Monthly Archives: August 2009

Anchorage Church of Christ: Good Service…Welcome Needs Work

[img_assist|nid=143224|title=Anchorage Church of Chris Sign on Debarr|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=141]Summary
Invited by a member, I visited Anchorage Church of Christ on August 2 for their 10 a.m. service. Warmly greeted by their sole greeter that day, he did enquire if I was visiting, a sometimes uncomfortable question to be asked. However, no bulletin was handed to me and no further greetings were made. The singing was wonderful, acapella, i.e. without instrumental accompaniment. The preaching was great, a relevant message, and understandable. The service proceeded mostly without explanation. To a visitor it might have been difficult to follow. For instance, communion was served early in the service without comment. A visitor might wonder if they should partake or not. However, on the whole, this was a meaningful visit and one that might easily accomodate a visitor looking for a good church.

Why This Church?
Despite anxieties about being proselytized, many church visitors will come because they’ve been invited. I made this visit to Anchorage Church of Christ because of a member invitation. Last spring I became acquainted with a special needs teacher while helping in her classroom. She further helped me understand some correspondence I received from a reader who had experienced un-Christian treatment in her church with respect to her children with special needs. Subsequently, this teacher invited me to attend her church. The result of these special needs discussions was the recent three part series about special needs emphasis (or lack thereof) in the Anchorage church community.

First Impressions Count
I place significant weight on the greeting, hospitality, and warmth expressed by a church. The very first impression was mixed, not negative, just mixed. The sole male greeter was warm and friendly but immediately asked if I was visiting. This question puts a visitor on guard. Usually visitors don’t like to be singled out, so I queried him if I looked like a visitor. A better approach is to say, “Hi, I’m Chris. Welcome to Anchorage Church of Christ. We’re glad you’re here with us today. Enjoy the service.” Usually the visitor, once the ice is broken will offer their name. For a church this size, one greeter was woefully inadequate. They needed at least six. There were several sanctuary door people but not effectively greeting. I was not offered a bulletin and went without one during the service

Well Dressed but Noisy
I was surprised by the din before the service with much noisy talking in evidence. Quite different from other churches I’ve visited. A screen in the front of the auditorium had repeated displays of all types of announcements, much like a movie theater before the main attraction. The worshipers were well-dressed, above average for a church today. The service did start a few minutes late with a churchman saying “Good Morning Everyone”. He had to repeat this twice before people quieted down, waiting patiently for over a minute for a worshipful quiet. (click here for the entire service recording where you can hear this for yourself). There was negligible mention of visitors during the service, a serious omission in my opinion.

Great Singing
As a churchgoer who appreciates great singing and wonderful musical accompanyment, I’m always stunned by attending a church that does not believe in using musical instruments. However, it is a joy to actually hear people singing and note the words of the songs. Many churches with praise teams and praise bands in this town, successfully drown out the singing with their musical volume. This was not the case this day and was pleasant to experience. They did sing many songs however. I counted six at the beginning, and usually all or most of the verses sung.

A young man came onstage as a witness, sharing the story of his conversion and baptism. He urged people to “remember your story”. Communion was served by an energetic and dedicated group of men. No mention was made of the service or church thinking about sharing communion, a telling omission. If a visitor doesn’t know the rules, they can easily be stressed by the experience. In a quest for a seamless service, I feel this church ignores people who are new. The only mention of visitors was in asking them to fill out a registration card, but little welcome. I filled out a card, putting it in the offering plate (see photo of duplicate). I’m not sure why I completed it as I’ve never received an acknowledgement of my visit. This is quite typical of churches. Rarely, in my church visits, do I complete a requested visitor card and receive a note from the church. I’ll devote a future blog to this.[img_assist|nid=143226|title=Ignored ACC Visitor Registration Card|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=228]

Good Preaching
Mike Shero is ACC’s preacher and a good one at that. His message, starting 40 minutes after church started, was titled Armour of God and based on Ephesians 6:10. Extemporaneous and bible-based it was fully of surety and conviction. Preacher Shero had excellent eye contact with his audience. PowerPoint slides were used but not abused. They were short and to the point. Shero did not read them but they augmented his excellent preaching. I noted he tended to preach more to the left side of the audience (Shero’s right). You can listen to his sermon and the entire service here. The offering was taken without visitors being advised they were under no obligation to give. This tends to pressure visitors. Visitors were finally briefly welcomed at the very end of the service.

