Dirk Vardaman is appreciated in the congregation for is his spirited leading of "Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow," also known as "606."
According to Matthew Lind, College Mennonite Church (CMC) disabilities advocate, the congregation's involvement with disabilities had its genesis, or at least an important early event, in the arrival of Dirk Vardaman as a foster child to Millard and Miriam Lind in 1963. Then three months old, Dirk had multiple disabilities, including cerebral palsy. As Dirk grew up in the congregation, the church stretched to include other people with disabilities. Fifty years later, the congregation still provides Dirk with a church home and extended family.
Steve Lang capably serves as an usher every Sunday morning.
Over the decades, the congregation has welcomed other individuals with intellectual disabilities into its fold. Some adults with disabilities choose to join teacher Don Garber in the Safe Harbor Sunday School class that accommodates their learning styles. Other individuals prefer to participate in inclusive adult education classes. In these classes, friends without disabilities often take responsibility to share a ride when they gather in other places, so that those with disabilities are not left out.
Safe Harbor class members discuss the Sunday school lesson.
Left to right: Lisa Mort, Dan Steiner (class founder and former teacher) and Ritchie Mann.
Friends enjoy sitting together in the front rows during worship. Pictured (left to right) are Lisa Mort, Vera Steiner, Dan Steiner, Brad Koehler. The Steiners' hospitality has been a noteworthy part of the welcome for people with intellectual disabilities at CMC.
Hearing loss is another type of disability that receives attention at CMC. A little extra effort ensures that people living with hearing limitations are able to participate fully in community life. Each Sunday morning, a volunteer dispenses wireless headphones from the church office to about thirty worshipers who appreciate the extra amplification. In addition, a loop induction system transmits the worship audio directly to others with receiver-equipped hearing aids. Sign language interpretation is provided as needed for all services and special occasions.
An inclusive cast performs the children's musical, "Through the Roof," in this photo from CMC's Facebook page. A number of children with disabilities, including Hannah Lind (far left), have been integrated into the fabric of the church, participating in all special programs, Sunday school classes, children’s choirs, etc.
For those who communicate best in American Sign Language, CMC also hosts the Deaf Christian Fellowship, a "church within a church" that meets each Sunday morning. Sheila Yoder, one of ADN's founders, serves as CMC's Coordinator of Deaf Ministries. Interpreters are available for deaf children when they attend Sunday school classes with hearing children. You may remember ADNet’s article about CMC's day camp last summer for deaf and hard of hearing children from the wider community, which ran in our October 2012 issue of Connections.
The Shalom Ringers provide worship music during a Sunday morning service. This handbell choir under the leadership of Don Garber gives an opportunity for adults with disabilities to share the gift of music in worship. Dan Steiner serves as accompanist.
The CMC building offers a model of welcome to people with mobility impairments. Automatic door openers at each entrance make it easy for those who use a wheelchair to enter—as well as those who simply have their hands full. Most of the building is on one level, offering accessibility not only to persons in wheelchairs, but also to those who use walkers and other mobility aids. An elevator provides access to the lower level where the youth classes meet, and where everyone in this busy building gathers when the tornado sirens blow. A ramp providing wheelchair access to the worship platform signals that people with disabilities are welcome in leadership roles. All restrooms are fully accessible, and two family restrooms provide options for those who might need assistance from a caregiver of the opposite sex.
Justin Yoder often takes his place as one of the sign language interpreters, making use of a ramp that provides wheelchair access to the worship platform.
CMC is a community that accepts God's abundant blessing in both giving and receiving. ADN applauds CMC for blessing people with disabilities through receiving and honoring their gifts to the life of the community. We hope you enjoy seeing some of these gifts in action in the photos accompanying this article.
Hannah Lind, daughter of CMC disabilities advocate Matthew Lind receives anointing from CMC pastoral team member Pamela Yoder during a recent worship service.
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Thanks to all who assisted in preparing this article: Matthew Lind (stories), Dottie Kauffman (photos), Sandra Lapp (fact checking and locating photos). Special thanks to all whose photo appears here.
Christine Guth is Program Director for ADN. She wrote this article in collaboration with Matthew Lind.