing.
A ministry can be comprehensive, for sure, but it is still usually something separate and apart from the rest of parish life. For example, a disability ministry might have a disability Mass, special needs faith formation classes, and a parent support group. However, a person with a disability can be involved in this hypothetical, comprehensive, disability ministry without ever touching the lives of the majority of parishioners in the broader parish – there is still a separation between the “mainstream” members of the church and those with differences. That is not integration.
There are three phases we can look to as benchmarks and nine movements of integration that the USCCB has identified as guideposts in the process, but each parish will look different within these benchmarks and guideposts if they are authentic witnesses to the unique cultural and life experiences of their parishioners. Within a helpful framework of the intercultural competences, three benchmarks, nine movements, and spirituality of an intercultural parish leader, the process of disability integration has to be unique to each parish to allow breathing room for the Holy Spirit to draw parishes into intercultural communion with God and each other.
This isn’t just a matter of semantics, either, because how we talk about disability integration and the words we use to frame it affect how we think about and approach disability in our parishes. To be clear, there’s nothing inherently wrong with programs or ministries, but we can’t confuse them or substitute them for integration. Without integration, parishioners with disabilities and their loved ones will remain on the periphery; it might be a large and even welcoming periphery, but periphery nonetheless. Let’s change that and get this process started or keep moving ahead on the journey, if you’ve already begun.
Join us Tuesday, November 21st at 1pm PST for our first Facebook Live chat. We’ll continue the conversation about disability integration as a process, discuss your thoughts, and answer your questions. Find us at: www.facebook.com/UniquelyCatholic