There are assignments and service opportunities that we will remember for the rest of our lives, this weekend I experienced one. I’m sharing having asked permission of the family to do so.
For many years I have known of a good brother in my home Stake, who has been given mortal challenges that manifest in the form of physical, learning and communication disabilities. Philip was born with Salt Diabetes, which was not diagnosed, leading to his brain becoming severely dehydrated. Despite being told that he would not survive past 1, he his now in his mid 50’s. I share this fact not to dwell on challenges, but to give some background. I would rather focus on what I see Phillip do, as I watch his church service.
It is always a joy to have Philip in the temple baptistery, often with his Bishop by his side . Walking without his adapted shoes and calipers is painful, but wo-betide anyone that suggests to him, that getting into the font barefoot is too much to be expected. And you have to be a brave officiator to mention to him that perhaps he has performed enough baptisms !! It is very obvious temple service, though hard, is something he loves.
Whenever I visit Philips ward, I’m always greeted with a smile and usually a teasing hello along the lines of “Not you again!” He takes his place with the other priesthood holders to pass the sacrament, only because reading or speaking the prayer would not be practical. Phillips place is always “number one” among the passers, probably so he can lean on the modesty rail for support, this also means he goes to the presiding priesthood holder with the sacrament first. This would seem unremarkable, until I mention that he has done this week in week out, for the past 29 years, since he was ordained a Priest within the Aaronic priesthood. Sat on the stand I get to smile back, take the sacrament from him and say a quiet thank you, as I do with any other priest that passes to me. What sets Phillip apart is not his disabilities but his ordinary diligence. If every priesthood holder in the church fulfilled his duty with as much dedication as Phillip, the world would be a better place. Along with passing the sacrament, Philip also serves as a class President in Sunday School and is an active minister.
I am sure there may be disabled people who haven’t had inclusive experiences with church life. I am writing today’s post, in the hope we will all see that there is a place in the gospel for everyone. Part of life’s tapestry, is that we are all different, yet in the eyes of God we have the same value.
The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has said.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is working to provide easier access to its buildings and facilities for people with disabilities. We also are seeking more creative ways of providing religious training for those with physical, mental, and emotional impairments. But there is an even greater need to reduce the barriers imposed by a lack of understanding and acceptance of those who have disabilities.
We urge leaders, teachers, neighbors, friends, and families to:
Help increase awareness and understanding of disabilities.
Accept those with disabilities as children of God and help them to feel respected, loved, and understood.
Provide opportunities for members with disabilities to learn about the Savior and pattern their lives after Him.
Assist in the successful Church participation of people with disabilities and the appreciation of their unique gifts.
Provide meaningful opportunities for members with disabilities to serve, teach, and lead others.
It is our opportunity and our responsibility to follow the example of Jesus in loving our neighbors, and that includes those with disabilities.“
As I read these inspired words from the brethren, written in 1989 I realise we have a long way to go. We may phrase the statement slightly different in today’s terms, but it shows that church leaders want to include not just to be politically correct, but to reach out to all. There is a section of the official church website, that the above is taken from, that is a good starting point for further information, Disability Resources
So back to my opening remarks, why was this weekend so memorable? Because I had the privilege of presiding at a meeting where Phillip was asked to stand and be sustained as a holder of the Melchizedek Priesthood. Only those sat on the stand could see that his whole soul was smiling not just his face. Twenty Nine years of service in the Aaronic Priesthood had more than “qualified him for the work” He had been interviewed and the recommendation from his Elders Quorum President had been accepted by the Stake President. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 tells us that to everything there is a time and a season. This was Phillips time.
Handbook 116.74.4 Priesthood leaders decide whether brethren who have intellectual disabilities should receive the priesthood. If the member lives with his parents, priesthood leaders consult with them. To be ordained, a member who has an intellectual disability should first demonstrate an appropriate degree of accountability and an understanding of responsibility. Priesthood holders who have such disabilities should be assisted so they can participate as fully as possible.
I believe we need to find more ways to better understand the challenges faced by our brothers and sisters that have disabilities of any kind. Many need advocates to help them navigate church life, we don’t need to wait to be assigned. We also need to consider the feelings and needs of carers and family… as my eyes scanned the chapel it was not just Philip that was beaming!!
Some interesting resources I used compiling this article. Inclusive language Church Disability Resource Ordinance Policies Handbook 1 Ordinances performed by those with Disabilities Handbook 1