As the parent of an adult child with disabilities, I am excited about the inclusive ministries now offered at many places of worship. When my son was small, I think he would have done well in regular Sunday school classes with the right supports. But at the time, my church didn’t provide the types of supports that would allow him to attend with all the other kids.
Going to church for me meant packing a Mary Poppins bag of activities and snacks to help my son stay still and quiet during church service. Sometimes that worked, but most of the time it didn’t. We didn’t want to disturb others, but he was too old for the “cry room.” My husband and I would take turns taking him outside or to the bathroom. It was stressful.
And the thing is, we needed this time of worship. Like most parents, we needed time for prayer and meditation. We needed those precious two hours a week to refresh our souls and connect with our church community.
At the same time, our son needed to be with his peers. He needed to feel accepted and valued. He needed supports that would allow him to worship with kids his age in the regular Sunday school classroom. But what would that look like?
Today, when I serve in the kids’ ministry at our church, I get to see exactly what that looks like! I see a child with autism learning along with all the other kids with the support of a shadow. I see a child taking a break in the calm sensory room. Then returning to the loud and bustling classroom when they can handle it again. I see a child who once needed a shadow now sitting without help at a table with his peers enjoying a craft.
Inclusion at our church is typical of what is now happening at many other places of worship. Services and supports that are modified to the child’s needs are available. And training is provided to staff and volunteers to ensure a positive experience all around.
Some places of worship provide supports so all kids can participate in other activities, such as summer programs. Some offer monthly respite nights that include siblings. Some have buddy programs for teens and adults. Some host parent support groups, resource fairs, and other networking events.
Many churches also find ways for teens and adults to participate and serve. My son is now 29. He looks forward to wearing his church staff shirt and serving as a greeter at various events. And his favorite thing is attending Sunday morning worship service. No longer do I have to pack my bag of tricks. Today, he sits with family or friends, thoroughly enjoying the fellowship, sermon, and hymns. And for this, I am truly grateful!
Looking for an inclusive kids’ ministry program for your child? Type “kids ministries” in the Find Services & Groups search tool to get started.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we asked parents of children with disabilities and special health care needs to share their tips and stories about caring for their children during difficult times.