When you lose vision, at first it might feel like you are unable to participate fruitfully in a faith community. Whether you’re new or a long-term member, some aspects of congregation life that you’ve always taken for granted can suddenly feel uncomfortable as a worshipper with blindness or visual impairment. Who’s saying hello? What are the words we’re singing? How do they take the blessing or communion here? We’re sharing this information in hopes that you won’t give up attending your faith community of choice if you’re experiencing vision loss now, or that you’ll consider visiting a new one if you’re interested.
VisionAware offers tips and resources intended to help you be part of whatever congregation you choose. While some of these resources are specific to certain faith groups, many can apply to almost any worship setting.
Before You Go
Going to a place of worship for the first time, or for the first time since vision loss has occurred, can be much easier if you do a little detective work first. If you can visit its website, information such as location, times of worship and activities during the week that may be of interest to you are usually posted. A quick call to confirm never hurts. Here are some questions you might want to ask:
- If you are not able to find your way to the building independently, is there any volunteer ride service available to and from worship or other activities?
- Is it on a bus line or some other means of public transportation or do you have other means of transportation?
- If yes, but if it is difficult for you to navigate somewhere new, would it be possible for a member of the community to meet you at the transportation stop for the first one or two visits?
- Are there steep or unexpected steps or other architectural challenges that you should know about when you visit?
- Are service dogs welcomed? (Religious institutions are exempt from the ADA. Read the FAQ on Service Animals, Q34.)
- If so, is there any available green space for its needs?
- How is the lighting, and is it ever dimmed?
- What are the acoustics like, and would there be a better place to sit for best hearing? Or are there assistive listening devices available for use?
- Does the community have any regular attendees with visual disabilities you could meet?
- Does the congregation offer any materials in large print or braille? If not, is it possible during the first and/or second visit to have a volunteer sit beside you to explain or assist, cueing you when it’s time to stand, kneel, etc.?
- If blessing, communion or other individual ministry is involved, could you get an explanation beforehand to avoid awkwardness going to the front or receiving something? (Some leaders are very willing to come to you.)
- Is there a publisher that could provide large print or braille materials? If not, could the congregation leader or music leader send recordings, texts or other information ahead of time for you to read or listen to?
Even if you are not new to your community, some of the above questions might be valuable to discuss one-on-one with community leaders. If you have any concerns owing to your vision loss, you can always talk with them; remember, it is as much in their interest to keep you in the fold as it is in yours to stay there. Some of your conversation can involve making suggestions. Few leaders have disability-specific training or resources, and you may serve as expert in this area to help not only yourself, but also future guests and members.
Ways to Stay Involved
- Community outreach such as cooking, calls to shut-in members, prayer circles
- Offer to lead study groups at the place of worship or in your home
- Group or individual music participation
- Answering phones or guest inquiries
- Any other volunteer activity you feel comfortable with that would keep you visible and active in the community
Responding to Well-Wishers in Your Faith Community
It is common to encounter people asking questions far beyond the usual chit-chat once you enter a faith community. Many people have great intentions, but they may be quite lacking in information about your disability or personal situation. It’s important to keep this in mind when you respond, but it’s also OK to set boundaries such as stating, “I don’t feel comfortable discussing that,” or “I don’t think you know me well enough to talk about that.” On the other hand, fellow community members may offer kindness or social opportunities not available to you in other areas of your life. As long as you feel comfortable, it’s all right to discuss your disability, your needs or your desire to go deeper in your faith walk or service to the faith group.
At times, well-meaning people of faith may offer, or even ask to pray for you in private or in public. It’s not uncommon for someone to believe that prayer can help or even heal you. Again, the ball’s in your court in deciding how to answer this request. You may feel the desire or even the need for prayer, and all the more from someone who wishes to provide it. Or, while you may appreciate the gesture, you may wish to redirect the good intention. Here are a few examples of honest and courteous answers you might want to keep in mind in case you are in such a situation:
- “Thanks for praying for me. In fact, I am having eye surgery next month, and I would really appreciate your remembering me.”
- “I am all right with my vision loss, but could you remember my cousin Lola, because she has cancer right now, and they don’t know what to do,” or “I appreciate your asking, but I am fine. But maybe there is something I could pray for in your life?”
Do you have other tips for staying active in your faith community? Drop us a line at email@example.com!