Serving adults with special needs

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MB congregations benefit by reaching out to unique adult population

By Myra Holmes

North Oak Community Church, Hays, Kan., and College Community Church, Clovis, Calif., strive to include adults with disabilities through Sunday school classes tailored to meet their needs. For North Oak, it’s a relatively new endeavor while College Community has more experience, but both congregations are learning that they benefit by reaching out.

Debbie Breeden, of North Oak, says congregations must intentionally seek out and include those with disabilities, quoting Jesus’ words in Luke 14: “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring [them] in…so that my house will be full.”

Breeden and Shelley Keller began doing just that at North Oak last year. They noticed two mentally disabled individuals in the pews who wanted to attend Sunday school, but nothing was provided for them. The women developed a Sunday school class with worship, fellowship and Bible study adapted to the students’ needs and established “Count Us In,” a larger ministry for the disabled.

Including adults with disabilities is nothing new for the California church. Their Friendship Class began several decades ago, flowing out of the character of the congregation.

“Our church is an inclusive church, and there were several church families with special needs children,” explains Mari Janzen, chair of the Supportive Care Commission at College Community. “We felt a responsibility to share worship with them, too.”

Currently about six adults regularly attend the class, some of whom started in the class as children. Their disabilities vary from Down’s syndrome to cerebral palsy to other delays and challenges. The congregation works to include them in the larger church family, too. Sometimes church members visit the class to lead a craft or share about their experiences, and sometimes class members participate in Sunday services with a skit or Scripture.

Both Breeden and Janzen say they and their congregations benefit as they include disabled adults. Both talk about a refreshing joy and honesty in their students and both say they’ve learned from their students. “They have so much to give back to the congregation,” Breeden says. “Our churches, our houses, are not full without those individuals.”

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