**Companion Resources Newsletter**
edited by Paul D. Leichty
Volume 5, No. 2 February/March 2003
I was recently asked to speak briefly on the spirituality of persons with disabilities as it relates to building community. In the process of reflecting, I realized there was a significant intersection between spirituality and the administrative structures of the helping institutions we have created. I will sketch out some ideas.
Institutions and programs are necessary. Their natural tendency is to draw us away from community, but it doesn’t need to be so. My hope is that institutions that serve persons on the margins of our society can be administered in ways that move us more and more to a place where true community is formed.
The reason that this doesn’t happen naturally is that institutions are run by sinful, selfish people and institutions tend to magnify the self-serving nature of the people who run them. So it is only by God’s grace that institutions can be administered to build up relations on the basis of mutuality and love instead of relying on a hierarchy of power.
As we create systems and programs and institutions, the “service” we start out with will most often degenerate into a power situation. However, to nurture the spirituality of persons who have difficulty with communication and socialization skills, we have to nurture a constant movement away from “service” in its modern form and toward love and companionship.
Let me just suggest some beginning practical steps in this process of building relationships of companionship and community that will provide the basis for a healthy spirituality for persons with communication and socialization difficulties.
1. The first principle is to put the welfare of the most vulnerable first in our communities. The easiest thing to do is what seems best for the institution, for society, even for the church. Yet, in a society based on power, the most articulate most often get their way. A healthy community spirituality calls for doing what is best for the weakest, the least articulate, and the most vulnerable.
2. We must practice hospitality toward everyone in the community. Whatever role a person plays, whether on the surface it seems valuable, simply ordinary, or barely existent, nevertheless needs to be recognized and valued. We need to help all persons, regardless of their abilities or disabilities to feel like they belong. Creating an environment of warmth, acceptance, and love are crucial.
3. In dealing with difficult behaviors we must remember the essentials advocated by John McGee in his approach to Gentle Teaching. (See https://companionresources.org/Companionship/Gentleness for more details.) We are to help persons feel safe and loved. In doing so, we also help others move toward loving in return and being engaged more fully in their own lives and community.
4. Probably the most important thing we can do for persons with special needs is to support the caregivers. These are the people implementing the other principles at the most basic level. These are the folks who are going to have the biggest impact on the spiritual life of the persons with disabilities and thus by extension to the larger community.
Supporting caregivers means taking care of them so they can focus on offering quality of care without worrying about how they support themselves and their families. It also means providing for spiritual life resources that enable caregivers to maintain a gentleness of spirit.
Spirituality in the context of community is nurtured as persons with difficulties in communication and socialization are loved and cared for. We must do all we can to help each other be true caregivers. We must move from being modern day “servants” holding power over “clients” to being true companions and friends in community. That should be the primary goal in the administration of any organization, program, or institution.
On a personal note, my family and I are moving from our rural community setting of the past three years at Goldenrod. We will be living in Goshen, Indiana. Our son, Nathan, is moving with us and is already beginning a new community job and anticipating riding the bus to and from work. The nature of our community life will change, but we continue to be committed the principles of love, companionship, and community.
Blessings to all!
Paul D. Leichty
Phone/Fax: 1-877-214-9838 (toll free)
“People using Technology building Community”