Faith Groups, Friendships and Integration (April Message from the President)

In considering why someone would become a part of a faith group, there are minimally two reasons. First, someone might choose to grow in their faith, knowledge, and understanding of faith as interpreted by the group of their choosing. This might involve attending sessions where sacred writings are read and discussed, studying materials oneself, or acts of service to the larger group. Second, one might choose to simply attend a faith group meeting because of the social benefits of such participation. Their desire might be to make friends and experience community integration.

In considering why someone would become a part of a faith group, there are minimally two reasons. First, someone might choose to grow in their faith, knowledge, and understanding of faith as interpreted by the group of their choosing. This might involve attending sessions where sacred writings are read and discussed, studying materials oneself, or acts of service to the larger group. Second, one might choose to simply attend a faith group meeting because of the social benefits of such participation. Their desire might be to make friends and experience community integration. Each of these desires is fine and proper to pursue.

Undoubtedly for most people, the two reasons, like parallel tracks, will converge and become a single track of growth in faith and enjoyment of integration. However, there are those of faith who choose to not be a part of a corporate group for whatever reason. In addition, people still experience exclusion from the corporate group (some research indicates that people with disabilities and their families feel supported by their personal faith but not their corporate faith). There are also those who either choose not to or have limited ability to (due to their intellectual impairments) participate in understanding the faith development aspect of their group. They are there for the social integration and friendship opportunities that attendance affords.

The point of all this is to recognize that many individuals with developmental disabilities need to have access to faith groups for the reason of community integration and friendship. They will not be able to self advocate for participation on the basis of an understanding of the options one has to express faith (or not) when their individualized plans are developed. If I, for example, as a professor and president of a religious division of an organization could not parse out the differences between Christian denominations (which I have participated in all my life), what can our expectations be for those who are intellectually impaired regarding faith group choice? As a result of their inability to choose, demonstrate “sincerity” (see the RLUIPA legislation) and self advocate, many have been excluded from faith group participation. However, one may assume that everyone has the desire to be integrated into the community and develop friendships. Faith group attendance holds significant potential in this area. It is easily arguable, that faith group participation should be a part of EVERY plan developed by agents of the Department of Developmental Services. Because faith groups offer the possibility of providing friendship in the lives of severely impaired individuals, we must advocate for their attendance and participation, if only on basis of friendship and integration.

Blessings,
Jeff McNair

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