After Being Turned Away From Church, Stephen Taylor Works to Help Churches Welcome Others Like Him

10/29/2019

By REBECCA WALLACE
 
It is an expectation of the church to never turn away anyone, particularly those who are already marginalized, but that’s exactly what happened to Stephen Taylor.
 
Raised in the United Methodist Church, Stephen was born with profound hearing loss. At age 12, he had already experienced being segregated at school, yet had never been told he was “different.” When he entered the confirmation process at his church, however, and he was told to leave one of the first meetings.
 
“I thought that directive came from God, so I hated God from them on,” he remembers. Stephen explains that at such a young and impressionable age, he believed he was a mistake. He internalized this feeling for about 25 years and wouldn’t step foot in another church.
 
Then, Stephen was called to ministry.

Though he remembers still being in a bad place with his faith and in his life, he finally took the time to listen to Jesus and responded by going to seminary. When he graduated in 2017, he still wasn’t sure how his calling would play out. Stephen knew he didn’t want to lead a church, but more so, a movement. Mt. Pisgah UMC in Johns Creek hired him to lead initiatives for the disability community, and that is when Stephen found his way.
 
“I found that so many people had a similar experience as I did,” he says. “Sure, some churches have ramps, parking, and a bathroom for people with disabilities, but they stop there. And that’s only some churches.”
 
His goal then became to help faith communities be accessible to all.

“There’s no worse feeling than when you are looking for a church and there’s no place that will accept you,” says Stephen. “My work is about making people realize that God loves them. God made them, and there are communities that will accept them.”
 
Stephen left Mt. Pisgah in June 2019 to launch the nonprofit SNs360 to inspire collaboration between the disability community and the world. For churches, the organization introduces them to this mission in the way of an accessibility audit, which consists of a site visit, survey of the congregation, and finally, an unannounced visit during worship by disabled persons. Stephen and his team then report back an assessment with recommendations. Most churches are very receptive, and when a church does what it takes to meet the needs presented, the organization will promote and feature the church on its website, SNs360.org as a larger goal of connecting members of the disability community to resources that will help them lead full lives.
 
The biggest challenge, as it turns out, is not the work or expense that goes into making a church more accessible. Most of the technical and mechanical things that need to be done – parking and access to the building, restroom and worship – really is not costly at all. The hardest step for churches to make, it seems, is acceptance.
 
This struggle with acceptance is fostered at an early age, explains Stephen. People with disabilities are often segregated from the time they start school, so most other people do not have a chance to interact with them. They then fear the interaction. But interaction is where inclusivity and acceptance begin.
 
“If you really want to accept those with disabilities, give them an opportunity to serve. To speak. Sing. Play music. Get involved,” explains Stephen. “Most importantly, allow them to see God in your community.”
 
Decatur First UMC is digging in to just that, as they were recently audited by SNs360.

“Our church council has eagerly heard the recommendations from the report and are working on the next steps for our facilities, our programming, and our outreach,” explains Whitney Hair, Pastoral Resident at Decatur First UMC. “Through the audit, our congregation has been able to recognize our strengths and areas of growth in order to work towards becoming more welcoming and inclusive of all people.”
 
Dunwoody UMC has also conducted an audit through SNs360 and has been inspired to be more intentional in its ministry with members of the disability community both within the congregation, as well as those not currently a part of a faith community, explained Associate Pastor Rev. Kathy Brockman.

“Stephen is a wonderful advocate for those in our society who have mental or physical disabilities and is working to connect faith communities with those individuals in a meaningful way,” said Kathy.
 
If your church would like to have an accessibility audit, the North Georgia Conference is offering a matching grant to up to 35 local churches for SNs360's audit services. The cost of an audit ranges from $500 to $1,000 depending on the size of the church. This grant would cover half that cost and the church is responsible for the remaining balance. To apply, visit https://northga-reg.brtapp.com/DisabilityAuditMatchingGrant. Once approved, applicants will be contacted with more information and details. 

Rebecca Wallace is a communications consultant (and United Methodist) in Atlanta. 
 

Matching Grant Information

Local churches may apply for a matching grant to cover the cost of SNs360's audit services.
  • The audit consists of a site visit, survey of the congregation, and an unannounced visit during worship by disabled persons.
  • The cost of an audit ranges from $500 to $1,000 depending on the size of the church.
  • For those whose applications are approved, the grant covers half that cost and the church is responsible for the remaining balance.
  • Apply at https://northga-reg.brtapp.com/DisabilityAuditMatchingGrant.


comments powered by Disqus