Inclusion at LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church (Grand Rapids, MI) began with a simple desire to welcome a few members of the congregation who needed extra support. By equipping staff and the congregation with information, training, and practical ideas and tools to implement, the community at LaGrave became stronger and more representative of the body of Christ.
It begins on the church’s website , where visitors to LaGrave are offered a preview of what they can expect when they arrive (including parking, greeting information, children’s worship, and more). The church has designated a quiet space for attendees to go when they need to move around during the service. The Bible, Hymnal, and bulletin are available in large print, and the Hymnal is even available in Braille! Cushions are ready for friends that might need one for the wooden pews. Gluten free bread is offered during communion. And a loop hearing system is available for members that need hearing assistance. In addition, most of the church is wheelchair accessible.
The changes at LaGrave have profoundly affected its members’ understanding and acceptance of persons with a wide range of abilities. Ann Mary Dykstra, Disability Advocate at LaGrave has worked closely with 12-year-old George, a member of the community with Autism Spectrum Disorder. “George is just a part of the church. He’s well liked.” He contributes by collecting and washing the church coffee cups, and enjoys sitting near the organ during postlude.
Ann Mary remembers the training from CLC Network consultants:
“The Church IEP (Individualized Education Plan) crafted by Barbara Newman helped us see George in a different light because it addressed the strengths he had to contribute to our church.”
Equipped with information about his strengths and needs, Ann Mary helped peers and teachers understand how his mind works. Teachers and students relaxed when they learned George’s disability has a name, and that he had designated helpers and a behavioral plan.
We praise God that the community at LaGrave reflects what is described in Romans 12: 4-6: “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us…”
Learn more about building inclusive communities at your church on our website.
Katie Barkley is the marketing communications manager at CLC Network.