Honouring One Another

Written by Fiona Sherwin 

In recent years I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about inclusion and belonging. While the two terms are used synonymously at times, there are notable differences between them. Including others is an important practice. It’s an act of kindness and hospitality, but to include others only scratches the surface. When we include others we notice someone’s presence, but it is not necessarily an invitation to participate beyond the margins, I would describe it as a step aside to provide a space for them to enter.  To belong somewhere though goes deeper, it suggests that there is a desire for connection and for knowing. It suggests that each person is needed, and that we want to participate with them in a deeper way. I want to contend that when we belong somewhere, and when that belonging is known, then honour is found.  

It is important to acknowledge how I have joined the conversation of disability and belonging. I presently do not identify as disabled, but I have been welcomed to participate in the life of disabled people. When I was a little girl, my Mum used to be the weekend charge nurse of one of the IHC hostels and she used to take me to work with her. The residents became my friends. When I was 15, I went to my first Elevate camp at Totara Springs. Everyone participated fully and I loved it. Each of the activities were mindful of inclusivity and involvement, and everyone was needed for the camp to run well. As an able-bodied person, I was invited to gain new insights, which have subsequently informed my understanding of what the church should look like and should be.  

My buddy at my first camp was blind. While my task was to guide her, she in fact guided me to see the world in a unique way. I was her eyes, and she would ask me what I could see – I became mindful of space and details for which were important for her to know so that she can experience camp in a fuller way. In the years that followed, all my cabin buddies have invited me to participate in camp in diverse ways and invited me to participate in ways that has at times challenged my pre-conceived ideas as to what is or is not possible. Rowan Williams, the previous Archbishop of Canterbury states that when we come into the presence of others, we are able to see one another with how God views us – that is “an eternal and unflinching, unalterable love”(Williams, 2016, sec. 844). Because of each person, I was invited to see God at work in my life as well as in theirs, and that has been a gift to me. 

When I was 17, I went to work in the community as a disability support worker. I was still at school then, but I took Saturday shifts. I loved working with the folks who I was caring for, in fact, they became an important part of my life – I would describe them as my family, and so caregiving and community support became my vocation. I briefly stepped away from working in the disability community when the Lord called me to Youth Work at my church, and to enter theological study, but the Elevate National Camp continued to be an important part of my annual rhythm.  

I found myself in 2011 invited to engage once more with the disabled community with work at Laidlaw College. The College identified that there was some much-needed work to do both internally with our own practices, but also, how to help churches realise the work they need to do to become places of belonging for people with disabilities and mental health challenges. This in turn gave me the opportunity to theologically engage with the area of disability, my thesis that emerged in my Master of Theology explores what churches would look like if they were true communities of belonging for people with disabilities. I suggest that in the vision where all belong, then all are equal, and therefore, each person is an honoured member – not necessarily for what they can do, but simply because they are present and participating in their own way.   

When I consider our churches, I believe that there are elements missing, and I think the church needs to sit up and take notice. We are missing people – particularly the disabled community. If there are disabled people in congregations, are they included in real ways, or do they remain on the margins? If they remain on the margins, then we have only attended to the surface level inclusion practices. While some churches do try to find ways to include people with disabilities, it can be seen at times to be acts of charity, and therefore, while there is inclusion, there may not be the depth of belonging. If they do belong, then the significance of how they are present is evident.  

Disability challenges people’s perceptions, first on what it means to be human, secondly, what it means to be whole, and thirdly, what it means to participate fully in the community for which God calls them into. Tom Reynolds, a Canadian Practical Theologian, notes that disability challenges assumptions on what a person can or cannot do – and for changes for churches to occur, then these communities need to adjust how people with disabilities are viewed (Reynolds, 2012). A change of perspective, therefore, would bring an awareness of the place of each person, then each person is recognised as an essential part of the body. In her just released book My body is not a prayer request, Amy Kenny reflects on how people have viewed her disabled body, pushing back against the assumption that because her body is disabled, she must want to be “fixed” by God. For her, this theory could not be further from the truth. I appreciate her honest telling of her experience where she wishes that people could see her as a full image bearer of God, and that they would turn from the narrative that she is worth less because her body works and moves differently to others (Kenny, 2022). To recognise each person as an important piece brings honour to their place and to their calling to their participation to the body of Christ. Kenny goes further to say that assimilation (as in we all need to be the same and look the same, and function the same), should not be how belonging should occur (Kenny, 2022).  

