The Golden Rule Project Is Working To Create a Welcoming Church Environment
As the parent of two children with disabilities, I'm always on the lookout for disabled adults, especially within the Church, who are living out God's vocation for their lives in a positive way, while also sharing the struggles they face in our usually inaccessible world. While working on a project for the National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD), I was introduced to Meghan Concagh, at the time a student at Fontbonne University in St. Louis, MO. She has since graduated with a BA in religious studies and is now focused on her new ministry The Golden Rule Project.
Concagh lives with cerebral palsy and shares her story on her ministry's website writing, "When I was little I always felt very protected and very welcomed in the church as every person should feel. There were no boundaries - it was God and me. I knew our relationship was special. It was also very fun and joyous. I was very fortunate to have an intimate relationship with God from an early age and not everyone has that gift...The church was my sanctuary. I could walk in the church with my head held high and with confidence and reassurance that God would be there waiting for me."
However, once she left her familiar hometown parish to attend college, she left behind her reassuring parish, and had to face the stares and comments of new parishoners. But rather than become discouraged or disengaged from her faith, Cocagh was inspired to work to help all parishes become as welcoming and inclusive as the one she grew up attending. Inspired by what she learned as a young girl about the golden rule (...do to others what you would have them do to you... Matthew 7:12), Cocagh has begun by creating a website that features information pastors, and lay leaders, can use to work towards making their parishes more accessible to Catholics with disabilities and their families. Eventually, she hopes to expand the work she, and the ministry, offer.
"I hope to start my own consulting business with the Golden Rule Project being part of that," she said. "I hope to become a public speaker in all areas of parish inclusion and Catholic education. I also want to become a curriculum designer for adaptive religious education. I believe that these religious education materials [currently in use] need to be updated."
Concagh was also a contributor to NCPD's online course 'Celebration of the Sacraments With Persons With Disabilities', where she speaks about baptism and catechesis for children with disabilities.
When I asked what advice she would give to Catholic parents of disabled children, she answered, "Don’t give up. Every child deserves to be welcomed into the church. My second piece of advice would be to have an in-depth conversation with your Director of Religious Education about your child's involvement within the sacraments. I think this is very important. Finally, when a parishioner is curious about your child, have them talk to the child first. If your child is not able to answer then you can speak for them, but I think it is important for people to understand and interact with your child."
Parents can pass along The Golden Rule's website to their pastor for homily hints, or download ad print out a flyer that educates other parishioners on the ways they can better welcome people with disabilities into their churches.
As a parent myself, I love seeing the work Concagh is doing and how it paves the way for my children so that they can be accepted into more parishes for who they are, but also because she gives them an example of leadership and advocacy within the Church.
"My hope is that this movement will make us a closer community where The Golden Rule is prominent," she writes. "I'm not only asking this for myself as a disabled person but for generations of people to come. The grace and joy that God can bring to our lives are amazing. This is a new way to encounter it. We can learn the greatest lessons in ways we least expect it, so let us be open to those lessons and encounter God in all of it."