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.

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