Watching Over Their Flock: Local Churches Offer Special Care During Sunday Services

In every family there are needs that must be nurtured: educational, social, emotional and spiritual. In a family with a child who has a disability, spiritual fulfillment and communal worship needs might be neglected. Families may forfeit organized worship time or go in split shifts because they are concerned their exceptional child will need specialized care not available during worship and do not want to be a burden on the church staff if specialized care is not available.

Lynn Smith, Director of Education Ministries at Blair Road United Methodist Church says, “What so often happens is the family just doesn’t go to church at all. Or the parents take turns. That’s not really how you want to worship. You want to worship as a family.”

Congregational worship is often placed at the bottom of the priority list for families with exceptional children. There are so many other things to worry about. However, weekly spiritual connection is important for parents in order to face the challenges and appreciate the joys of life with a child that has special needs.

Blair Road Methodist Church designed a program called All God’s Children to provide a safe sanctuary for the children of special needs families. “If necessary, the child has a ‘shadow,’” says Lynn, “who cares for the child in a self-contained or blended classroom.” They get to know the needs of each child and provide one-on-one care in a loving spiritual environment, while parents attend regular worship services.

Sardis Presbyterian Church’s program, Friends, has been in existence for seven years. The Friends program allows challenged children to be “mainstreamed” (included with their age group in a classroom), but with the supervision of trained volunteers or “friends.”

Renda Brinson, Director of Christian Education at Sardis Presbyterian says, “We are lucky that we have several nurses from our congregation involved in the program. If a new child joins the program, they may spend several weeks observing the child to help staff understand how to work with them. Parents fill out an extensive form describing their child’s needs and we work with all this information to construct a program that fits the child.” Volunteers and staff members at Sardis have been trained to help children with all types of special needs including mental retardation, Down Syndrome, ADHD, Cerebral palsy and head injury.

Matthews United Methodist’s Rainbow Ministries offers sign language interpreters, separate classrooms or customized learning materials as part of their program during two worship services on Sunday morning. A buddy program offers a chance for full integration into regular Sunday school for some students. The church trains the buddy and remains in contact with the teacher and parents to insure the child’s needs are met.

These houses of faith are reaching out to families with special needs in a unique way, providing individualized care so parents of special needs children can attend Sunday services together, confident their child is in good hands. And by doing so, they are caring for the spiritual needs of the whole family.

This is only a small sample of the houses of faith in the Charlotte area offering special needs programs. Before attending a worship service, please contact your church or synagogue to determine if they have a program that fits your exceptional child’s needs.

Blair Road United Methodist Church
135 Blair Road
Charlotte, NC 28227
704-545-6785
www.blairroadumc.org

Matthews United Methodist Church
801 South Trade Street
Matthews, NC 28105
(704) 847- 6261
www.matthewsumc.org

Sardis Presbyterian Church
6100 Sardis Rd
Charlotte, NC 28270
(704) 366-1854
www.sardis.org

Eve White is editor of Charlotte Parent magazine.