Look How Far We've Come (Ros' Blog)
It was an icy winter’s afternoon just before Christmas, and with perfect timing the snow was falling on our outing to the London Emmanuel Choir’s annual Christmas concert at Westminster Central Hall. We had tried to time our arrival at the station so that we wouldn’t have to wait too long on the windy platform. I held my ten year old’s hand and helped her up the steep steps to the bridge that took us across the line to the far platform. My husband picked up our eight year old’s wheelchair and carried her lock, stock and barrel, up the steps, wheeled her across the bridge and carried her down again at the other side. The old train clattered into the station and came to a halt. As the doors opened and people got out, I helped him to lift our daughter in her wheelchair into the unheated guard’s van. I tucked her up as best I could with the blanket I had brought for the purpose, and settled down to squat on the floor beside her in the arctic conditions of the van while my husband went with our older daughter to sit on a “proper seat” in the heated carriage. On the way home we would reverse roles.
What a long way we have come since those days. In time for the 2012 Olympics, our local station was equipped with a wheelchair lift on each platform so wheelchair users no longer have to be carried up the steps or drive and park at a more accessible station further along the line. A guard with a ramp now comes rushing to help us board the train with relative ease, and designated spaces ensure that the whole family can sit together in a heated carriage like everyone else. Journeys to London in the winter are no longer the bone-chilling affair they once were.
And yet in other ways society seems to be regressing. There are countries where Down’s Syndrome has been eliminated, not by medical science but by the killing of unborn babies who have the condition. With the new screening test likely to become widely available in the UK we seem to be following other countries down that route. The so-called “bedroom tax” has disproportionately targeted disabled people and their families (up to 66% of those affected in some parts of the country). Food banks have a high percentage of clients from the disabled community, and disabled people make up over 45% of the homeless population, compared with 19% of the general population. A relentless rhetoric from politicians and the media has painted people too disabled to work as a bunch of skivers. Every few years a bill to allow the killing of terminally ill and severely disabled people is brought back to Parliament again although none has yet been successful, and this week we have heard that Lord Shinkwin’s Abortion (Disability Equality) Bill will not proceed.
At such a time it is vital for the church to be at the forefront of disability equality and inclusion, befriending disabled people and giving them equal access to all levels of the church life and leadership. Jesus said it would be our love that marked us out as His disciples and that how we treat the ones the world views as “the least” is how we are treating Him. It is no longer enough for churches to ask, “How little can we get away with to comply with the minimum requirements of the law?” We should be leading the way, modelling for society the equality and dignity that disabled people deserve. We should not be hearing, as I did again this week, of disabled children being turned away from church because they are too difficult. In the same week I heard from another church considering a change of venue in order to be able to include a young man who currently finds it too difficult to access their meetings – that’s more like it, and is in the spirit of ripping up the roof to bring a friend to Jesus.
Here at Through the Roof we are longing for the day when no disabled person ever has to say, “I wasn’t welcome in church”, and when every time society wants help to be more inclusive they turn to the church as the acknowledged experts. A pipe-dream, you say? Yet consider these words of Jesus: “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” It is His intention that we will be beacons, showing the world how to love.