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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.”