One of the greatest struggles that Christian parents of special needs children deal with is finding and maintaining a church home in which their child is welcomed, supported and included in the life and community of the church. This is also the mission of many faith based disability organizations, like Key Ministry, who seek to provide resources and training for those churches and families who very much need these supports on a regular basis. While having these opportunities on a regular Sunday morning are a big deal for our families, the times when they are truly appreciated are at the major holidays, specifically Easter and Christmas. These are the times when—above all else—our church homes remind us of how loved and valued our kids are, how they are included in the Sunday School plays and productions, the children’s choirs, special scripture readings and presentations. But what happens when you find yourself in a season where you are in-between or completely without an established church home? What happens when you literally have no church home on the holidays?
Our family recently experienced this, and how we got to this place can be attributed to a variety of events that we did not expect nor obviously want, but nonetheless we had to deal with, pray about, and make the best decisions possible for our child and our entire family. I have previously described in other articles how our family belonged to a wonderful small church for several years that did an incredible job of supporting our family. However, as our son became older and his needs became greater, we saw how the church could no longer meet his needs, so we moved to a very well known mega-church in the area, where our son was provided with a few different on-on-one aides in his fourth/fifth grade classroom over two years. When it was time to transition to the middle school room this year, the bottom seemed to drop out very quickly, as all of his aides, for various reasons, could no longer support him there. After a couple of months of inquiring about finding a new aide or aides, the church still had not identified anyone. By late September, I told my wife that we may need to make yet another difficult choice in leaving a church. Like the last time, we did not have a new church picked out, but we knew that if he wasn’t getting support, we needed to make a different choice, so the process began again.
The next couple of months saw us essentially detach from a church experience altogether. I started to investigate and vet new churches, starting with the much larger main campus of the church we had just left. They would be a great choice for us, since they have a huge special needs ministry with an entire dedicated wing, complete with its own pastors and worship team. However, this location is about 45 minutes from our home. While we had done some programs and workshops there, as well as attended the occasional concert, we always felt like it was just too far to regularly attend. Now, we had to consider it, because we did not have that many choices in our area. After several weeks of playing email and phone tag with the ministry leader, I completed an information packet for our son to attend the services. While that long process had been going on, I had started to speak with some other contacts from our original church, who referred me to other churches in the area. Those leads also went dry after a couple of weeks, and it was now December. I started to face the cold hard reality that we may not have a church home to attend on Christmas.
I then had one last brainstorm that could actually work for us, and it came out of a relationship in the organization I where I work. I am program manager at an organization which serves special needs adults; there is a lovely Presbyterian church in an historic building just down the street from us. They graciously allow us use of their basement space to run many of our classes and programs, at no charge to our organization. Since they obviously have a heart for us and therefore our special needs population, I decided to reach out to their facility manager and explained my situation. He in turn connected me with the youth pastor who would oversee such matters. After speaking via email, we agreed to meet at a local coffee shop to discuss our needs further. Even though we were only a couple weeks before Christmas, there seemed to be hope after all. We sat and talked for about an hour, and I laid out our family situation and needs, our son’s condition and how he could be supported, and the possibility of a match.
The end result of the conversation was ultimately positive, as the pastor emphasized it was not an “if” but “when” timetable, and that once he would identify some high school youth who would be interested in volunteering, that our son should be able to join the community. This was very hopeful for us, as we envisioned a future years from now when our son, if he could become independent enough, could possibly walk to the church and attend services. So while it seemed like a great long-term home, the immediate question I had to ask was, “Can we attend Christmas Eve service?” The pastor explained that he may not have any support for him by then, but that we were welcome to come and be a part of the service, and that the congregation would be very welcoming to him and to our entire family. I said I would be willing to bring him there as a trial, be his support and walk him around if he needed a break, much like I was used to doing for years. The service actually worked out perfectly for us, as it was the earliest scheduled, it was a family service, and it was of course, the closest location of any other church.
Source: Special Needs Parenting- Key Ministry