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Church Attendance and Caregiving
We haven’t seen them for a while. They never come to church anymore. Why did they stop coming? The answer to that question pops up often on the ABLE Ministry UPCI Facebook page. The answer is different for many families, but the bottom-line answer is always the same: They can’t figure out a way to go to church and provide care for their loved one at the same time. Maybe their spouse is too ill to travel, maybe their child has a weakened immune system, or maybe their loved one is so disruptive that they are unable to be in the sanctuary.
What are the options for caregivers? None of them are ideal. They can have a family member stay home with their loved one while they go to church. This can be difficult if their family doesn’t live close to them. They can pay someone to either sit with their family member at home or attend church with them and care for them in the church building. Depending on the needs of their loved one, this can get expensive. If the family member has a significant medical issue, trained medical staff can be required, which is costly. Some states offer subsidies for care, but not all states provide these services.
Some families tag team each week—one parent taking the responsibility of caregiving while the other attends church. However, if one of the parents is used in leadership or ministry during the service, often the other takes a bigger share of the caregiving load.
If there is no other option than to stay home, caregivers often turn to online resources such as Revival Radio, My Hope Radio, or YouTube recordings to feel God’s presence. Larger churches offer online streaming of their services in real-time, which can help caregivers feel less alone. Some families have church services in their living room.
How can we help families who are in this situation? At times, expecting someone to ask for help or telling someone they need help can be tricky. Approach these conversations with grace and love. Often the caregiver already feels guilty because they have been missing church.
What can the church do? Notice when they aren’t there. Pray for them. Trust that the issue they are facing is hard enough they cannot find a solution. Understand. Reach out. Offer to Skype or Facetime the service. Send CDs or DVDs of the service. Drop off a gift or a meal at their home. Send a card. Often their loved one doesn’t need trained medical staff but simply needs someone to be on-call. Offer to sit with their loved one once a month. Offer to accommodate. If the parents say their child needs to be in another room with someone, trust them. Is there someone besides the parent who can assist?
Brainstorm with them in love—caregivers are often sleep-deprived, hopeless, depressed, anxious, or stressed. Help us think out of the box. Is the issue with finances? Can the church supplement the cost once a month so the caregiver can come to church without worry? Is the issue that there are no family members that can help? Can a few church members rotate and offer to watch their loved one for them? Can someone watch their child at church even if it is in a Sunday school room with their favorite game?
Most importantly, love them when they are there. Sometimes love is displayed by holding back comments such as “I haven’t seen you in forever! Where have you been?” Perhaps a better comment might be, “I know things are difficult right now, but I love seeing you when you can come. How are things going?”
For some families, most weeks are manageable, but then comes a change. Maybe it’s daylight savings time, a change in season, a change in type of clothing, or it’s holiday time which can be filled with anxiety and disruption. Maybe it is a time of transition—either back to school or back to summer. These changes in schedule and timing can affect people, especially those prone to anxiety.
What should we never do? Judge.
Lord, I pray that those who are home with loved ones this week feel Your presence. That You give them hope and peace and strength. That You send those who can show them Your love in a way that is unexpected and real.
Questions About Being Baptized and Receiving the Holy Ghost
My child wants to be baptized but is terrified. What can we do?
Can you figure out what the exact issue is? Is it due to social anxiety, fear of water, or all of the attention given to the person being baptized? Perhaps you could schedule a private baptism service when there are fewer people there. Be sure to videotape it so it can be shared with the entire church family!
If there is a balance issue and they are afraid of being laid backward into the water or have extreme vertigo when this happens? There is nothing in the Bible that specifies the exact position a person must be baptized in, only that it must be by immersion in the name of Jesus. Perhaps sitting down in the water and bending the head forward into the water or leaning forward is an easier way to do it. Even squatting down might be easier than being pushed backward.
Practice, practice, practice. For example, if the fear is getting his head under water or his face wet, practice that at home, building up the skill. Work on getting his face and head wet with a damp washcloth, one that is more wet, splashing water on the face and head, sticking parts of his head in the water, and then going under the water partially. Seek the help of a swim instructor for additional tips. Think outside of the box. Does plugging her nose and ears help? She might be the only person who ever got baptized with goggles and a swimming cap but her sins would be washed away just the same!
