A local church in the US recently opened its doors to church and community members to create awareness about autism and other disabilities. The Maranatha Seventh-day Adventist Church in Brooklyn, New York, dedicated an entire Sabbath to educate, encourage families, and foster support.
After Sabbath School, the founder of assistance organization My Time, Inc., Lucina Clarke, emphasized the importance of having empathy and understanding when interacting with children with autism. “God calls us to serve, accept, and welcome” those with disabilities in our congregations, she said, adding that it’s always important to view the person first, before their disability. Clarke’s organization provides “a haven for the parents to feel accepted and not be judged as a parent of a child with special needs.”
Following Clarke’s remarks, Christopher Nankoo, one of her My Time, Inc. clients, presented special music, singing and playing the piano.
Through spoken word and song, the main service, under the theme “Different Perspective,” found ways to highlight the inclusion of those with disabilities, including a children’s story emphasis on Moses, who thought his speech impediment disqualified him from God’s service. The message was twofold: God can use us despite our flaws, and we should strive to help others who need assistance, just as God sent Aaron to be Moses’ spokesman.
Featured speaker Cheryl Silvera delivered a message titled “Whosoever.” Silvera, Greater New York Conference Disabilities Ministries coordinator and a certified New York state educator in special education, took a passage from Leviticus 21, which lists a series of conditions that kept the afflicted from entering worship. Silvera then shared the significance of Jesus’ ministry to that same afflicted population. “God doesn’t ignore the disabled, and we shouldn’t leave this group out of our evangelism efforts or ignore them in services,” she said.
In the afternoon, a panel of mothers and disability advocates shared their experience raising children with autism. Church members asked questions and learned more about how weekly church services can be more welcoming to families dealing with autism. One mother shared that during her visit to a church, she and her son were seated in a separate room to watch the service because he couldn’t sit still. She never returned.
Maranatha church’s associate pastor Everette B. Samuel highlighted the importance of the day. “I think church members need to be aware. It’s almost like another world,” she said. “We as churches need to learn how to incorporate and accept everyone.” Samuel said she hopes members took away the message of empathy and welcoming all.
According to specialists, autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability that can cause a range of significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. An estimated one in 68 children are on the spectrum, and boys are four times as likely to be affected than girls. There is no cure, and early intervention is the best method to improve a child’s development.
An original version of this story was published in the Atlantic Union Gleaner.