Final Thoughts
This is a good and active congregation. They have many notable ministries including deaf, prision, and substance abuse ministries. I was comfortable attending this church. However, it could benefit from understanding the Christian’s role to be hospitable and welcoming to the stranger in their midst. Studies indicate the more churches do to welcome visitors, setting them at ease, the more those visitors will gain from the worship and message, becoming more likely to return. For the most part, this was a good visit. Thank you Kathy for inviting me. I can recommend your church to other visitors.[img_assist|nid=143225|title=Anchorage Church of Christ Exterior|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=120]

As a follow-up to a focus on special needs offerings of several local churches, I’m pleased to offer this heartfelt and insightful guest blog by Erin Kirkland this week. ct[img_assist|nid=143228|title=Guest Contributor – Erin Kirkland|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=225|height=390]

He’s Just ‘Alright’
I believe if Jesus were here he would dig my son. He is inquisitive, sensitive, and intelligent. He is also impulsive, immature, and sometimes downright annoying.

My teenager lives a life affected by Asperger Syndrome, a disorder on the Autism Spectrum that manifests itself through poor social skills, decreased judgment, and a lack of impulse control, among other things. He makes his way through every single moment of every single day knowing that he is not like everyone else. He has taught us, his parents, more about grace than could any other experience in our lives.

Church as a concept for our family has been an up-and-down journey. Incessant questions of “Why are these people talking so long?” and “Can we go now?” have punctuated my worship time since preschool days, along with restless legs and blank stares and my futile attempts at explaining away behaviors to seemingly deaf ears who really just wanted me to make my kid shut up.

Like most people with Asperger Syndrome who thrive on fact-based information, my son has trouble conceptualizing a god who could be in charge of someone’s life. Indeed, God is not something to be seen or heard or felt, as author Daniel Tammet describes so eloquently in his book “Born on a Blue Day”. He states, “In secondary school, I had no interest in religious education and was dismissive of the possibility of a god or that religion could be beneficial in people’s lives…and the religious arguments that I read and heard did not make any sense to me.”

Tammet, however, is a Christian, and does have deep interest in pondering the questions of life, death, and love, but his ultimate acceptance of Jesus into his life came after intellectual curiosity had been satisfied through the help of a mentor. We have yet to find that someone.

When middle school Sunday classes approached at a well-known and well-established church in Anchorage, our son positively exhausted leaders with questions concerning not his own personal faith walk, but the historical facts surrounding the Old Testament, God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. He read the Bible like a Guinness Book of World Records, finding names of the various pharaohs, heroes and villians particularly fascinating, especially those who lived to be over 150 years of age. Unable to grasp abstract concepts surrounding a personal commitment to Christ during his confirmation, he fretted and stewed for days about how he was going to explain the Bible passage assigned to him and eventually just faked his way through a one-on-one “discussion” with an Elder. He had no idea why he was up on the alter receiving a cross. He just followed everyone else. As usual.

Youth Group, too, was fraught with anxiety-producing situations that staff were unable to manage, even after a meeting prior to the school year. Weekend retreats, concert outings, and special events gradually became off-limits to our child simply because the leader, while a genuinely well-meaning individual, clearly did not know what to do with my statistic-loving, sometimes socially inappropriate ‘tween. Since most persons with Asperger Syndrome lack measurable empathy, activities like serving meals at Bean’s Café or collecting socks for a clothing drive meant little to our kid and were breeding grounds for bad behavior and hurt feelings on everyone’s part, and eventually drove us to start shopping for other churches. [img_assist|nid=143229|title=Erin’s Son|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=250|height=368]

Currently residing at a specialized Asperger program in Utah, our son does attend church services, led by volunteers who hand out Bibles and candy bars with equal frequency, thus assuring his attendance. When asked about whether or not he believes in God, however, he answers with the typical ambiguity of a child living with this disorder. “I don’t know.” But he loves music that surrounds the service, and has a collection of songs that, in their own way, allow him to feel love, acceptance, and a concept of our Almighty. This kid knows that Jesus let everybody hang out with him, even the annoying people. Especially the annoying people.

Oh, and our teenager’s favorite song? It’s “Jesus is Just Alright With Me”.
Erin Kirkland is a freelance writer, blogger, and member of Trinity Presbyterian Church.

