Our church began back in June of 1959 and even though there are people with special needs attending, we've never made it a priority to include them in the life of the church. They can attend. They can allow us to minister to them with a hand shake and friendly hello. But that's where their involvement ended.
But over the last few years, the Lord is changing the hearts of our congregation and we're seeing that without them, we're not whole. If most of Jesus' ministry was to those who were deaf, blind and lame, then our ministry should be as well.
And now, putting it on the website for all the world to see, it's kind of like putting a fish sticker on your car. Now everyone knows you're a Christian and they're watching how you drive. Now you have to make a conscious decision every day to do what's right.
And what is right, is including people who have special needs. They were always welcome, we just didn't know what to do with them. If I'm being completely honest.
Maybe close to 10 years ago, Chuck and I led a class for parents of children with special needs. We studied Joni Eareckson Tada's lesson titled When God Weeps. It walks you through the difficult emotions we all experience when we first receive the diagnosis. It was a great study, but as the weeks went on, we found most of the parents in our class were beyond that (I guess we should have studied our audience a little better) and fewer and fewer people came. We didn't do another class.
For many, many years we've had a deaf ministry. Deaf Interpretation during the first service and a Sunday school class during the second. We provide them with copies of our Senior Pastor's notes so they can read the transcript and discuss it during class. Earlier this year I met with them and had them write down their talents and abilities, were any of them interested in serving? That's when I learned that one gentleman had become a greeter. His dad greets with him to help interpret when necessary, but he's there at the door, shaking hands and welcoming everyone who walks through the doors!
Another lady loves to knit so I connected her with the director of our food and clothing bank and now she makes blankets, scarves and all kinds of things to be handed out to those who are less fortunate.
It was 5 1/2 years ago that I felt led to begin a class for children who have special needs. My family was actually on vacation in another state when I truly believe the Lord spoke to me (not in an audible voice the way you and I would talk with each other, but in thoughts that I knew were not my own, "I want you to start a class for kids with special needs."
What?? But I'm not in children's ministry anymore. My kids are grown. I volunteer with adults now. You really want me to go back into children's?
My first day back at work, (I'm not kidding!) our Sunday school director came to my desk, sat down in the chair next to me and said, "We have a need. There's a little boy who has autism and it has been so hard for the teachers to work with him and try to teach the class. They're overwhelmed and we don't know what to do." I smiled and told her that I had a solution.
I began to pray about it and talk with some of the pastors and children's staff and a few months later, Special Connections was born. We started in a small room with just a few toys. As we started having a few more kids, we moved to a bigger room with a sink, a bathroom and direct access to the playground.
Over the years though, we found most of the 'kids' were Jr High and older. One Sunday there were 8 kids and 3 teachers and we were packed into that room like sardines! Chaos and noise were the order of that day. Not a good environment for students who have sensory issues. It was soon after, that we moved into our current, much bigger room.
Some of our students have grown up and now sit with their parents or friends in the service, which is our ultimate goal. Our sensory room is purposefully kept quiet and it's filled with LED light toys and sensory pillows and books, great tools to assist those who find a typical classroom too much to enjoy.
This is the sitting area.
(I have other pics of the room but they're full of kids.)
Beth and Teacher Kathy
(There's a special bond between these two!)
Beth doesn't have many BFFs but Kathy is one of them!
Today, there are people at our church with special needs who sing in the choir and those who assist with our homeless ministry. We have a long way to go, but we'll get there.
If you know of anyone in the Seattle area who is looking for a church where their entire family can worship, you'll find us at westgatechapel.com, under the Ministry tab.