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All in: a community like no other

06.26.18 | Belong: disABILITY Ministry | by Pam Teeter

All in: a community like no other

    Mary Claire was introduced to the Special Needs Ministry at HPUMC when she was just three years old. Over the next several years her involvement steadily grew. This year, at 21, Mary Claire got to be a part of the first ever Special Needs Confirmation class!

    The Feast Celebrates Their Third Birthday

    Thanks to God's goodness, grace, and provision, The Feast turned three years old on Sunday, June 24. They celebrated by giving thanks to God and rejoicing in God's love. The Feast is a worship service in which everyone belongs, based on the heavenly feast to which all are invited and included. The service is a welcoming place for those with special needs, their families and friends, and all who have a heart for special needs.

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    Mary Claire's experience with Highland Park United Methodist Church started at Night OWLS when she was three. For ten years, Mary Claire and her identical twin Julia were Night OWLS regulars, and they loved it! My husband, Bob and I were so grateful for the rare evening out. That’s when we started to realize that something remarkable was happening at HPUMC. Mary Claire aged out of Night OWLS many years ago, but both at church and out in the community we are often greeted by Night OWLS volunteers who still remember her.     

    Next for Mary Claire was special needs Sunday school, with loving teachers and volunteers -- no parents needed. For the first time she could learn about God and Jesus at a level she could understand. She got to know and socialize with other kids in the class. Instead of staying with Mary Claire in a classroom, Bob and I got to attend the 9:30 am church service with our other three children.

    Sunday school for families with Special Needs is a big deal. HPUMC made a very conscious and deliberate decision years ago to devote staff and funding to it, which speaks volumes to its commitment to the special needs community.

    When Mary Claire and her twin Julia were 12, Julia went through the Confirmation experience. This year, at 21, Mary Claire had that same opportunity, as part of the first special needs confirmation class. 

    This was transformative for Mary Claire. 

    She loved learning more about God at a level she could understand. She loved the hands-on nature of the classes and that both Karen and Ramsey taught them. They were both very effective at teaching at Mary Claire's level -- even difficult concepts like the Holy Trinity. Being included in Confirmation made Mary Claire, and our entire family, feel even more connected to the church community. And Mary Claire felt so comfortable with the process, her teachers Ramsey and Karen, and the church environment that she decided to spend even more time at church!

    She joined the Kingdom Singers and suggested that as a family we regularly attend the FEAST service, which we do and enjoy! Now more than ever, Mary Claire feels included, accepted, and loved at HPUMC. We are very grateful.             

    HPUMC's approach to people with special needs, and to their families, is extraordinary. The inclusiveness, the acceptance, the outpouring of love and kindness -- it is genuine and authentic and makes an enormous, positive impact on individuals and families.

    In a relatively short time, this approach has clearly also been embraced by the church community as a whole, which may seem like an inevitable result, but is actually rather radical. 

    HPUMC is clearly all-in. The result is a loving, inclusive community like no other. We do not take it for granted. HPUMC is a special church, and we know we are blessed to be a part of it. And it is beautiful that such an extraordinary approach feels so normal, so comfortable -- as if this is the way things should be and have always been. 

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