Christ Church: A Place for All

Christ Church road sign

Photo credit: Christ Church

When Mae Froysland and her fellow community members started Christ Church (Grand Rapids, MI) nearly 50 years ago, they knew it was important for this place of worship to hold true to its name and be a place where all people experienced the love of Jesus Christ. They intentionally created a culture of caring for people, which involved taking the time to talk and listen to fellow members.

Creating Community

Over the years, this manifested into activities designed to create conversation and community. During occasional services, attendees would wear nametags or be broken up into groups based on a random number assignment.  Today it involves a very busy coffee hour in the church lobby following the service, among other activities.  What began as authentic, deliberate actions to make sure everyone felt welcome has evolved into a culture of inclusion that permeates the congregation and radiates to first-time and long-time attendees alike.

Meet the Harley Family

Jason and Alicia Harley and their family were profoundly impacted by these intentional actions. When Jason first attended Alicia’s home church, he could sense it was a place where people with disabilities would be treated with respect and welcome. Although he initially did not attend Christ Church often, Jason would occasionally bring patients from the local mental health facility where he worked because he knew the church community would not ostracize them.

Harley family photo

The Harley Family

Over the course of five years, the Harley’s had four children, including their oldest son, Isaac, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder. Though the Harley’s had not attended Christ Church regularly, members of the church reached out to them to help them care for their young children, particularly Isaac.

Because of the outpouring of love and care for the Harley’s, their family became more involved with Christ Church. Not only did Jason join Alicia in becoming a member, but all four of their children were baptized together.

Including Isaac

In her role as the Childhood Director, Mae spent time getting to know Isaac and his family so that she could best surround him with the right supports during his time at church. Equipped with this knowledge, she recruited volunteers to work with him one-on-one in the classroom alongside his peers, which made a significant difference with how comfortable he felt with the group. These volunteers, many of whom continue to work with Isaac today, have a background in special education and understand how he works. They know when to hold him during worship and how to help him during a craft project.

Mae also advocated for additional training and support for their team. Practical ideas provided by an observation from CLC Network church consultant Jacki Sikkema gave Mae and her staff additional ideas to try. Jacki’s suggestions, such as identifying Isaac’s chair with his name, integrating Isaac’s love for flannel by using flannel graph figures in lessons, and providing him with choices have only enhanced the excellent work of Mae and the Christ Church staff.

Gradually, Isaac has made incredible progress:

“Church almost became an extension of therapy”, said Jason.

One of the most significant signs of this is his increased ability to be intimate with people he has recently met, which has helped in relating to other kids. He is more willing to give hugs, be gentle with new friends, and accept help from others.

Because of the expressions of love and care shown by the members of Christ Church, the Harley family has not only grown closer to their church, but also to Christ.  And they’re not the only ones who have been shaped by this relationship. It is evident that Isaac’s connection with his leaders and classmates is one that bears the initial fruits of mutuality, a relationship that will continue to grow as he and his peers and leaders live and work together.

Becoming Fully Inclusive

However, it doesn’t stop with Isaac. Mae continues to pursue additional inclusion training for their church members so that Christ Church is even more equipped to welcome and receive the gifts of everyone in their church family. She is excited to walk through the G.L.U.E. Training with a small team this year, so that both children and adults with atypical needs like Isaac are intentionally supported and included at Christ Church.

We praise God for the efforts of Mae and Christ Church to make the Kingdom more complete!

Additional Resources:

G.L.U.E. Training Manual and DVD (You can even apply to receive this training for FREE! Learn more at this link.)

Include ALL Kids in VBS with these 9 Tips

Inclusion in Action at LaGrave Avenue Church

An Inclusive Congregation – Changes Our Church Made to Welcome All

 

Katie Barkley ImageKatie Barkley is the marketing communications manager at CLC Network

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Key Ministry…When kids and families are impacted by less visible disabilities

We are always looking for partners who inspire us and push us to think outside of our own experience, and it’s a pleasure to introduce Key Ministry as one of those partners. We encourage you to check them out!

Key Ministry logoWhen our team launched Key Ministry in 2002, we did so to help churches serve families of children with  “hidden disabilities”… significant emotional, behavioral, developmental or neurologic conditions that posed major barriers to families connecting with a local church.