The Apostle Paul uses the body metaphor several times in his letters to different churches. In his letters to the Roman and Corinthian churches (Rom 12:3-8 and 1 Cor 12: 12-31), Paul outlined expectations for the ekklesia (church) – his focus was on unity. He likens the church to be that of a human body – each has its place and particular function and role within the whole. Each part is needed with equal importance. As biblical scholar and disability theologian, Louise Gosbell notes: “…just as the human body requires all its diverse parts to work together for the greater good of the body, so too the body politic needs to work together with all the various members playing their part.” (Gosbell, 2019, p. 281). She goes further to note that “[n]ot only does the metaphor encourage all people of differing abilities and gifts to play their part, but even those considered ‘weak’ and ‘unpresentable’ are considered ‘indispensable’ for the adequate functioning of the Body of Christ.” (Gosbell, 2019, p. 282). By recognising that each person is needed as they are, for who they are, then that is where a welcome shift can occur, where the margins can be removed, and honour and belonging to something bigger becomes a realised part of the Mission of God. Paul’s focus in the latter part of 1 Cor 12 highlights the value of the parts of the body that seem weaker. Without these parts, the body loses function and integrity (Dewey & Miller, 2017). Without these parts, we only can come to know God in a limited way.  

For the body to realise its need for interdependence then the deeper act of belonging is required. Belonging offers an invitation to participate in life with one another in a richer way – the need for each other to flourish is recognised. When each person is recognised as valuable and worthy, then each person is recognised as co-ministers to one another. The Psalmist declares in Psalm 133:1 “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” Belonging, therefore is profoundly relational – we are called together, all differently able, all differently gifted to participate and grow into the body of Christ. I firmly believe that when we come to that place of knowing, then honour and worth in the God given vocation of each person is found. As John Swinton notes, we come to see who each person is and who God is calling them to be when we encounter one another – this is to be received as a gift, rather than merely looking at what can be achieved (Swinton, 2020).  Each person carries with them distinct value. When we are willing to set aside expectations and at times order in order for people to participate in the body of Christ in particular ways, then I believe that there will be an embodiment of welcome, honour, and therefore an active participation of transformation into the love of Christ, who is the head of the body.  

When we gather together, we should have a sense of expectation for God to work by ministering to and with one another – no matter age, ability or otherwise. I passionately believe that each person will be honoured for who they are, as they are when churches are places of deep belonging and where mutual flourishing will occur because each person becomes the co-participants in the Kingdom of God.  




 Dewey, A. J., & Miller, A. C. (2017). Paul. In S. J. Melcher, M. C. Parsons, & A. Yong (Eds.), The Bible and Disability: A Commentary (pp. 379–425). Baylor University Press. 

Gosbell, L. (2019). A Disability Reading of Paul’s Use of the ‘Body of Christ’ Metaphor in Romans 12:3-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. In Romans and the Legacy of St Paul. Historical, Theological, & Social Perspectives (pp. 281–327). SCD Press. 

Kenny, A. (2022). My body is not a prayer request: Disability justice in the church. Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group. 

Reynolds, T. E. (2012). Theology and Disability: Changing the Conversation. Journal of Religion, Disability & Health, 16(1), 33–48. 

Swinton, J. (2020). Disability, Vocation, and Prophetic Witness. Theology Today, 22(2), 186–197. 

Williams, R. (2016). Being Disciples: Essentials of the Christian Life (Kindle). SPCK. 




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