A few years back, I attended Sunday Mass at Holy Redeemer Parish in Burton, MI. As I entered, it was easy to notice a full church with an energetic atmosphere. The choir was playing a welcoming song; many people were visiting, and others were taking time to pray. As I settled into my pew, to my surprise, the woman sitting next to me welcomed me to Holy Redeemer and wished me a wonderful Mass. I assured her that her personal welcome had already lifted me to that point. As I looked around, I was taken in by the collective excitement, especially of those sitting in front of me. Everyone in this pew was in deep conversation, communicating to one another via sign language. I noticed a young man standing out in front of their pew, talking with them, and all of them engaged together in silent dialogue. Once the Mass began, this young man remained out in front of the group and signed the entire Liturgy for them. At the conclusion of Mass, he approached those he ministered to, together they said their greetings, their goodbyes, and then he gathered with his own family to continue with their day.
It was a great joy for me to see that this parish had an inclusive ministry dedicated to those who are deaf and hard of hearing. As other parish members greeted them on their way out of Mass, it was very apparent that this group was well integrated within the parish and felt as though they belonged to the Holy Redeemer community. I was excited for Holy Redeemer because through the expression of their liturgical celebration and the acceptance, their culture is one that reaches out to all and accepts everyone into their community. This was not only visible in how the deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals expressed themselves, but also in how I was greeted before, during, and after Mass. An action that allowed me to feel fully invited into the Holy Redeemer community, if only for one Mass.
I share this story with you because there is a dire need within our communities to embrace and accompany our families with special needs or disabilities. I, too, am raising awareness for a direct response to these needs through the Disabilities Ministry Leadership Council of the Archdiocese of Detroit.
In Archbishop Vigneron’s pastoral letter Unleash the Gospel, we read that there is a need for all of us to invite and to accompany others in order to evangelize in our world today (Marker 8.2). This idea is shown most intentionally through the Disabilities Ministry Leadership Council. The heart of this council is to assist parish communities to encourage and develop a culture of inclusion of all faithful, into all aspects of parish life. Their specific focus includes those people with disabilities and their families.
Several parishes in the Archdiocese of Detroit have fully embraced this practice, but still, the number is too few. It’s not that parishes don’t want to include everyone, but rather they feel as though they don’t know what to do, or are fearful of making mistakes along the way. In response to this great need, the Disabilities Ministry Leadership Council and the Archdiocese of Detroit have collaborated to produce a video training course entitled All Belong: Inclusion in Ministry.
The purpose of this instructional course is three-fold. Its first purpose is to encourage and inspire parishes to take up the work of inclusion and invite all the lay faithful, regardless of ability or disability, into the fullness of parish life: The Liturgy, Sacraments, Faith Formation, Evangelical Charity, and Devotions. The second purpose is to give instruction and support to both laypeople and clergy on how to best accommodate different needs within their parish communities. The third purpose is to provide resources that may guide and assist a parish’s efforts to include all of God’s people in the elements of parish life.
To gain insight into how your parish or Families of Parishes can support individuals and families with varied needs, please visit the All Belong website. There, you will find various resources and the free video course to help your parish establish a dynamic culture of inclusion and discipleship. This is not an empty seeded program. Rather, it is one of solid training and mentoring, for building a confident culture of a parish that accompanies and ministers to families in need.