How does a person go from sitting in a pew, hearing a call for help within the church, and growing a ministry from serving 4 families to over 500 in 14 years? Having a great group of volunteers, some with professional experience, certainly doesn’t hurt, but it’s merely part of the equation. Quite simply, it’s love and trust.
Thursday evening on our #SpnMin TweetChat, Jackie Mills-Fernald, Director of Access Ministry at McLean Bible Church shared with us how her ministry promotes healthy communication between parents and church staff. While McLean’s Access Ministry requires a lengthy intake form be filled out for new participants with special needs, followed by a 60-90 minute intake interview, there is far more to their success than just well-organized systems.
Jackie shared a point that seemed to be at the core of what makes McLean’s Access Ministry thrive. “Inclusion becomes who we are not something we check off,” she says. “I feel the church God’s house should be where all are welcome just as they are.” Since becoming the director of this area of service at McLean, two of her children have been diagnosed with disabilities. This has only enhanced Jackie’s love and compassion for those who are struggling and suffering.
This frame of reference colors everything affected by the Access Ministry. The team seems to possess a keen awareness of parents and what they need. The fabulous insight that parents know their own children best and the attitude that the church has much to learn from the parents makes the ministry more approachable. There is a compassionate awareness that parents are often tender or raw, so that workers respond accordingly. And there is wisdom in how McLean’s ministry operates with the understanding that parents need to hear about successes, leaving church filled-up rather than finding themselves in yet another situation where others are highly critical of their children.
Mills-Fernald expresses that the biggest challenge seems to be “convincing parents that we are for them and want to partner with them. So often times we hear horror stories from parents being asked to leave previous churches.” She expresses that they build relationships and get beyond that challenge by conveying the message to parents that they are welcome and wanted at McLean. The commitment to do whatever it takes to make things work with a child surely helps as well.
Training the almost 200 volunteers that have joined her team is also an essential component to assuring that inclusion works at the church. “We train on disability awareness, PBS [positive behavioral support], adaptive play, creative storytelling, and nonverbal communication strategies,” Jackie told Thursday’s participants. Additionally, her team has debriefings, team meetings and one-on-one training sessions. They seize teachable moments and continue to emphasize that every person deserves to be loved and valued.
While treating the parents we serve may be easier on some days than others, Jackie Mills-Fernald displays that the solutions to our challenges can all be found simply. Trusting God, taking Him at His word, relying on His guidance, and treating every person with the lavish love of Jesus is very plain, but often very difficult. But what a different world it would be if we, as leaders, moved forward with these as our goals!
To view the complete transcript of Thursday’s chat, visit the “Notes” section of our Facebook page. You can also follow Jackie’s blog at http://www.accessministryblog.com/ and visit the McLean Bible Church Access Ministry online to view their assorted approaches to inclusion. And, DON’T MISS McLean’s Accessibility Summit, April 20-21, 2012!