This is part of our blog series on Disability and Youth Ministry. To read other posts from this series, visit this page.
At the beginning of this series, I was asked to write a blog post on “5 Things I Wish My Youth Pastor Knew About Me” in regards to having a disability. As I sat down to write, I kept thinking to myself that there are many things we do well as leaders of young people, and these are not celebrated enough!
So it is in gratitude to my youth minister that I write this open letter, in hopes that it will inspire other youth leaders in our churches to treat each child with compassion—the same compassion Jesus teaches in the Gospels.
An open letter to my youth minister,
There are many ways youth ministers make mistakes. Granted, I am a person who understands why these mistakes happen. Just like us—the rambunctious kids they are trying to teach about Jesus—they are only human.
Thank you for talking with me about the way I felt included, and asking in what ways you could improve. Thank you for not hesitating to reach out to me with questions, as they arose for you; however, I greatly appreciate you doing this separate from our time in a large group. You made sure to teach me that my story was important to you, and should be important to others too.
As a child and adult with a disability I have seen a lot of well-intended scenarios gone wrong. There have been times when I have been called out because “I don’t look well.” Or because “I cannot read.” These comments, I recognize, come out of genuine care for me. However, I am genuinely grateful to my youth minister who took special care to do things the best she knew how! For your patience, guidance, support, and encouragement I am forever grateful! It is because of you that I have become a person passionate about the Good News Jesus delivers to all persons—despite their capabilities or lack of abilities.
Now that I have grown up, I know the many ways in which we are told that we can do things better. Others are always offering tips on ways we can improve. I feel that youth ministers, especially, are told too often to “do this, not that.”
“Here are ways you can improve this…”
“Make sure you treat all persons fairly.”
These tips are welcome, and often necessary. Nonetheless, they can become overwhelming at times. Therefore, below you will find 5 ways that celebrate YOU in regards to things YOU are doing right when it comes to youth with disabilities.
1) Thank you for always letting me make decisions in regards to participating in activities. You never jumped to conclusions about my abilities, and you always trusted that I knew my capabilities of better than anyone else ever would.
2) Thank you for treating me like a member of the group. You always reminded me that my contributions were valuable and encouraged me to add different perspectives to our discussions. This translated into biblical stories chosen for discussion—stories were not skipped over because you thought they would be difficult for me to hear. This created a rich dialogue in our youth group.
3) Thank you for taking special care in planning activities, and to ensure that there would always be a way for me to participate. However, you did this without limiting the rest of the group. You never chose an activity solely based on my needs, but there was always a role I was able to play.
4) Thank you for not drawing attention to qualities that made me unique in regards to my abilities, or lack thereof. You knew, along with the other adults, that I was vision impaired (and many of our youth group members did too, just by way of being friends), but you never made a comment or announcement in front my peers. My story was mine to tell, not your story. This is what I appreciated more than everything else.
5) Thank you for ensuring that I was always included in the life of the congregation. You asked me to read scripture for worship (despite the fact that I read in a non-traditional manner). You asked me to teach Sunday school, and sing in choir. You ensured my church community embraced me as a full person. I was nurtured in a life of faith because of you! Each person and congregation promises to nurture children in the life of faith at the child’s baptism. Thank you for holding our congregation to this promise.
I know each person in your youth group is different, but the ways you included and treated me could not have been more perfect. Thank you for talking with me about the way I felt included, and asking in what ways you could improve. Thank you for not hesitating to reach out to me with questions, as they arose for you; however, I greatly appreciate you doing this separate from our time in a large group. You made sure to teach me that my story was important to you, and should be important to others too. You never limited me, but you were aware that there were some things more difficult for me to do than others. Thank you most of all, for empowering me to be a full-member of our church, for this has equipped me to be the person God has called more than anything else.
In Christ’s Love,
Christina Cosby is a student in the Master’s of Divinity program at Princeton Theological Seminary and a native of Lynchburg, Virginia, where her family has resided for decades. Growing up legally blind, Christina knows first hand what genuine grace and love look like—especially from her church community. She has served as an ordained Ruling Elder, participating in her presbytery’s youth council.