I used to attend church every day, except Saturday. Yeah, that’s right. Every day! I read Scripture and I led prayer. I assisted in the distribution of Communion. Because of my educational background and professional position, I was requested to teach the Bible to adults. I happily did this. I co-led a new-comers class for several years. I provided spiritual direction. I was involved!
For at least one year before I got my service dog, Hunter, I would pray out loud for those who are mentally ill and for those that care for them. Everyone knew I had complex-PTSD and major anxiety/depressive disorder. Everyone knew I’d have occasional flashbacks: visual, emotional, even physical. Everyone knew I had a difficult time negotiating the supermarket, Costco, and other places like shopping centers, even church. No one talked about it but everyone knew about it nonetheless.
Then the blessed day came when I got Hunter. Over time Hunter helped me wander the aisles without much negative impact. It wasn’t a perfect recovery but it was far-and-away a tremendous improvement in my quality of life.
Do you want to know why there aren’t more people with disabilities in churches? The first Sunday I attended church with Hunter I was ignored by all but a couple (not a few, only a couple) of people. I got stared at and walked around. Few said hello as compared to the week before. At about the same time I was sponsoring a person as he was attending a new membership class. The second session in, with Hunter quietly lying down behind me, the pastoral assistant, Juanita, said to the group that anyone who has a mental illness simply does not have faith. If a person has faith, one would not be mentally ill. She didn’t even have the courage to look me in the eye.
So, I decided to attend another worship service. I showed up and Hunter and I took our place in the congregation. The very next week I was met at the door by one of the pastoral assistants and told, and I quote, “You are not welcome here.” I quoted federal law requiring access for persons with service animals. He let me know in very plain language that this was private property.
I stopped attending church for several years. Any wonder why there are few, if any, disabled people in churches?
Finally I have found a home in a wonderfully accepting and open fellowship that denominationally espouses the full acceptance and admission of all persons — all persons.