Rosanne Eising came to the Disability Concerns booth at the Inspire conference last summer eager to share about her son Elijah’s recent profession of faith. Elijah,18, is one of the newest members of Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in Big Rapids, Mich. Because he lives with autism and Dandy-Walker syndrome, Elijah’s parents and church leaders worked together to adapt the profession of faith process for him.
“He understands Jesus loves him like I love him, and he has some understanding that his behavior makes Jesus either happy or sad,” Eising said. “We figured it out as we went. Instead of going in front of the full council, the pastor came to our home to speak with Elijah. During the service, Elijah sat in a chair because it’s hard for him to stand, and the questions were adapted to be appropriate for him.”
Because participation in communion at Fellowship CRC is for those who have publicly professed their faith, “it was so special to take communion with him for the first time,” Eising said.
Worshiping God through music has always been an important part of the worship service for Elijah. Several of Elijah’s favorite songs were sung during the service in which he professed his faith.
“When he was 10 he became blind,” Eising said. “When he hears music he’ll ask who’s doing it. He’s become known in our church for encouraging musicians after a song by saying, ‘Good job, so-and-so.’ I think they’ve come to expect it. He knows all the hymns—every word and every verse. Elijah is a good reminder that serving our church can come in many forms and that professing our faith can come in many forms, too.”
Disability Concerns of the Christian Reformed Church in North America and the Reformed Church in America helps churches become places where everybody belongs and everybody serves. It’s likely that many people with disabilities are actively involved in their church but haven’t been invited into the membership process. The Expressing Faith in Jesus Resource Toolkit offers ways to adapt the baptism or profession of faith process for people with intellectual disabilities.
Reasons people with disabilities might be reluctant to profess their faith vary as widely as the range of disabilities themselves. For ideas about making your church more welcoming and hospitable for all, check out Everybody Belongs, Serving Together, a handbook that’s a collaboration of RCA and CRCNA Disability Concerns, Christian Horizons, and Elim Christian Services. Everybody Belongs, Serving Together is available in English (in print, digital, and audio formats) and in Korean, Spanish, and French.