My dad is in a wheelchair and wants to be baptized. Our church uses a horse trough. Even if we could get him out of the wheelchair, he is too big to fit. What can we do?
The baptism doesn’t need to take place in a church baptismal tank. Often, places that do water therapy have swimming pools that are accessible to individuals with a physical disability, and they may be able to provide a lift chair to ease the person into the water. I have heard stories of people being baptized in hospitals or nursing homes in large bathtubs.
How can I tell when my adult brother with an intellectual disability is ready to be baptized? He has very limited verbal ability.
Similar to how we can tell when a child is ready to be baptized, does he seem to understand the concepts of doing right and wrong or sin? Does he pray or feel God’s presence? Has he repented? Does he understand what baptism means? As with children, some churches wait until people get the Holy Ghost before they are baptized. There is no doubt at that point whether or not they are “ready”!
My brother has Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism. He doesn’t like being touched by people, not even family, and will never go up front to pray or be prayed for. He does say he wants the Holy Ghost. What should we do?
There are certain disabilities that cause people to have extreme social anxiety. We have heard many reports of people getting the Holy Ghost in their home. As a family, make sure there is an opportunity to worship God and pray in the privacy of your home. God’s presence is not limited to the four walls of the church. Often it is helpful in these cases to record or videotape the experience to share with your pastor and church family.
Behind the Scenes: Disability Ministry Ideas
Are you looking for ideas to minister to individuals with specials needs and their families? If you are like me, the answer to that question is “always!” Thankfully, the Lord allowed my home church to have three very different, but successful, events over the last year. Our mission was to offer three separate occasions, each with their own focus. The first two events, although similar in nature, differed in their target audience.
The Church Awareness and Training was designed to provide training for our own members and members of other local churches. The goal of this session was to raise an awareness with ministerial staff, Sunday school teachers, ushers, and other church members on the importance of supporting our special needs individuals and their families.
The Parent and Guardian Support Meeting was designed for the parents and guardians themselves. It was a time for them to gather and ask questions.
Our final event was our first Annual Special Needs Service and After-Party. We invited other area churches and also spread the word throughout the community. We were very excited to have several first-time visitors, and the event became a great outreach!
We began the afternoon with a short service. We followed the service with an indoor after-party. We provided healthy snacks, a craft table, games, and a photo area. We made sure to let each parent know that we would be happy to make adjustments to any crafts and games that were needed. Outdoors, we had a petting zoo along with a fire truck from the local fire department, a police cruiser, and trooper from the state police department.
Our goal for the day was simple: to provide a service and event for individuals with special needs. It was a time for them to be themselves and just have fun. No one needed to worry about being too loud or too excited. This was their day. It was a day to hang out with their friends and meet some new ones.
God truly blessed the day. It was so rewarding to hear the different stories from parents and to see all the smiling faces. Not only were each of the special needs individuals thrilled with the day, but it brought a fulfillment to each and every volunteer.
To sum it all up, be encouraged! Find the right events that fit for your church. Find those in your own congregation who can bring a different perspective to your ABLE ministry. Start with creating an awareness by providing training for the church staff, ministry, and teachers. Second, find time to minister to the parents and siblings of special needs children and create an outlet for them to seek godly council. And most importantly, don’t forget to minister to the special needs individuals themselves.
Angela Arrand and her husband, Rev. Joshua Arrand, attend More Life Tabernacle in Swartz Creek, Michigan, with their two children Boston (17) and Brooklyn (16). She enjoys traveling and spending time with her family.
Q: How can I increase awareness about disabilities in our church?
A: If you are a family member of a person affected by a disability, celebrate awareness days! Bring in treats, and talk to Sunday school classes or staff members. Another way might be to have a person affected by a disability speak to the congregation about their life, answering questions such as, “What can the church do to support others affected by disability?” or “What is simply not helpful or what should we never do?”
Q: How can I reach families affected by disability in our city?