Flash forward ten years…the disability ministry movement has grown by leaps and bounds in its’ capacity to help kids with “special needs” to attend church. Churches made great progress including families of kids with intellectual disabilities, genetic syndromes and cognitive impairment. We have successful strategies for inclusion (buddy ministries, self-contained classrooms) and outreach (respite, “proms” or other special event ministries). But kids with “special needs” represent only a small portion of the disabled population struggling to connect through the local church. Most kids and families impacted by disability would NEVER think of themselves as candidates to be served by a “special needs” ministry…they’re reluctant to self-identify and will flee ministry interventions that draw attention to their differences because they desperately want to fit in with everyone else.

Our team pondered this… What need has God uniquely called and positioned us to meet that other ministry organizations haven’t been able to address? We concluded…

Key Ministry provides knowledge, innovation and experience to the worldwide church as it ministers to and with families of children impacted by mental illness, trauma and developmental disabilities.

Mental illness is the leading cause of disability in North America. On any given weekend, the number of Americans attending a worship service is roughly equal to those with a serious mental health condition. Church leaders struggle to develop strategies for ministry to people who are disabled in some environments, but not others. We’re called to come alongside ministry leaders and like-minded organizations seeking to break down the barriers that keep kids and families impacted by mental illness, trauma and developmental disabilities from fully participating in the life of the local church.

Our team is currently pursuing four initiatives to advance disability inclusion in the church…

Large door imageFront Door Church logo Online ministry: We’ve developed an online platform to deliver free, interactive ministry training to any church with access to high-speed internet service. We host Inclusion Fusion, a free, worldwide disability ministry Web Summit scheduled for November 12th-13th. We’re experimenting with online church as a strategy to help churches connect with families impacted by disability in their local communities.

FREE Consultation: Churches need not just resources, but relationships to effectively minister to families with disability. Key Ministry offers a FREE consultation service to churches of all sizes seeking to minister to families with disabilities, staffed by highly qualified and seasoned ministry leaders.

Inclusion Fusion logoInfluencing church leaders: We’re seeking opportunities to influence influence senior pastors and other church leaders to become champions of disability ministry and reaching out to seminaries for opportunities to train future pastors and church leaders.

Building institutional relationships: We’re seeking collaborations with like-minded ministry organizations (like CLC Network!) with complementary gift sets and interests, publishers, conference organizers, parachurch organizations, foundations and sponsors to optimize our capacity for casting influence with churches.

To reach people no one else is reaching, we have to try stuff no one else is trying. Key Ministry is honored to serve alongside other like-minded Christians and organizations in a disability movement leading to a future when there will be a church for every child.

 

Steve GrcevichStephen Grcevich, MD is Director of Strategic Initiatives for Key Ministry, after having served as the ministry’s Board Chairman from 2002-2014. He is a physician specializing in child and adolescent psychiatry. Dr. Grcevich is a faculty member at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and Northeast Ohio Medical University, and has been involved with research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medication used to treat children and teens with depression, anxiety, ADHD and schizophrenia. He blogs at Church4EveryChild.

 

To Love and Be Loved.

Rylie and Kaitlyn

Rylie and her friend, Kaitlyn

“To love and be loved” is a core desire of every human being. In today’s post, blogger Katie Mulder shares how this prayer and desire for her daughter have been met through friendship found in an inclusive classroom.

AS LONG AS HE OR SHE IS HEALTHY. That’s all we want. It is the mantra of every parent-to-be. We don’t care whether it’s boy or girl, we just want him or her to be healthy.

Our entire vocabulary shifted when Rylie Joy turned 20-months. She was healthy, yes, but she was not typical. She was functional, yes, but she was not thriving. She was perfectly fine, but she wasn’t. Was she healthy?

My first concerns were school and independence and long-term capacity for speech and learning. Seven years into this journey, I find that my prayers have changed. I can do therapy drills and we can alter medications. We can drive to appointments and we can monitor food intake. There is actually so much that can be done to assist the health of our children.

What I cannot do is make another child love my child, and it is the ache of my heart for her to be safe outside the farm gates. Somewhere after the grief of diagnosis and the passion of therapy to increase quality of life, my priorities changed from wanting better test results to knowing her heart was safe.

