Reflections on Feeding the Crowd and ADA25

One of my secret habits is reading obituaries in the newspapers. I do this most days - reading the life stories of people of all ages - who I may or may not know - is fascinating.  

Years ago I read of a man who had raised a large family. His motto, according to the obit, was “enough is plenty”. This phrase has stuck with me and I try to remember it whenever I am longing for more (of anything) in my life - I remind myself that I already have enough. And enough is plenty.

The gospel of John (6:1-14) tells the story of Jesus feeding a large crowd of people with only 5 barley loaves and 2 fish. For Jesus, that was enough. He took the loaves and the fish, gave thanks to God for them, broke them, and gave them to the crowd. When everyone was done eating, there were enough fragments left over to fill 12 baskets. Everyone was fed. Enough was plenty.

Jesus offers himself as food for this hungry world. He takes his life, gives thanks to God for it, has it broken on the cross, and gives it to all of us so that we might know we have abundant life with God. We remember all that Jesus has done for us every time we share in his body and blood through the bread and wine of communion. It is enough. It is plenty.

We, too, are called to follow Jesus in this pattern of living - of feeding the hungry world. We, too, can take our life, give thanks to God for it, break it (setting aside our own wants/needs), and offer it up in service to our neighbor and the world. We can do this as we are sustained through prayer, nurtured with bread and wine, secure in the baptismal promise that we are beloved by God, trusting that God provides all that we need. We have enough. We have plenty.

But, do we offer enough for everyone in the church? Do we offer access to our worship spaces or do we create barriers - of architecture or attitude or communication - that limit or prevent some people from being fully welcomed and fully belonging in our faith communities?

July 26, 2015 marked the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the great piece of civil rights legislation which provides equal access to people with disabilities in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations and commercial facilities, transportation, and communication. The ADA has had a  profound and positive impact on our society - by creating awareness and providing access for all people, it provides the opportunity for people with disabilities to contribute to society in so many ways.

All public aspects of our shared life together now, by federal law, must be accessible to all people - except religious organizations. Churches and other places of worship are exempt from following the ADA.

Churches are not, however, exempt from God’s law and God’s gospel. The divine message is clear - all people are created in God’s image (Gen 1:27); Jesus calls all people to come to him for rest (Matt 11:28); Jesus promises to lift all people to himself (Jn 12:32). Our call from Jesus is also clear - to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19).

How are we to follow God’s will and God’s plan for this world if we limit access to our worship spaces and faith communities?

Welcoming people within our faith communities begins with the understanding that we are all members of the Body of Christ and the Body is incomplete if even one of us is missing. With this understanding firmly in mind, the next step is to get to know those who may seem different from us and ask what you might do differently so that each person can fully participate in the way they choose. Some other things to do include:

  • welcome all people warmly and without hesitation
  • use language that honors and respects the individual person
  • get to know people as individuals - ask everyone about their interests and gifts
  • look for ways for all people to get involved in worship leadership
  • survey the physical environment for barriers that inhibit people from moving freely and easily around the space
  • provide written and auditory materials in a variety of formats (large print, email format, transcripts, audio amplification, etc.)

God’s love and forgiveness and grace is given for all people - there is enough for all! Let us take what we have been given - our faith and our love and our buildings and our communities - lift them up to God for God’s blessing, break our old patterns of limiting access, and give our full welcome to all who want to join us in worshiping the God gives us all life in abundance. There is enough. There is plenty.

Pathways to Promise -  a technical assistance and resource center for congregations interested in reaching out to those with mental illnesses and their families. -