How I’d wished there would have been something for Joey in our church when he was a little guy. Making loud sounds, crawling on the floor as a tall but very delayed 5 year old, and generally being a wiggle worm made sitting quietly in church services quite a challenge and to be honest: impossible. People politely pretended not to notice, but I know they did. No one was rude or asked us to leave, but I know it was hard for me to be attentive and get something out of the message, so it had to be for them, too. For a good long while we just stopped bringing Joey. I would attend one service with our daughters and then deliver them to their Sunday school age appropriate class; Joe would then bring Joey to church, get out of the car as I was getting in, and then he’d bring the girls home after their Sunday school class. This went on for years. It worked for us, but yet it didn’t.
It wasn’t the “family” time we’d envisioned. We were making it work in shifts. Then, for a number of years, Joe’s dad offered to stay home with Joey so we could attend church just the 4 of us. I’ll be the first to admit it felt like a vacation! The kind where you’re at the beach and relaxing as the waves hit your feet! That kind! I didn’t have to reach and pull, silence and hush, and break out in a sweat trying to keep things quiet. It was luxurious. But then, as life always seems to do, there came a day (and I realize this is not going to be everyone’s story) that Joey could sit still and actually enjoy and participate in the worship and message. (For those dreaming about this day….it took longer than we thought, but it was worth the wait!)
The church we attended at that time eventually began a wonderful ministry to those with special needs and have continued it for many years. It wasn’t quite for Joey as he was very challenged by the same loud sounds he used to make, or quick movements or yelling of others. Their respite night out for parents was a dream for so many. I know they felt like they got a vacation, too! I wonder if their dinner or night out was like a day at the beach for them!?
While these ministries are needed, welcomed, and important, there is another step that the church can do to welcome and embrace those who have special needs; and that is to incorporate them into the workings and serving of the church. For those that are able to express their needs, listen well to them and find ways to help.
“Disability ministry is not a program. It’s accepting people for who they are and recognizing they have the same opportunity to know and serve the Lord as Anyone. It starts with sharing the Gospel, discipling, and trying to answer hard question, all the way to helping find a place to serve the Lord.” (Chp. 7, P1, In the Accessible Church, Tait Berge) Tait shares some of the wonderful (and also challenging) adventures he’s had at churches he’s attended as one with special needs. His adventures have helped me to think about some ways our own Joey might serve and able to do some things we never thought he could.
But not just Joey, what about your child (or parent, or sibling) who has a special need of some type? Here are some of my thoughts for how they might serve:
· Welcoming at the door with a buddy
· Passing out bulletins as people enter the church service
· Helping collect offerings
· Helping renew supplies in the coffee area
· YOUR idea: _____________
And as a church, here are some thoughts for how we can help others with special needs:
· Welcome all the various types of special needs: hidden and apparent
· Consider the person first and their disability second
· Become an advocate for an individual to help them assimilate into the workings of the church
· Learn to understand the needs, desires, and wants of the person with special needs
Suggestions mentioned here are “no cost” monetarily; look for ways to fulfill another’s dream with their God given abilities. I realize there are many other things one with special needs can do if given the opportunity. It might take the help of the parent to seek out a place for their loved one to serve; knowing their likes and dislikes, abilities and lack of abilities. Maybe they can be the buddy for a while, or for the long haul; serving together.
It might not be easy, and certainly one size doesn’t fit all, but there might be such a ministry just waiting for one with special needs to fill. And it might be that no one else can do it quite the same; fitting like glove. Let’s seek their gifts, talents, and treasures and help them to be a part of a ministry not just a program.