Trinity’s Community Caring Extends to Children With Special Needs

Why Write About Special Needs in Churches?
Last week I started a series of articles about church inattention to children with special needs in Anchorage (click here to view first article). This week I focus on the only other Anchorage church I’ve been able to identify which offers a program for children with special needs, regardless of membership, Trinity Presbyterian Church. This post would not have been possible without significant contributions from Marla McCrorie and Tom Letts of Trinity Presbyterian Church.
Come On I.N. Through Miss Marla’s Eyes

Marla, thank you for sharing Trinity’s Come On I.N. program with Church Visits. What kind of things do you do for the kids?
We are professional shoe-tiers. We affix leg braces. We wash dirty feet. We retie the same little shoes. We dodge waving feet while changing a diaper. We care for wet socks and boots. We tie those shoes again. We massage palsied legs. We fasten buckles on wheelchairs. We apply duct tape to those untied shoe laces. And because we believe Matthew 25:40 “…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me,” we know that in some wondrous way we have touched the feet of God.

How did Come On I.N. get its start?
As Christian professionals among children who experience disabilities, we hope that our young friends meet God through our gentle touches and loving spirits. But a few of us colleagues have wished aloud that our students could meet God Himself and experience a caring Christian community. Several years ago I had a brainstorm. I wondered if Trinity Presbyterian Church would give us the space for a program My confidence was well-placed, and the Come On I.N. church program began at Trinity, three years ago.

Tell us about the program, who serves it, and who it serves.
Come On I.N. (I.N. stands for Intensive Needs) is a worship and Bible-learning venue that welcomes children with physical and cognitive impairments. Come On I.N. is staffed by special education professionals who write their own visual-tactile curriculum appropriate for a variety of needs, including autism. Packaged for sharing with other churches, a starter curriculum is available for free to other educators and parents.[img_assist|nid=142960|title=Daughter Carrie Showing David & Goliath Story|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=300|height=230]

I further asked “Miss Marla” McCrorie, Come On I.N. founder, how the program works?
God is a communicator. We trust that He is able and wants to communicate with all children, even the non-verbal ones. I use interactive bulletin board displays, Bible-character dolls, custom-composed songs, picture-exchange communication, and other techniques similar to those used in the children’s school programs. “Teacher time” is brief, individualized, and highly routine, followed by group singing time, free play, and an occasional visit from the group’s “therapy chicken.”[img_assist|nid=142959|title=Miss Marla Showing It’s “Teacher Time”|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=300|height=402]

God is available, not only to people who can sit quiet and still, but also to those whose worship includes a flapping parachute, a bouncy trampoline, and twirly scarves. Heaven is full of motion and sound Fortunately, Trinity has given three conjoining classrooms away from the main auditorium, for Come On I.N.’s busy praise time.[img_assist|nid=142961|title=Miss Marla Musically Shows Jesus’ World|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=300|height=416]

The Come On I.N. door is open during Trinity’s regular church service, Sundays at 10:30. This allows families to attend church together, some for the first time. The new fall series “I Talk to God; God Talks to Me” begins August 30. The church refers to this date as the Fall Kick-Off. But, the kids will probably ‘kick off’ their shoes.

Contact Marla McCrorie at Trinity for further information about Come On I.N. at 907.345.4823.

[img_assist|nid=140858|title=Pastor Tom Letts|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=105|height=257]Tom Letts, Trinity Presbyterian’s Senior Pastor, shares his vision of Come On IN’s community role.
Trinity is seeking to become a community of faith whose first and primary question each day is: how might we serve our neighbors as freely as Christ has served us? We pray that our community of faith is profoundly committed to caring for the needs of our neighborhood in how we use our: time, money, energy, building…

The Come On I.N. ministry is a small group of people from Trinity, led by Marla, who have a heart for intensive needs children and their families. Marla and her team have one desire: to serve families with intensive needs children. The family is asked NOT to pay for or volunteer in the program. The special needs child is given a warm environment where they are introduced to the love of God for all people.

This kind of caring for our neighbors in practical, no strings attached, ways is really taking hold at Trinity. Maybe one day Trinity will simply be known as, that group of neighbors who really makes a caring difference. And maybe one day our neighbors will see that our caring does, in fact, come from a God who knows and loves them.

Additional Resources
1. Ernest Schlereth article, Special Needs Trusts and Religious Institutions, May 2009, EP Magazine.

Excellent article by an Anchorage attorney which incorporates a colorful description of Miss Marla’s program.

2. Anchorage Daily News Article, “God in few words: Sunday school strives to give autistic children knowledge of the divine” by Ann Aurand, September 17, 2006

This well-written in-depth article describes how Miss Marla’s Come On I.N. program functions.

