If the church is a family, then when part of our local body of believers adopts a child into their household, the church family also adopts that child. As the “extended” family, the church can plan and prepare for the child’s homecoming by asking itself questions similar to those the adoptive parents ask of themselves (and are asked by social workers) in preparation for adoption.
How do we need to prepare our “home” for the child? Social workers conduct a home study for adoptive parents which, in part, ensures the physical environment is suitable for a child. Take a pass through the classrooms or youth centers, looking at it through the eyes of an adopted child, and make any adjustments that seem appropriate. Involve the parents or other adoptive parents for an extra layer of understanding.
How will the addition of this child change the dynamics in our “family?” Adoptive parents recognize that their marital relationship and the relationship between any children already in the home will be altered by the addition of a new person. Are there specific relationships that could be affected within the church family? Perhaps the adoptive family is a pillar in the church community, giving many hours to the life of the congregation and will need to retreat for a season to foster attachment for the child. If the child attends church programming, how will that dynamic change the classroom balance?
Are we equipped for the child’s special needs—now or in the future? While adoptive parents may know of some special needs, other needs may not become apparent for years after the child comes home. Ask the parents how the church community—in both programmatic and relational ways—can support them and their child. Keep the dialog open, checking in annually after the first year, to see how the family’s needs have evolved. While not every need can be met, the act of asking might be the lifeline a family needs to survive any painful challenges they might be experiencing.
If the child is from another culture or race, what resources can we offer to help that child maintain a connection to his/her birthplace? Many adoptive parents seek to educate themselves about their child’s heritage and some even make regular connections through cultural gatherings. These measures help all members of the adoption triad process their stories and cope with ambiguous grief. Does the church have missionaries (former or current) who could help foster a deeper sense of identity and connection for the child and family? Or, do other local congregations that have a population that could offer additional insights? Make introductions for the family wherever possible.
Adoptive families sacrifice a great deal (and experience great reward), both personally and financially. The church, likewise, is stretched by the emotional demands and budgetary constraints, but is enriched by the addition of a family member. By preparing itself to receive that child, the church will not only express tender care for the family, but will truly help the child and family succeed—both immediately and in the long run—depicting the kind of religion James describes as “pure.”
Kirsten Holmberg is a writer and speaker based in the Pacific Northwest. Her TEDx talk, “Your adopted child experienced trauma, now what?” chronicles the impact of trauma and Reactive Attachment Disorder on her family. Find her online at www.kirstenholmberg.com or on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (@kirholmberg).