Meeting Special Needs
“God moves here every day,” said Chris Robbins, Woodlands UMC Special Needs Ministry Coordinator. It is a testimony echoed by both the volunteers and the families the ministry serves.
Woodlands UMC’s “Special Blessings Ministry” began in 2004 to serve six families with young special needs children in need of care during the worship service. As the children grew, and their needs changed, “Special Blessings” grew along with them. In 2007, Woodlands UMC formed “Remix,” a youth group for teens with special needs. In 2011, the church launched “Revive” to minister to special needs young adults.
The ministry continues to grow in service today. Recent innovations include expansions to provide areas for sensory sensitive attendees, a specialized curriculum, and a “buddy program” that serves over forty-five people each Sunday ranging in age from toddlers to senior citizens. Woodlands UMC wants every man, woman, and child to know that they are loved by God regardless of the challenges they face. “Special Blessings” is intentionally inclusive, adapting as many of the traditional church programs for their special needs participants as possible, including Bible studies, family worship services, and a choir.
“Special Blessings” is a tremendous encouragement to the families it serves. Parents are comforted by the support of their church community as it comes alongside them to provide a safe, and nurturing environment where their children can truly be a part of worship and Bible study, but it is also a blessing to the volunteers who serve. “To help others know Christ’s love is what we are called to do as disciples,” said Melissa Johnson, a thirteen year veteran of the ministry, “I hope that I have blessed them by serving in the ministry at least as much as they have me.”
Julie Brown, Director of Children’s Ministry at Marvin UMC, hopes to reach out to “Special Blessings” for guidance as Marvin UMC develops their own special needs ministry. The new ministry, which is in its foundational stages, will be named “Rainbow Kids,” in honor of the variety of challenges the children face, as well as the hope of God’s promise which the rainbow represents.
Marvin UMC has taken the first steps in the formation of the ministry by building an inclusive playground where children of all abilities can play together. The church has also constructed “buddy boxes” in each classroom, equipped with sensory toys, where caring adults are able to work with children challenged with attention disorders. These children, who need more supervision, will also benefit from Marvin UMC’s new “buddy program” in which volunteers will help provide one to one care.
“God is calling us to be all inclusive as well as provide a place for families to leave their children with more extreme needs in a place of safety, love, nurturing, and biblical teaching so that their caregivers can relax, be loved, and spiritually fed,” said Julie.