As long as she is loved. Please let her be known and be loved.

Deep down- beyond the academic stability, financial security, somewhere between health and true love and a safe apartment- we want our children to be liked and loved in community. To have friendships that go deep and live long. To be with someone on the playground slides and at the midnight college study sessions. We know from experience that friendships are hard and fickle and life-saving. And while we hope they pass the math test you’ve been working on for weeks, what we really want is for them to be invited to sit with someone at lunch. This life, whether typical or extreme, cannot be lived alone.

Imagine my joy to find a church willing to help Ry through the ever-changing structure of Sunday school, shuttling her out when the music is too loud, providing an adult-buddy when necessary, making the Message accessible to her on her level.

Imagine my excitement to find a school that welcomed Ry with open arms, allowing for regular sensory breaks and extra test-taking time, including her in a typical classroom instead of making her world smaller in a separate classroom.

Imagine my fear, watching her at the end-of-year party, standing awkwardly on the carpet with her craft when everyone was told to grab a partner. Feel my relief as sweet Kaitlyn ran over without prompting and grabbed Ry’s hands. “Rylie,” she whispered. “Be my partner?”

“Yes,” I answered silently. “Yes.”

So much of Rylie’s school day is a mystery to me. Her lack of language prevents the daily conversations that are common at most dinner tables: who did you sit next to at lunch? What songs did you sing? How did that glue get all over your shirt? I always see the big picture, but the cracks of details are usually empty. Is there one, just one, who seeks out my girl? Will someone walk with her despite her differences? Will choose her when I am not there?

Yes. Yes, indeed.

It will change over the years, no doubt, as it should. Children grow and personalities emerge and ebb and flow. But I am comforted by the sweet hearts of children… the quiet ones who do not make the news… the ones who include and love because it is simple:

We want to love and be loved.

By Katie Mulder, blogger at texasnorth.com. TexasNorth is a little farm in Michigan home to 25 chickens, 35 longhorn cattle, 1 dog, 3 barn cats, a fabulous office-man-by-day-farmer-by-night husband, and 3 ridiculously cute children. Katie has been known to mow the lawn in a skirt and roast marshmallows after dark. She believes in Sunday school and miracles and apple pie.

 

Why Inclusive Education Requires More than Head Knowledge

Today we asked disability advocate, author, and emeritus professor of special education David Anderson, Ph.D. to share why inclusive education requires not only practical knowledge for Christians, but also a transformed view of who we believe our students to be.


Photo: True inclusion begins not with the head, but with the heart. - David AndersonI’ve found that most programs designed to promote inclusive education build from what Amos Yong (2011) called a normate bias: an unquestioned worldview that views able bodies and minds as the ideal, causing people to hide their own weaknesses and limitations, and view disability as tragedy. Research has found that efforts to include children with impairments in the general education classroom are beneficial to students with and without disabilities. Using the concepts of universal design for learning (UDL) and differentiated instruction (DI), response-to-intervention (RTI), and collaborative teaching, educators are able to provide an appropriate education to all students—culturally, linguistically, and economically diverse as well as diversity in ability from impairment.

Nevertheless, there remains an unspoken belief that impairments need to be “fixed,” or disabilities “remedied,” in order for students with unconventional minds or bodies to fit in with others in the classroom. Many teachers, while agreeing in general with the idea of inclusive education, feel they are being asked to do something for which they have not been prepared, nor had they envisioned when deciding to become an educator.

Inclusion Involves Head — Heart – Hand

Diagram that shows synthesis of head, heart, and hands toward inclusive praxis.

Synthesis of head, heart, and hands toward inclusive praxis (Pudlas, 2009).

Ken Pudlas of Trinity Western University spoke of a head–heart–hand linkage as necessary elements of inclusion (Pudlas, 2009). Head refers to what we know—about disability, about teaching methods, about how children learn, etc. This would include the practices of UDL, DI, RTI, and collaboration skill. But “head knowledge” does not guarantee that teachers or schools are truly inclusive. True inclusion begins not with the head but with the heart.

Successful inclusion is not built from what we know, but from who we are, and who we believe our students to be. Heart principles that should inform our Head and guide our Hands (praxis) include biblical concepts of interdependence, community, hospitality, and justice and reconciliation (cf. Anderson, 2012).

