Roughly 20 percent of the population in the U.S. has disabilities, and 90 percent of them are “unchurched,” according to author Erik W. Carter. This statistic is incongruous with the fact that helping people with disabilities is referenced almost two dozen times in the Bible.
To turn the tide and welcome people with disabilities into their faith community, Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church of Naperville will host a Disabilities Awareness Sunday at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Oct. 20.
Cindi Swanson, disabilities awareness coordinator at Our Saviour’s, is responsible for bringing the program to the church.
“Our Saviour’s is a very active congregation. It looks at its responsibility as a member of community and takes that very seriously,” she said.
Looking at the statistics of individuals who are ‘unchurched’ she said, raised the questions: “What have we done? Why are they not coming? And how can we bring folks in and make them feel welcome?’”
The event was scheduled for October, because Swanson said it is a “very big month for the disability awareness movement.” In addition to Developmental Disabilities Employment Awareness Month, October is also Down Syndrome Awareness Month and Respect Life Month.
“It seemed like a good time to capture what’s going on in the secular world and bring it into the faith world,” she said.
“Our vision statement at Our Saviour’s is ‘live it out’ so it’s really made for this type of discipleship. To promote companionship and walking with people, being in a community with people, helping people. It’s about creating deep relationships,” Swanson said.
Swanson has enlisted six young adults who live in Naperville and are on the speakers’ bureau for National Association for Down Syndrome to address the audience.
“They’re going to talk about their lives as active members of the community,” Swanson said.
One of the speakers is Swanson’s 26-year-old son, Adam, who has Down syndrome.
“I’m speaking about my friends and my work,” he said, explaining that he just returned from a trip during which he stood up at a friend’s wedding.
He will also talk about his involvement in a variety of Special Olympic sports, including floor hockey, soccer, softball and basketball. He works at North Central College and at Noodles and Co., and has spoken previously on behalf of the National Association for Down syndrome. The other speakers will be Michelle Anderson who is a student, and Megan Niklas, Erika Kissel, Kelly Neville and Jake Lukens, who are all employed in the community.
Swanson said she hopes the event draws a room full of people from throughout the area.
“I want people to light up with enthusiasm to see how they can help make the world a better place,” Swanson said. “I want people to say that Our Saviour’s supports people with disabilities.”
She hopes the young speakers will be the highlight of the day.
“Church is where we should get our moral compass,” said Swanson. “Our Saviour’s vision is ‘live it out.’ I’m hoping people will come and get really lit up by these young people and the message that they have. I’m proud of this community for embracing this, and I’m proud to be part of it.”
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