Hospitality as Paying Attention

Randy Smit sees all of life as a gift and the Lord’s Table as the “quintessential place for experiencing the hospitality of Christ. And so who’s at the table becomes pretty significant.” He suggests focusing less on “fencing the table,” more on opening it to children or others who may be left out.

Randy Smit sees all of life as a gift and the Lord’s Table as the “quintessential place for experiencing the hospitality of Christ. And so who’s at the table becomes pretty significant.” He suggests focusing less on “fencing the table,” more on opening it to children or others who may be left out.

Have you noticed?

Worshipers speak of being gathered from many fields into one loaf, from many vines into one cup. Yet many people with physical challenges don’t attend church or participate in communion.

“First find out why they are not coming to church. What barriers of attitude, architecture, liturgy, or communication are keeping them away?” asks Mark Stephenson, director of Disability Concerns for the Christian Reformed Church in North America.

He says churches unwitting exclude people who:

  • can’t stand, so can’t see the screen and need worship resources on paper
  • use wheelchairs and need pew cut-outs or empty spaces in chair rows to feel part of the group
  • don’t hear or see well so need hearing loop technology, large print, or Braille resources
  • are gluten sensitive or recovering alcoholics so can’t consume wheat bread or wine
  • have mobility challenges, such as Parkinson’s disease, so can’t join in Lord’s Suppers that require them to come forward, climb steps, or pass trays of tiny glasses
  • can’t leave their home or care facility so need home communion.

Ask, don’t presume

Marie Wheeler lives across the street from Lakeshore Vineyard Church in Holland, Michigan. Ten years ago, she started attending a women’s Bible study with an aide from her group home. “Marie was born with cerebral palsy and has no motor function other than controlling her eyes and mouth. She can eat but not speak,” says associate pastor Ann Merlino.

Wheeler communicates through a word board organized by colors and columns. “You point and ask. She looks at you for yes and looks away for no. The Holy Spirit helps us a lot, and Marie is extremely patient with our bumbling. I’ve only seen frustration or temper in her when people blow past her and don’t see her intelligence,” Merlino says.

Lakeshore Vineyard has chairs, no steps. Wheelchair users sit wherever they want to. The church offers corporate communion monthly. Servers at stations offer bread for communicants to dip.

“All our servers are ‘trained in Marie.’ She needs a tiny piece of bread, saturated with juice so she can swallow. We ask whether she wants communion. We don’t assume. It’s her choice. Someone can wheel her up or bring it to her,” Merlino says.

Every member has its part

Wheeler isn’t Marie’s original name. Her mom died giving birth to her. Her dad gave her up. As she and Lakeshore Vineyard people shared their hurts, questions, and love, the Wheeler family began including her for holidays and birthdays. They adopted her when she was in her 40s.

“Marie hears us teach that every member of the body has its part and is always asking how she can help. It’s a challenge,” Merlino admits.

“At the harvest party, she interacts with kids in games and holds the candy bowl on her lap. When we decorate the sanctuary, she evaluates how we’re hanging things. And many people, especially in her Bible study, ask Marie to pray for them.

“It sounds trite but is true that however we’ve gone out of our way to include her has been paid back a hundredfold. I believe the Lord placed her with us so he could reveal his character through her,” Merlino adds.

Comments