Interdependence

Interdependence leads to valuing and honoring each student, not because of what they can do or contribute, but because they are persons created in the image of God—regardless of ability or disability. Interdependence provides a model for the classroom ethos we desire, whether teaching in a Christian or a public school, and has definite implications as to how classrooms and educational instruction should be structured to encourage inclusion.

Community

An inclusive community is one which recognizes the gifts and talents, as well as the needs, of all the students. A community characterized by caring will be one in which everyone, students and teachers alike, plays a role in supporting others. Each student will experience an atmosphere of togetherness in the classroom and school.

Hospitality

Hospitality will be shown by making appropriate accommodations and modifications for all students as necessary (recognizing that what is helpful to a student who has a disability will also be of benefit to others) and through promoting friendships among the students—true friendships, not those simply based on helper–helpee relationships. The classroom should display “activated kindness,” characterized by protection, emotional support, empowerment, and personal commitment on the part of the teachers(s).

Justice and Reconciliation

Biblical justice will be demonstrated in an interdependent, hospitable, classroom community which shows especial concern for those who are weaker and may feel powerless or oppressed by others and seeks to break down attitudinal barriers in order to promote reconciliation between those with and without disabilities.

With the Head being guided by these Heart attitudes, the Hands are enabled to consistently practice inclusion—something we do because of who we are. “Different” students are welcomed as an equal part of the classroom. They are not seen as a burden, but as a privilege and as an opportunity for teachers to further their professional development and all in the classroom to experience the “real” (though fallen) world in which disability is “normal.”

References

Anderson, D. W. (2012). Toward a theology of special education: Integration of faith and practice. Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press.

Pudlas, K. (2009). Head and heart and hands: Necessary elements of inclusive praxis. Journal of the International Christian Community for Teacher Educators (ICCTE), 3(1), http://icctejournal.org/issues/v3i1/v3i1-pudlas/.

Yong, A. (2011). The Bible, disability, and the church: A new vision of the people of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

 

David AndersonDavid W Anderson, Ed.D., is Emeritus Professor of Special Education, Bethel University, St. Paul, MN, where he served for 15 years as Director of Graduate Programs in Special Education. He is also President of Crossing Bridges, Inc., an international ministry focusing on issues of disability and special education, which seeks to promote inclusive practices in churches and schools.

Why Play is Important to Early Childhood Development

“I like to think of play as being the practice a child needs in order to master the many fine skills that will be used for later tasks. Much of what we do as adults is stringing small skills together that we’ve learned automatically. Children are practicing those skills while playing.” – Greg Yoder, teacher consultant at CLC Network

What better time to play than in the summer, when the sun is out, the water is warm, and free time seems endless? Well, as teacher consultant Greg Yoder points out in this clip from his professional development session, play should be a priority year round. Greg Yoder explains why in this video:

The Importance of Play in Early Chilldhood Development CLIP

Click the image above or this link (http://youtu.be/VOKIsUG_11o) to watch this short clip.

With the understanding that play is important, how can you foster creative play in your home or classroom?

  • Be encouraging and not judgmental. Let kids make their own mistakes and learn from them. Don’t interfere too much.
  • Make wise choices in toy selection. Choose toys that allow kids to use their imagination. Some great examples include building blocks, dress up clothes, toy kitchen sets, toy cars with race tracks, and more.
  • Limit all screen time. Many child experts say kids should not have any screen time before the age of two, and very little thereafter.
  • Read aloud to children daily. The most important thing we can do to help a child read is to help them develop a love for storytelling and reading. We can do this by reading aloud to them daily.
  • Be playful with word usage. Teach kids the nuances of language while playing word games. You can do this while driving in the car, shopping at the grocery store, doing dishes at home, or during other daily tasks.
  • Be playful. When your child is having fun, that’s the best time for learning

Additional resources:

Photo of Greg YoderGreg Yoder is a teacher consultant at CLC Network in Grand Rapids, MI. Read about his involvement in creating inclusive communities at West Highland Christian Academy and Creston Christian School.  Articles also by Greg include, The Benefits of Journaling and Include Others – Jesus Did.