Supportive Care in the Congregation: Providing a congregational network of care for persons with significant disabilities. Revised 2011 Edition. By Dean A. Preheim-Bartel and Aldred H. Neufeldt, with additions in the 2011 edition by Paul D. Leichty and Christine J. Guth
Visionary Mennonites in the 1980's dreamed of a role for congregations in supporting families who are caring for dependent loved ones with disabilities. The vision found eventual expression in the booklet, Supportive Care in the Congregation by Dean A. Preheim-Bartel and Aldred H. Neufeldt.
Published originally by Mennonite Central Committee's Mental Health and Developmental Disability Services in 1986 and revised and updated by ADNet in 2011, the booklet remains well known and appreciated in religious disabilities advocacy circles across North America.
Here we introduce essential ingredients in the Supportive Care model. We hope it will whet your appetite to discover for yourself the wealth of ideas that are part of our Anabaptist heritage in this book.
Challenging the church to care
Supportive Care was and is a response and counter-movement to society’s trend toward treating disability services as a business or commodity. The booklet’s authors lament that care motivated by Christian values is often “lost to expedience and the profit motive.” The Supportive Care model challenges the church “to recapture the early New Testament church’s vision for caring for its own and the needy in the community within the family of faith.”
Clarifying underlying values
Supportive Care recognizes and affirms the concern that families have for quality of life, continuity of care, and financial security for their dependent loved ones. The model affirms Anabaptist theological traditions of agape love, service, hospitality, and mutuality in the body of Christ.
Supportive Care further assumes that congregations have the means of providing significant support, mutual care, and nurture to persons with disabilities and their families. It recognizes that human beings experience wholeness as we participate in supportive, caring communities.
A plan of congregational action
The central feature of Supportive Care is the formation of Supportive Care Groups. Such groups are based in and accountable to a local congregation. Their emphasis is on strengthening the natural network of relationships for the person who is the group’s focus.
Describing roles within the group
Supportive Care outlines roles for group members, beginning with the dependent person and his/her family members. Significantly, other group members take on roles until that time assumed mainly by parents. These roles include guardian, friend, monitor of values and principles, program advocate, steward (trustee), spiritual mentor, medical advocate, parent partner, and worrier.
An implementation process
Supportive Care suggests a process for implementing the plan of action within the congregation. Steps in formation include:
Initiation by congregational leadership and preparation of congregation
Formation of group and training
Developing support group covenant and congregational covenant
Legal and financial arrangements
A larger resource network
From its outset, Supportive Care envisioned a network beyond the congregation for resourcing Supportive Care Groups. The wider network would monitor and resource local care groups through the work of a facilitator and special training events. Regional networking groups would sponsor retreats, celebrations, and educational seminars. The network would also provide connections with a churchwide disability office and denominational foundations. While a few of these elements materialized, the full emergence of such a network has been limited by budgetary realities.
ADNet would value your feedback on the usefulness of the Supportive Care model in today’s world. We would love to hear your stories about congregations providing aspects of supportive care for individuals with diverse disabilities and their families. Contact us.