A Note from Chris Adams: I must admit, today’s subject in the Ministering in the Messy series is one I’ve never even thought about. Shame on me. I am sure there are so many other issue that those with special needs deal with that I’ve never considered. As we serve all people in and through our churches, let’s be sensitive to the needs and provide a place for those to be voiced and addressed in a dignified way. Read this week’s article by Deb Douglas, First Baptist Church, Bossier City, LA, and ask what God would have you do.
The Family Church. It’s a popular logo for churches today. It sounds good. Images of families holding hands and gleefully skipping into church come to mind. But are we really family friendly? Do we welcome all families equally? Families with challenges, problems, and obstacles—do we make it easy for them to attend? Specifically, what about families with special needs?
Ministering to all families may be challenging. It takes prayerful, intentional ministry. It takes thinking of the big things and the little things we can do to make being a part of church easier for families who are already facing daily challenges.
Consider this: What happens at church when a person with special needs has a need for a change? A literal change in the bathroom.
The person may be too large for the hanging, fold down changing tables that are in most bathrooms. That means the change has to occur on the floor in sight of others. There are no other options. I would not like to lay down the floor of a public restroom, would you?
Recently, the need for change was brought to my attention by a post on Facebook by Glynda Arnold. I called Glynda to find out more. Glynda is the primary care giver for her sweet grandson, Brady. Brady was born with Optic Nerve Hypoplasia, Septo Optic Dysplasia, Panhypopituitarism, and severe hearing loss to the left ear. That means he is blind, has hearing problems, a host of medical issues, and faces mobility challenges.
As Brady grows and ages, the need for a dignified, adequate place to change becomes more an issue. Even the hospital that Brady must frequent for medical care does not have changing facilities for people with special needs, leaving Glynda with two options: change Brady on the floor of the public restrooms or make a long trek back to the SUV and use the trunk area as a changing place. Because of Brady’s challenges, Glynda has begun a campaign in Alabama to encourage adequate accommodations for changing anyone with special needs. Glynda’s campaign is similar to campaigns across the US and in the UK.
As I listened to the heart of this grandmother, I was challenged. I could not think of any place suitable for changing in my own church. I travel to other churches often to speak; I have not seen adequate changing facilities in any of the churches in which I have spoken.
If we are truly pro-family as churches, it seems logical that we need to be the first to make a change, to make it just a little bit more accommodating, and a little easier for families to attend church. Their lives are challenging enough without having to search for a clean, dignified place to change.
With a few easy adjustments, churches can make a change:
- Get educated. Find out the challenges that families face. Listen! Check out: Changing Spaces Alabama
- Research possible solutions to the obstacles facing families in the church buildings.
- Implement solutions. Do not just talk about it or study it; do something to make a change!
- Make the solutions known. Inform volunteers of the location and the proper use of these changing places.
- Pray for insight into how better to serve people with special needs and differently abled persons.
After hearing Glynda’s story, I stopped at an interstate rest area. In the handicapped stall, a woman was changing her elementary-aged child on the floor. The mom had the door closed and was doing all she could in the situation with what was available. She had a regular sized diaper-changing pad; only it was too small for her child. The child lay on the floor, turning her head away from the women coming in and out who could easily see her exposed on the floor. There was no other place in the restroom for the child to be changed. No options were available for her to get away from the nastiness of a rest area floor.
My heart broke for the child and for the mom changing her. It was a perfect example of why it is important for change to occur! I was also convicted: Every child, every adult deserves a place to change with dignity; a place that removes obstacles to worshiping as a family.
For more help and resources on ministering in the messy, check out Women Reaching Women in Crisis and Steps: Gospel-Centered Recovery or refer to the other articles in the Hurting Women or Ministering in the Messy categories.
Dr. Deb Douglas has served in women’s ministry for over 37 years. Now she spends her time working with Purchased Ministry, a ministry to women in the sex trade industry. Deb is also the Director of Biblical Counseling at First Baptist Church, Bossier City, LA. She was the first to graduate from New Orleans Baptist Theological seminary with a Masters degree focusing on women’s ministry and has earned a Doctor of Education in Ministry degree from NOBTS. She is “Pearl” to 3 sweet grand babies, “Mom” to Jared Douglas and Katie Chavis, and wife/sweetheart to Paul Douglas.