WESTLAKE VILLAGE, CA — Joni and Friends works to equip and mobilize churches to welcome and embrace people with disabilities by removing barriers and creating a church culture that sees all people as indispensable parts of the body of Christ, created in God’s image, and worthy of dignity and respect.
Our experience with other churches before Calvary is we always were either being called out because they couldn’t help Josiah in a certain way or the material there wasn’t fit for our kids at the time for their age. The feeling was that he may lack the understanding of what the lesson was gonna be.
It was a dismissive attitude where we’ll just put him in a corner, let him color and play. And as a parent, you kind of felt a little bit frustrated, a little bit angry that you’re in this place by yourself and people don’t really understand you.
I’ve had Luke with me at my other church. There would be times the kids just would either laugh at Luke or make comments about how he doesn’t talk and he only screams. And so that was difficult. My favorite thing about the Special Abilities Ministry is the sense of welcome.
Gina Spivey – Family Ministries Pastor Calvary Community Church:
I have seen a drastic change in the way that Calvary really envisions and sees families and people and children affected by special abilities. It’s gotten into the water system here. It’s who we are. It’s what we do.
When we found Calvary, it was just a place where everyone is uniquely loved in their own special way. Everyone is so involved and so engaged and so loving to our children where there is zero concern about how your kids are gonna be. It’s just, you know they’re loved and they’re taken care of.
Luke, he’s able to attend during the worship service and if he is disoriented or dysregulated, he has a nice, dark, quiet room where he can be comforted and be able to then go back into the activities.
By the end of our church experience before Pear Orchard, it really had gotten to the point where we just really felt like a burden. Pear Orchard has totally changed our family, and they’ve always been so encouraging and just so intentional with our family.
Carl Kalberkamp – Associate Pastor Pear Orchard Presbyterian Church:
So having a disability ministry here at our church has had significant impact on many, many different things. Our congregation now see it as normal to be around those with special needs rather than unusual. We have several of our young men with special needs to serve as ushers with a buddy during Sunday morning worship. We have both a special needs Sunday school class on Wednesday evenings and on Sunday mornings.
Charlie loves to come here. He knows he’s welcome, he’s loved, he’s happy.
Even kids that are in our self-contained program, we integrate in for worship every Sunday.
That’s part of getting into the water because these younger kids now have been exposed to kids with special abilities from such a young age that when kids make noises or kids are yelling or jumping around, younger kids are now used to it and they’re excited to have these kids as a part of their community.
I deal with autism. For me, people don’t really see that. If Calvary didn’t have a special abilities ministry, I feel like kids with special needs wouldn’t be able to find a way through Christianity.
Joshua will always call Pear Orchard his church. He feel included. He look forward to coming to church. I pray the altar bulletins and I do the fist bumps and handshakes. I love this church.
It really does break my heart when I know that families have driven an hour to get to church here or an hour to come to our respite program and driven by a thousand churches on their way from their home to our church. That’s not the vision and the mission. It should be that every church has a place for every child, for every family.
In many respects, this is not unique. This is just the body doing what the body ought to be doing. It will dynamically change and improve the life of your own congregation.
Get to know the community. Get to know what challenges families face.
Just start. There’s a family that needs you, and I can promise you that there are people in your church body that feel passionately, that have skills.
At this church, they are seen, and they’re loved, and they are so important. They’re vital. And to be a part of that, It has been a life-changing experience for our family.
About Joni and Friends
For 40 years, Joni and Friends has provided the hope of the Gospel and practical resources to people affected by disability around the globe. Ministry programs include Wheels for the World, Family Retreats, the Christian Institute on Disability, and church ministry training. Joni and Friends also delivers inspirational media such as the Joni and Friends radio program and podcasts. To find out more, please visit www.joniandfriends.org.
- Global News Alliance, The Church is Not Complete Without People with Disabilities
- Joni and Friends, Official Website