Updated: Jan 3
By Barb Stanley
It was only a few weeks ago when I bowed my head, closed my eyes, and began to lead our class in prayer as I had done many times before. “Dear Lord, thank you for this day,” I began.
“Dear Lord,” I heard a small, soft voice repeat beside me. I opened my eyes and looked up. “Thank you for this day,” she said into her folded hands.
Blinking hard, I swallowed down emotion and closed my eyes again. I pressed my chin to my chest and continued praying. Eleven-year-old Avery continued praying after me. Our prayer did not take long to finish, but the feeling of awe that came from it would stay with me for a long time after.
Avery is on the autism spectrum, and in the eight years that she has been one of our students in our church’s disability ministry, that was the first time I ever heard her pray out loud. It was beautiful.
When was the last time God reminded you that what you do matters?
For me, the answer to that question came as soon as I heard Avery’s prayer spilling softly out of her heart, because I knew how much it took for that to happen. In fact, as I sat there on the floor of our church’s sensory-friendly classroom, I began to look around, and for the first time in a long time, I became aware of all the things that made disability inclusion possible at our church.
On the table, I spotted a crooked stack of puzzles and books, each donated by members of the church. Next to that sat a pile of imperfectly drawn, cut, and glued felt characters, ready to be used for our Bible lesson, each one made not by artists but by the hands of our church’s small group members. The walls around us were lined with activity posters, positive behavior support plans, and classroom resources, each one created by people who call this church home. I thought of our disability ministry team members, those who were with us in the room, those who were down the hall serving as buddies, and those who would serve with us in the years to come. And I was grateful to our church’s staff who supported our mission and came beside our ministry, time and time again.
As I sat there watching class end, waving goodbye to our students, I thought about this too: Disability ministry matters. But it is only possible when people in the church realize that what they do matters too.
Without the support of all the many people who make inclusion possible at our church, families whose lives are enriched by being surrounded by Christian community would stay home alone. Volunteers, who create resources that bring the gospel to all learners, would hoard gifts that were never used. And small, soft voices like Avery’s, whispering heartfelt prayers out loud to Jesus for the first time, would go unheard.
Sitting there on the floor that day, just a few weeks ago, I was almost overcome by the realization that everything our church had done to make inclusion possible had mattered. All the time, effort, commitment, and teamwork were worth it. And I knew this too—it was beautiful.
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:10
Barb Stanley started 139 Kids Special Needs Ministry at The Refinery Church of the Nazarene and is founder and president of Wonderful Works Ministry, an online disability ministry resource center. To learn more, please join us on February 23, 2023, for the webinar Disability Inclusion–Setting Your Church Up for Success. Register here.