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This is a very important topic to make sure we have a handle on. I remember once my wife, Jennifer was a seminar leader for a day-long children's ministry training for our denomination. Her's was the last seminar of the day, and it was the only one she was teaching. A group of people from a church were collecting their things before the seminar was to begin, and she asked if they were leaving. Not realizing she was the one leading the last seminar, they told her, "Well, we don't have any special needs kids at our church, so this seminar doesn't apply to us."
I realize that not every church can perfectly meet every need of every person. However, I imagine that there's a reason that their church did not have any special needs kids; for parents of special needs kids who are looking for a church who will help them spiritually care for their children, it's very clear when a church does not have any interest in accommodating children or teenagers with special needs.
No matter what our church's size, budget, or resources are, there are things we can do to love those with special needs. Because many developmental disabilities cause a child or teenager to behave socially outside the spectrum of what we normally experience in our Sunday schools, small groups, or youth group meetings, children and teenagers with special needs are unfortunately treated--intentionally or unintentionally--as outcasts in some sense. Again, we can't meet every single need or spend the resources to hire a person devoted entirely to ministering to people with special needs. But there's always something we can do to partner with parents who have kids with special needs.
For the moment, there is only one Sunday school pupil in Room 120 at State Street Baptist Church, in Columbia, S.C., a 19-year-old young man who loves puzzles and songs and has painstakingly memorized the books of the Bible.
John Stack's autism and halted mental development set him apart. But his parents, Tim and Ann Stack, don't believe that should limit their son's access to Sunday school and the spiritual lessons that have been so important to him through his life.
The Stacks have developed a class for teenagers and young adults like John, people with special needs who require routine and repetition but who have "aged out" of traditional Sunday school classes.
They hope that soon John will have other classmates join him in Bible study.
"We had been thinking about this for several years," Ann Stack said. "He really towered over the other children, because they were third- and fourth-graders. Mentally he fit, but physically he didn't."
John Stack always had enjoyed Sunday school and church. For years, a church volunteer, Kathy Collins, served as his "shadow," attending classes with him and helping him follow the Bible lessons and craft instructions.
But the Stacks knew that John no longer belonged at the little tables.
"We just felt that it was time for him to move on and there wasn't another place for him to go," his mother, a retired school teacher, said. "We wanted him to continue to grow spiritually and in the church, and we just didn't see that that would happen there."
Benjer McVeigh is the youth pastor that currently serves as the pastor to students in grades 9-12 and their families at Washington Heights Church in Ogden, Utah. His blog can be found at www.benjermcveigh.com