A: There are often support groups, blogs, or Facebook pages available that are specific to your town or area of the country. Join them and be an active member. Support groups that meet in person are often looking for speakers. “What does the Bible say about disabilities?” might be a good topic to discuss. Be sure to bring business cards to hand out! Some churches provide two-and-a-half-hour respite care nights for special-needs kids and their siblings. This is another way to get your church associated with the disability community.
Q: There is someone at my church with an intellectual disability. What do I say when I talk to them?
A: It doesn’t take much to give a kind word or a greeting. Meet them at their intellectual level. As one mom said, “I always tell people how old my child is intellectually. Not because we want pity but so people can interact with him better.” If they are socially awkward, take time to figure out what interests them. Just like anyone, they want to be respected and included.
Q: Why does the sign language interpreter have to sit up front? Why can’t they sit in the back?
A: It is helpful to be able to see the body language and facial expression of the person who is speaking. Much of communication is non-verbal. When there is less room between the interpreter and the preacher, they can watch the interpreter and see the preacher at the same time.
Q: We have a family in our church with a child who has difficulty sitting in a service. Often they will sit at the very back of the church, in the foyer, or in the nursery. If I see them during the service, I always stop and say hello and chat with them a few moments. Is this the best way to make them feel welcome?
A: Often families who take their child to the foyer or back of the church try to listen to the service like they are sitting in a pew. Interrupting them is like talking to someone in the middle of church. Please smile and walk on. Picking up the phone or sending them a text that week telling them you care might be a better way to welcome them. Better yet, is there a way you can take their shift and allow them to sit in church? It isn't always possible, but would be such a blessing if you could!
Q: There is someone in our church who often misses church due to their loved one's medical needs. How can we support them when they are there?
A: We asked our Facebook group, “ABLE Ministry UPCI” members, this question.
Here are some of their answers:
Q: What is a G-tube?
A: Medically speaking, a gastrostomy tube (also called a G-tube) is a tube inserted through the abdomen that delivers nutrition directly to the stomach. A G-tube is similar to a second mouth for those who are not able to get what they need orally. It could be because of swallowing issues, eating issues, or because they simply aren't gaining weight. Many people with a G-tube can eat normally as long as there are no restrictions put in place by a doctor.
The fluid bags and pump that administer the formula are similar to an IV. The machine is set up to provide the formula throughout the night at a certain rate. Medicine can also be administered through the G-tube.
Q: There is someone with a G-tube at our church. What do we have to worry about? Can it fall out?
A: Just because someone has a G-tube doesn't mean they are any different from someone who doesn't have one. They can still enjoy all the activities that everyone else does with little to no adaptations.
Sometimes kids with G-tubes have special strollers. Otherwise they should be able to go to Sunday school just like any other kid. More care may be required with certain physical activities because the G-tube can fall out. If this does happen, it is not life threatening and no need for panic. The tube can be replaced very easily. Most families are prepared with a kit in the event that this happens.
Q: What is Down Syndrome? I thought it was Down's Syndrome—with an “s” at the end.
A: A common error! Down Syndrome does not have an “s” at the end. It is a chromosomal disorder caused by an extra chromosome. It leads to impairments in cognitive ability and can cause developmental disabilities as well.
This doesn't stop a person with the syndrome from participating in church services. Join our Facebook group for more inspirational examples. Search for ABLE Ministry UPCI.
Q: I don't want to send my son to Sunday school. I am afraid that kids will make fun of him. What should I do?
A: Assuming your son is in school, I would speak to his Sunday school teachers and share his IEP (a personalized individualized education plan that details all of the supports that are needed at school) with them. Even if everything is not relevant, it will give the teacher ideas. It is also helpful to talk to the class about your child's disability and give them a safe place to ask questions. Often education eliminates bullies.
Some churches have "buddies" assigned to children in Sunday school to help them navigate the classroom. Other children require an adult's supervision. In some cases this support can be phased out as the child gains familiarity with the environment. In the perfect world, the support person would not be the parent, but someone the parent feels comfortable with or has personally trained.
