Building a richer church from the perspective of someone with a disability

By Norma Leibold and Nathan Trainor

Special to The Witness

After a career as a registered nurse for 30-plus years, I was blessed to have the opportunity to have a second career I was passionate about, advocating for the inclusion of children and adults in all aspects of community life.

When I met a young man named Nathan Trainor, he was in eighth grade and I was … let’s just say much older. What began for me as simply a job as a para-educator in the school system supporting a student on his journey of school inclusion, has resulted in an amazing relationship which has become a treasured friendship. When I met Nathan, I was looking for a new purpose in life. Nathan certainly gave me that. In fact, he changed my life. When Nathan met me, I think he too was looking for something, someone to believe in him. One might say Nathan and I are an unlikely pair to have such a close relationship.

Not only do 37 years separate us in age, but we are two very different people. I am a peacemaker, while Nathan likes to stir things up a bit.I am a talker; Nathan has never spoken a word. So how did a handsome young man and a grandmother of three develop a deep bond of friendship? I am not sure either of us understands how that happened, but I think we both realize we have always had a certain “connectedness.” I think we can also agree that connection has helped each of us become a more complete
person. Nathan, without ever speaking a word, taught me not being able to speak is not the same as not having anything to say. He taught me everyone belongs and everyone contributes. He taught me to assume competence in everyone I meet. He taught me no one is too disabled to be part of their community. He taught me we all benefit when we are all included and together in community. He taught me how much inclusion matters.

As I started to put together this article, I immediately thought about asking Nathan for his input. Nathan, for the last 12 years, has been typing to communicate, and he has many great ideas to share from his perspective. We have collaborated on the following credo of support. We hope these words will help you reflect on what it is like to be that person who only has opportunities to be a spectator rather than a fully participating parish member.

Credo of support for building a richer church community from the perspective of someone with a disability:

I believe we are all created in God’s image and likeness.

I need you to believe that too. I believe God made me the way he wanted me, just like he made everyone.

I need you to believe that too.

I believe we all have a faith in God. I need you to believe that too.

I believe no one is too disabled to be a valued member of a parish. I need you to believe that too.

I believe everyone should presume competence in all people. I need you to believe that too. I believe we are each called as Catholic Christians to serve our parish community and share our unique giftedness.

I need you to believe that too. I believe in the dignity of risk. I need you to believe in my dignity and allow me opportunities to take a risk.

I believe in others! I need you to believe in yourself! I believe in the power of parish community! I need you to believe in the power of parish community, too!

I believe every church community has a great capacity to include and support all its members.

I need you to believe you have a great capacity to include and support everyone.

I believe my church community will include me.

I need you to believe in your ability to include me, because together we make an inviting, inclusive, competent, and enriched parish community that reflects God’s love for all people.

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