New Disabilities Group Seeks to Network Congregations

Post a Comment » Written on July 13th, 2007     
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CHICAGO, IL (July 13, 2007) – Several decades ago, when Jim Swanson was pastor of Calvary Covenant Church in Cranston, Rhode Island, someone began pounding on the door of the church. When the pastor opened the door, he found a young boy of grade-school age with Down syndrome.

“Can I come in?” Swanson recalls the boy asking. “If that wasn’t a prophetic wake-up call . . . he wanted to see the inside of the church.”

The congregation didn’t know how to minister to the boy or his family, who had left another church to find a place that would care for them. So the church turned to nuns teaching at a nearby school for advice.

“Before you knew it, we had Sunday school classes going for children and for adults (with disabilities),” Swanson says, and the needs of the families also were being addressed.

In recent years, the number of Evangelical Covenant churches engaging in ministries to people with mental and physical disabilities has been growing. A newly formed Disabilities Ministry Resource Committee, working under the auspices of the Department of Christian Formation, hopes to network those congregations. The committee also seeks to encourage and provide resources for other churches to begin special needs ministries. The committee has met twice since March via conference calls, and a third meeting is scheduled for later this month.

“The development of this committee is a tangible statement that we believe everyone is made in the image of God,” says Millie Lungren, a member of the committee and director of the Covenant Resource Center. “It’s time the church truly reflects the whole of the kingdom, acknowledging the gifts and receiving the blessings of all persons.”

Swanson’s daughter, Karna, was born in 1971 with Down Syndrome and was a charter resident, first of Bjorklund House and then Independence Place, where she now lives. Both houses are part of the denomination’s Enabling Residences.

People with disabilities need the ministry of the church, including proclamation of the gospel, even if some are mentally unable to understand, Swanson says. “The gospel of grace isn’t just a matter of intellect. Who really understands communion? Who really understands God?”

Because the committee was formed only recently, definite action plans have yet to be set. Swanson says some of the committee members’ many dreams include working with North Park University to promote awareness of special needs as well as making the campus more handicapped accessible, empowering youth at CHIC to take control of their lives and contribute to the ministry of their churches, and integrating people with disabilities into the life of the church so that they are no longer “ministered to,” but are “ministering with.”

Some churches are hesitant about starting special needs ministries because they feel ill-equipped, Swanson says. “I want churches to realize there are more resources in their communities than they realize.”

He encourages congregations that don’t have people with disabilities to consider starting special needs ministries as a way to reach out to others beyond their church walls. “If you’re not prepared to receive them, they’re not going to come,” he reasons.

Lungren requests churches interested or already engaged in special needs ministry, but have not been contacted by the committee, to contact her by calling 800-338-4332 or by emailing Millie Lungren. A bibliography of related material can be found on the Covenant website.

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