Amazing Gifts: Stories of Faith, Disability, and Inclusion is a new publication by noted religion writer Mark I. Pinsky. Pinsky has gathered stories from churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples across the country, “stories of people with disabilities and the congregations where they have found welcome.” He has taken special care to include the widest range of disabilities, including non-apparent disabilities like lupus, chronic pain, traumatic brain injury, depression, and mental illness. There were 54 million American with disabilities as of 2000, and that number is now being swelled by wounded warriors from the Afghan and Iraq wars and an aging population.
The author emphasizes that his purpose is to not to write a resource manual on accessibility and inclusion. Rather, Pinsky seeks to share stories of how people with disabilities have experienced their faith in the context of their disability, and how congregations have gained when they value the gifts that people with disabilities bring along. “This book,” notes the author, “is for congregational leaders and others who may have no expertise or personal experience with disability, but who make the congregational decisions about accessibility and inclusion.”
What about congregations? What about your congregation?
This book provides more than 60 short stories of how a variety of congregations have learned to be hospitable and inclusive to people who have various challenges.
You will read how Lucas McCarty, born with cerebral palsy, has found a faith home at Trinity House of Prayer. You will see how Fallbrook United Methodist Church learned the hard way to serve communion to spinal muscular atrophy sufferer Jo D’Archangelis. Pinsky describes how Temple Beth Or in Raleigh, North Carolina celebrated Hannah Ruth Greenblatt Eppinette’s bat mitzvah. The synagogue didn’t let her severe mental disabilities keep her from this important rite of passage.
From the author: “As I hope the stories told in these pages [demonstrate], the “amazing gifts” of the book’s title embody a duality. People with disabilities are embraced by faith communities, and congregations are enriched at least as much by the inclusion.”
This book is a resource for congregations of all kinds that have real life, specific challenges with inclusion and hospitality regarding people with disabilities. The book is a sturdy companion to a team working on welcoming or an adult education class wanting to reflect on faith in action.
Our bodies don’t always function as they should, or at least as we wish they would. Brains misfire. Limbs miss signals or just plain go missing. Wheelchairs, canes, hearing aids, oxygen tanks, cognitive challenges, developmental disabilities, enter our lives – and our sanctuaries. They always enter our lives as part of the daily life of people who are lovely, who have an abundance of love to share, and most certainly deserve love in the presence of God. Of course, such situations and people present challenges. It can’t be any other way. Yet, such situations and people are opportunities for reconciling encounters, like so many described in Mark Pinsky’s book Amazing Gift.
I highly recommend this resource to you.
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