Posts Tagged church attendance

Should Their Be a Standard Church Practice for Service Dogs?

Service Dog

I read the story back in early August of a veteran being asked to leave his service dog outside a church by a deacon.  Spc. Kristopher Magstadt had just delivered his daughter to the children’s area when the deacon confronted him.  Sadly, this faithful veteran and his family were needlessly driven out of the church that day.

This is certainly not the first time a challenge of this nature has taken place in a church.  Mother, Johnna Wheeler wrote in April, 2013 of her sudden need to find a new church home because of her service dog.  She makes note of the fact that Jesus served the least and the lost, and wonders why those turning her away have lost sight of that.  Rather than worrying about extending the compassion of Christ, churches like Magstadt’s and Wheeler’s worry about whether an assistive animal will distract the average attendee or block the flow of foot traffic in the building.

Hearing stories like these made me concerned about having a guest with a service dog come to my own church.  This prompted me to ask the assistant lead pastor ahead of their arrival, if it would be a problem.  He assured me it would be fine, but I still found myself looking over my shoulder as I welcomed my friends.  It worked out fine as wonderful Rusty was a complete gentleman in the 3rd row during the service, and everyone in the church was more than kind.  It really was not a big deal.  If only more churches knew what a simple, easy accommodation this is!

It may surprise you to learn that churches are not subject to the rules of the ADA.  Nevertheless, if the Body of Christ is truly to be the hands and feet of Jesus, then churches should go above and beyond the ADA.  This begs the question, Should Their Be a Standard Church Practice for Service Dogs?  How can we welcome our friends with working animals into our congregations with excellence?  What would best practices look like for welcoming those with assistive animals?  Your input and feedback are most welcome.  Please leave us a response in the comments section below.

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Just One

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” ~Matthew 10:42, NIV~ (Emphasis mine)

Yesterday, I ran across an insightful post from our friends at Bethesda Institute entitled “Faith Community Involvement:  What Are The Numbers?”.  If you didn’t have the opportunity to read it, you should.  The article examined the hard data that is available on church attendance by those with disabilities.  The author makes the compelling case that we have been using erroneous numbers for years to urge action in the area of special needs ministry.  I must confess, I have used that figure for years, having originally been given the numbers from the renowned organization the post cites.

However, after reading this piece, my mind wandered, questioning, “Why do those of us serving in Christian adaptive ministry feel we need huge figures to justify the work we do?  Didn’t Jesus tell us that if we served even one, it is worthy work?”  I have long been an admirer of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.  While she knew the gravity and size of the problems she was helping people with, she never made that her main focus.  With Christian love and zeal, she perfected the art of loving just one to Jesus.  She wrote and spoke of treating each human being as she would treat Christ.  We are called to do no less.

The article by Bethesda becomes truly convicting to every Christian in the end, pondering if the problems of church attendance for those with special needs just may be because we are not inviting them as individual friends.  Anecdotally, I can share that I have seen many more reasons for lack of church involvement of those who have a diff-abled individual in the family.  I would be a very wealthy woman if I had a dollar for every parent I have spoken with who was asked to leave a church because their child on the autism spectrum was “too loud” or “disruptive” in a liturgical service.  Nevertheless, I think this brings us to the bigger issue of why we are focusing on these statistics in the first place.  Yes, it does help us get grant funding.  But aside from that piece of the puzzle, shouldn’t we all just be loving one person to Jesus at a time as He commanded us?

Those are my thoughts.  I would love to hear yours!

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Challenging our Paradigms

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!

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