Eric & Lisa Pridmore
Eric Pridmore sees things in a different way than most of us. You see, Eric is blind.
Traveling with his wife (Lisa) and his guide dog (Atlas), Eric is here in Tampa representing the United Methodist Task Force on Disability Ministries. He might not have sight, but Eric sees a lot. "It's overwhelming," he said. "There's a lot going on. A lot of issues. Tedium."
The tedium he speaks of is the necessary organizational tasks taking place now, but Eric's thoughts are on his main goal. "We're trying to make disabilities ministries a more permanent part of the demoninational structure. That is the core of why we're here."
He continued, "We want to move from being a task force that is under poor health to being a standing committee. It would mean a more permanent ministry and have more status standing. It would work with conferences to bring about awareness and understanding. Also, part of it, too, is more funding. We have some now carved out of other funds (under the UMCOM Global Health umbrella)... cobbled together. But we would like more concrete funding to advocate and support the churches already doing things. It's also about getting those models out to other congregations. We'd also like to be more global. Right now, we're limited mainly to the United States."
The issues that our disabled face in our churches are sometimes not noticed by our congregations. In this, we can take away lessons from the secular world. Eric and Lisa said that the lack of sensitivity to disabilities from the church makes them think of a casino. The elderly might be using canes and walkers, but they can get in. They even send buses to bring the seniors into the doors. "But in the church," said Eric, "It's 'come in if you can.' "
The couple admit that it isn't all churches. Lisa said, "I think some churches care, but have issues with money and volunteers. But ANY church can be welcoming and figure it out as they go along."
Eric Pridmore's guide dog, Atlas
Eric echoed her thoughts. "I encourage churches to have an open mind and a sensitivity to these issues. They don't need to worry about making it perfect, but having openness and a sense of hospitality. Find a way to bring God into the lives of ALL people."
"Part of how we address these issues is like Rick Warren stated his book, The Purpose Driven Life: It's not about you," said Lisa. "Number one, you may find that you might not remain an able person all your life. And it's not about your discomfort with a person who has a disability. Don't worry about saying the wrong thing. Engage them as people."
Throughout Easter, Eric's church focused on Jesus' scars. "Sometimes we think that this body is supposed to be a certain way," said Eric. "And anything less than that is not good enough. But even Jesus' body was scarred. We don't bridge that theological belief into practical day-to-day living. In this life, there are scars, imperfections, and some of those are impossible to overcome. You can't overcome them, but you're redeemed none the less. This is how we live. We can be (and are) redeemed in the full scope of that even in the midst of the scars."
As the church, we highlight the scars on an intellectual level, but on a practical level, those scars matter too.
Eric and Lisa live a life that has scars. But we all do each in our own way. We are not that different. It's time to see things differently, to see things through our brother's eyes. And we just might see farther than we would ever imagine.