It's true, kids can be mean; but it is also true they can be amazingly kind and true friends. For those of us caring for children with disabilities, it is not something we like to think about, but the church will be there long after we are gone. It is important to build relationships, a support system, and good experiences throughout your loved one’s lifetime!
Q: We have kiddos with special needs in our Sunday school class. What resources does ABLE offer for me?
A: There are a few books that are excellent resources. If you are interested in starting a disability ministry, an excellent step-by-step guide is a book called, Steps: Forming a Disability Ministry written by Shelli Allen.
A number of UPCI members have written books about how disabilities have affected their lives, including When God Says No: Finding the Faith to Accept God's Will by Denise Wynn (there is a support group workbook that goes with this book) as well as Sweet Pain: Joy on the Road Less Traveled by David and Nancy Norris.
For specific disability questions, join our Facebook group. There are more than 500 members and many people who are knowledgeable in specific disabilities. Search for ABLE Ministry UPCI.
Q: I think there is a child in our class that is demon possessed. He pushes other kids and hits. He never stops moving and slams himself into walls and other people. He is really disruptive. I am ready to tell the mom not to bring him anymore!
A: While the child may appear to need an exorcism, the truth is, they most likely need something very different. Start by looking at other reasons for their behavior.
Observe what happened right before the behavior and right after the behavior. It is important to figure out what triggers the behavior so you can provide a classroom-appropriate thing to do before the behavior occurs. It may take a couple of weeks of collecting data before you see a pattern.
For example, if a child is hitting, is it always at the same time of the class? Is it when there is less structure? When everyone needs to sit and be quiet? Is it always at the beginning of class as they are coming into the classroom? Is it only when other children get close to them? Is it always during an exciting part of the story or during a really loud activity? And then look at what happens after the behavior occurs. Does the child get in trouble and leave the room? Are they placed in time-out in a quiet hallway? Are they hitting because they know that then they will escape an environment that may be overstimulating?
If possible, talk to the parent about the behavior and see if it happens in other environments. If they see similar behavior at school, they may have an individualized education plan (IEP) in place. This is a plan which lists things the child may struggle with as well as interventions that can help them to stay on task. If Sunday school is the only time it happens, then what is different about that environment? Is there anything you can change that may change the behavior?
Caregiver's Corner: Put On Your Oxygen Mask First!
“Put on your oxygen mask first!” We hear it time and time again when we fly. It is vital that we take care of ourselves so that we can take care of others. Our minds can be overwhelmed with questions such as: How can I ensure they are taken care of, both now and in the future? How can they participate at church? Are they healthy? When will our next visit to the hospital be? But through it all, caregivers need to prioritize their health so they can continue to care for those around them. I am talking not only about physical health but also spiritual health. If we aren't spiritually fed then we cannot expect to feed those around us.
First and foremost, whatever it takes for you to feel the presence of God on a consistent basis, that is what you need to do. There were years when I would go to church, but was unable to attend service in the sanctuary since my husband was involved on the platform in music ministry and in speaking. I would sit with our kiddo in the nursery, far away from God's presence and the body of Christ. Even though the nursery was right outside of the sanctuary, it is amazing what a difference those few feet make!
Eventually we hired someone, using state subsidized money, to care for our child during the service. Some churches hire professionals, similar to how schools do, to provide care for those who have special medical needs during church time. Others use people in the church on a rotational basis so they can enjoy God's presence. Some partner with another family and take turns. Some families trade off with their spouse every week, one going to church and the other watching their medically unstable loved one. Is it ideal? Of course not, but there are many things in life that aren't ideal. But what a difference just a few moments in His presence makes! So much strength can be gained at the altar with the body of Christ carrying your burden with you. As the song says, "Oh, the joy that floods my soul!"
Q: I am not a caregiver, what can I do?
A: I encourage you to start watching. Look around, if there are individuals with special needs in your congregation. What is their caregiver doing? Watch during worship, watch during preaching, watch during altar service. Are they able to participate? Do they head for the door and never come back? Where do they go? What are they doing? Could you volunteer to do that once a month and give them the gift of focusing on God? What a blessing it could be if you would!