Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. ~ Romans 12:2, NIV
Do you like my awesome, colorful caterpillar? While he’s already missing one leg and one antennae, he is a great tool our family has used in a unique way. He is one of our tools in church on Sunday. While this may evoke a yawn from some of you, let me point out that he’s not used in an inclusive Sunday school class (although he certainly could be). He is used in the church proper.
You see, I am bringing up this cute little fellow to help us challenge our perceptions of what inclusion ministry needs to look like. Too often we view special needs ministry as looking like either a separate class for those with unique abilities or inclusion into a traditional Sunday School class with adaptations made. While those are two fine options, there may be still others.
My radar was turned on to this notion as I became aware of the fact that our own family was dealing with our youngest child’s church experience. Our daughter has ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, and other assorted diagnoses. We have tried several different options with her. We have endured the typical complaints from the ordinary Sunday School class setting. Adaptations were made for her while we worked with church staff. At one point we even enrolled her in a class reserved exclusively for kids who are very engaged in their faith because of her voracious appetite for learning more about her Savior. None of those worked out. Finally, at her request, we tried something different. While it may seem contrary to the instinct, we sit as far down in the front of the sanctuary as possible along with our “Little Miss”. Fellow church attenders surrounding us smile at her as this otherwise-noise-sensitive child grabs the pens out of the chair caddies, using them as drumsticks to play along with the drummer on the worship team. She often cuddles with her dad or I during the remainder of the service, fully processing what’s being said by the pastor because there is nothing obstructing her view of him. If she gets squirmy during the sermon, her caterpillar gives her enough sensory feedback to remain engaged for the entire service. Some weeks it may not be her caterpillar. It may be her spiral notebook for doodling. It may be the lip balm she needs to apply, reapply and then reapply again. Whatever it is, we are thrilled that we’ve discovered a solution that helps our precious child to engage in spiritual formation. After our weekly church visits, she is able to discuss the growth point that has been shared in the service.
So, my question to you, fellow worker on the front lines for Jesus, is what paradigm shift might YOU need to be making to create an accessible environment for certain children or unique adults in your church? Could it be that you have overlooked the simple idea of large print Bibles? What about outdoor exercise while teaching kiddos songs containing Scripture verses? What would Sunday School class look like with the kids on exercise balls? The options are only limited by our own imaginations!