Bible study is important for students of all ages, but it is not the only key to spiritual growth. The following examples show leaders who, by quiet example, fostered moments of worship and helped students with disabilities to discover, express, and affirm their spiritual faith.
♥ Two students were asked to stand at the sanctuary lectern to read scripture on separate Sundays. One could read but has social fears. Her mother walked with her to the lectern and stood by as she read. The other has no social fears, but she cannot read. She was accompanied to the lectern by a teacher who lined out the scripture passage. The leader whispered a line to the student who repeated it into the microphone, then the leader whispered another line until all the scripture was finished. Opportunities to lead are important, especially with a congregation that gives back good feelings. Community is very important to spiritual growth.
♥ Carmen wanted to talk to God, but she didn’t know what to say, so she told him her schedule of activities for the week. It’s okay for students to recite their calendar of events to God in prayer. Everyone has a level and style in which she communicates with God.
♥ 13 year old Lucy had learned the traditional “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayer, but she said a new and original prayer after her Sunday school class chanted a Psalm of praise. She began her prayer with the group this way: “Hey Dude, you are an awesome God.” Not only a new prayer, but also a new God concept!
♥ During a Sunday school lesson about honesty, Mary (30 years old) got very excited. “So you are saying that God wants me to change.” Long pause. Then a delightful discovery, “And he will help me do it. Wow.” A new understanding.
♥ Juan, before joining the church: “Man! Amazing! These people want me to join them.” Community.
♥ Teenage Charles who has cerebral palsy and is non-verbal completed confirmation class and was joining the church. When the pastor asked him the vows of membership, the congregation waited silently and waited again silently while Charles found the energy to puff his answer to his voice machine. It was a spiritual moment of triumph for Charles and a beautiful and tearful moment for the congregation. Transformation of all persons.
♥ A non-verbal 14-year-old touched the water in the baptismal bowl and answered the vows with “Unngh,” for yes. Tactile and symbolic verbalization.
♥ When love is spoken in a group, any person may pray in any way, and the others will stay silent in respect. One student who talks but is unintelligible said a very long prayer in the prayer circle. Others waited patiently and quietly, then said, “Amen,” when she finished. Only God knew what she said, but it was understood by everyone in the group that it was okay with God and okay with them.
♥ Kelly’s counselor from a large residential center called to say that since Kelly started coming to Circle of Friends, he had broken his long-established pattern of running off at least twice a week. He had not run off one time! Our leaders discussed the reason: He had found a physical and spiritual family where he belonged and felt safe and where love was spoken. Sometimes the blessing of a situation is a mix of physical and spiritual components.
♥ Ten-year-old Tony, who does not speak, played a part in the class Bible story drama. Tony’s mentor shadowed him to speak the words for him. At the end of the short drama, Tony put his arms around, established eye contact with and hugged the play’s other character. They stood that way for perhaps a minute while leaders silently celebrated the sacred moment. Sacred moments for leaders as well as students.
♥ Students found out that serving is part of spirituality when they were given “Servant” slips of paper to be returned after they had performed an act of serving. They gave someone a glass of water, helped someone dial the telephone, greeted a new student, and shared refreshments. Helping Jesus on earth now is possible for everyone.
♥ Adult Harry, late as usual to worship, wouldn’t sit down until his pastor waved back at him. Then he asked, “Can we sing 'Jesus Loves Me'?” The pastor stopped what he was saying, turned to the organist, and said, “We will sing 'Jesus Loves Me'.” And we did. Affirmation and worship for Harry, and an inclusive and caring message for the congregation.
♥ Mary was asked to read the Christmas scripture at a church dinner. She practiced and practiced, and during that time the scripture touched her heart. She read eloquently, received a new Bible for Christmas, and she now reads the scripture for church worship services. Coaching, reading and service as part of the discipleship of worship.
♥ Every week Joan paused by the big bulletin board reading, “Jesus is the Star. Follow the Star.” The board suggested some ways to follow. Finally, Joan was so touched by the message that she told me with tears in her eyes, "Jesus is the star, and he shines his light on me.” Individual worship while encamped in the safety of the church group.
ALL NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED.
Naomi Mitchum is a retired author, Christian educator and consultant in church special needs programming. For over 35 years, she has published articles, curriculum, plays, and books with a special focus of making the church an inclusive home for people with disabilities. Naomi has donated her books and other publications to ADN, and we are so thankful for these generous contributions. You can discover more about Naomi and her life’s work at http://www.naomimitchum.com/.