O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. (Psalms 63:1-3 NRS)
I was not raised in the church, yet I found God drew me toward the church throughout my life. It remained for me a place of holy mystery and peace, a place with answers, and a place with people who had something that I needed in my life too. The church was a beacon, drawing me to find what I was missing.
That can pose a challenge when you show up on Sunday with a child with differences.
When we moved to Texas twenty years ago the church we attended was growing quickly. There were tons of children, but no special needs ministry. Frankly, I was not even aware that a special needs ministry was something my family needed. I just knew that we had a child with way too much energy, a child with behavioral challenges, a child who frustrated easily and needed order and structure. I felt overwhelmed at times, looking for answers that remained elusive.
I needed sanctuary in the true sense of the word. I needed a holy dwelling place and a place of refuge. I needed respite and spiritual nurture.
I received all of those week after week, attending the worship service that corresponded with children’s Sunday school. Our son had activities and lessons suited to his age, attention and energy. My husband and I received the spiritual nurture that we craved. The service we attended was the smallest one. Most other adults went to Sunday school at the same time as their children and then attended worship as a family. There was no way our energetic wiggle worm could hold it together for two hours. Maybe someday, but not then.
No one ever complained about our son and his challenges. At the end of the school year I found out why as the Sunday school teachers prepared the students for “promotion Sunday” to the next grade level.
I was in conversation with one of his teachers, Kathy. “I’ve so enjoyed being with your son this year. He is such a charming boy and so curious about everything. I’m going to miss him when he moves up a grade, but it will be nice getting back to my own Sunday school class.”
A few more questions revealed the whole story. Kathy normally volunteered one Sunday a month with the preschool children, maybe a bit extra if a substitute was needed. She gave up her own time with her Sunday school class of ten years to be with our son. She never said a word about it, she just did it because she sensed that was what our family needed.
“He’s a child that does better working one on one with the same person each week. He likes consistency. Sometimes we take a break and go out in the hall where it is quiet. He likes that better than the busy classroom.”
Kathy was the one who offered the gift of sanctuary to me and my family. She gave me the opportunity to be formed spiritually while in worship. She also gave me a true example of Christian caring.
The discernment process within churches creating and equipping special needs ministries often include many steps: prayer, task force formation, focus groups and surveys, recruiting and training volunteers, and more. All doable. All necessary in the long run. However, we find the true heart of special needs ministry in people like Kathy who are welcoming, who focus on what a child can do rather than what they can’t do, and who use their gifts and graces in a way that brings glory to God and creates disciples by example. In this season of teacher appreciation, I am especially grateful to Kathy and her unforgettable gift.
Nurturing God, Thank you for Kathy and all the teachers who nurture and welcome and make a place for all of your children. Amen
Rev Doc Lorna
Image: “Knowledge Concept” by Supertrooper from FreeDigitalPhotos.net