Sunday, February 23, 2014
Special Needs and the Church
Attending church with an individual with special needs is challenging. As I think back to all of the churches I have gone to, the number of attendees with disabilities is sparse. So my guess is that many families living with children with special needs have chosen to stay home rather than try to "fit in" within the church. As Caleb has become a teenager, we have found this "fitting in" harder to accomplish.
When Caleb was younger, the churches we attended were able to provide a one-on-one for him so that he could go to children's church. This was a huge help because it not only allowed Caleb to attend church with kids his own age, but it also allowed Bob and me a much needed break while we attended the adult service. But as Caleb has gotten older, there are no longer kid’s classes for him to attend. This has left us with one of two choices - leave Caleb at home with a nurse or have him in service with us.
We have considered arranging to have a nurse stay at home with Caleb during difficult months where Bob or I have spent the entire service trying to keep Caleb quiet and calm. What has helped to carry us through, during these challenging months, has been the churches reaction to Caleb. When Caleb yells out during worship, they interpret the yelling as his way of singing, rather than as a disturbance. When Caleb says "all done" while pastor is preaching, no offense is taken. And time and again, individuals purposely come up to greet Caleb and make him feel a part of the church. Recently our pastor asked if Caleb would like to be part of the youth group. Pastor shared what a blessing Caleb is to others and how the other children would benefit from having Caleb as part of the group. We have not yet decided if Caleb will join or just participate in outings, but the gesture on the part of the Pastor spoke love and kindness.
Although it has been challenging, I believe that one of the positive things we have done for Caleb is making the choice to have him attend church with us. I feel church is a place for families and even with the difficulties, I believe our whole family should attend. I also believe that although Caleb does not appear to be paying attention, there is much that he is learning from sitting through the service. And my heart swells with joy when Bob accompanies Caleb to the communion table and he is able to partake in the elements. This simple act reveals to me time and again, that Christ came for all, regardless of our challenges.
At one time I believed that we needed more churches that catered to individuals with special needs. I now wonder, after years of attending church with Caleb, if rather than having a church put together programs and classes for kids with special needs, perhaps in the long run, what we all need is churches that are willing to embrace the families who enter their doors - churches that will tolerate some strange noises and unusual behaviors in order to show Christ's love to all individuals, churches that will reach out to the families of individuals with disabilities and help them to feel proud of their child rather than embarrassed. Perhaps by becoming a church body that reaches out in this way, we will truly be the hands and feet of Christ.
A note of encouragement to families living with a child with special needs - please continue to look until you find a church that welcomes your entire family with open arms. Be patient and honest as the church body adjusts to your presence and don't take offense if you get a few strange looks. Our kids need to be part of the church and the church needs our children.
Thank you Prince of Peace for being that church body. You have made us not only feel welcome but have embraced all of us with open arms.