My Favorite Quotes From the Anchorage Daily News Article
“Children with autism are the closest thing to Christ we have. Maybe they’re here to teach us something.” Deneen Bozeman, whose son, Jathan, is autistic.

“Lessons about God come via sensory experiences for children.”

“Jim Huykill, executive director of the Christian Council on Persons with Disabilities in Florida, said he estimates that about 15 percent of all churches around the country provide some sort of special services for people with a disability; most commonly, specialized Sunday school programs for the developmentally disabled.”

“It’s not nearly as large as it needs to be, he said.”

St. John UMC: A Bright Light In Special Needs Leadership

Why Write About Special Needs in Churches?
Recently I received an sad email from a parent of several autistic children. It told a story of a church that no longer cared to deal with them or their autistic children. I was asked if I could point them in the direction of a church that did care. I’ve looked and am astounded at the almost total lack of such programs in Anchorage. As I uncover special needs programs, I’ll feature them in the Church Visits blog. As Christians we should ever be mindful of Christ’s statement “…Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Mt. 25:40[img_assist|nid=142798|title=Pastor Jo Ann Schaadt Signing in St. John’s Special Needs Classroom|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=300|height=275]

St. John UMC Cares
Jo Ann Schaadt, Associate Pastor of St. John United Methodist Church shared information with me about their special needs program.

“We call our program Friendship Ministries. It currently caters from middle to high school students with a range of special needs. Parents and caregivers, students and their peers join with a variety of members of our church. Some of us have a background in special education, and some of us just like to be there. Jody Clingenpeel, a guiding light in our program, is an occupational therapist and a mom. She has a generous and nurturing spirit and the children love her. We even have a mascot – a therapy dog named Sebastian. We gather in a circle to share our highs and lows for the week and then to pray. We sing and share a story from scripture and then find some application of that story. The time goes quickly but it seems to be enough. Some of us stay for the evening service and some have been involved in worship, classes and/ or events at the church earlier in the day. Some are not members of the church but enjoy this time to be with us. Our evening service is very casual with contemporary music styles, guitar, drums, praise singing and very much open to students. All are always welcome. Beginning the third week of September, Friendship Ministries at St. John will meet at 5:30 on Sundays.”[img_assist|nid=142800|title=Sebastian the Therapy Dog|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=300|height=325]

Pastor Schaadt related the following touching illustration of the power of vision this program into existence.

“When a new family came to our church about 10 years ago, there was concern about how people might respond to their son who was five or six and has Down syndrome. They were met by our diaconal minister, Rose McLean, who immediately asked, “How can we best meet your family’s needs?” One of our youth was matched with their son guiding him through Sunday School and church life. Knowing I had a background as a speech-language pathologist, the mom started sharing her dreams for new programs. Now my administrative assistant, she’s been our visionary and practical coordinator since.”

Stone Soup’s Sib Shop Also Offered at St. John
Going on, Pastor Jo Ann tells of a related program being offered that is both innovative and exciting.

“Last spring, we joined with Stone Soup to begin a Sib Shop program at our church. The Sib Shop hyperlink details the training we did with Valley people. We tested in the spring, and go operational in September. Siblings of kids with special needs can come to the church (registration is through Stone Soup) from 10-1 one Saturday a month. Through play and fellowship, their shared challenges are addressed and friendships are formed. Each of our facilitators as well as myself and parents were trained by Don Meyer from the University of Washington. We run our program as prescribed making full use of our gym, kitchen, youth rooms and when possible our great outdoors.”

But Wait, There’s More
Pastor Schaadt is very excited to announce a new program, several years in the planning.

“Beginning September 13th, there will be a 11:00 Sunday School class, specifically for upper elementary school children with special needs. We will use The Way of the Child curriculum from the Upper Room. The plan is to have a quieter, slower and more tactile way to approach Bible stories and prayer. We already have four families who are planning on participating.”

There’s Always Something Different At St. John
Consistent churches are always there, week in and week out. St. John is an unusual light in our community, always working behind the scenes to better our community and the world. You’ll find them offering a friendly welcome, a hot cup of coffee, a gathering of hands to those in hurt, reaching out to those in need. To me they typify the true spirit of Christianity in action. And…you rarely see them putting their hand out for a donation. Their programs for special needs children and adults typify this spirit. If you want further information about these programs, feel free to call Pastor Schaadt at 344-3025.