special_needs_ministryThis summer, St. Thomas More Youth Faith Formation director, Michele McHale-Pickard, asked me which Sunday School class I would like to teach. Kindergarten through second grades are my most comfortable classrooms, but I told her I’d like to move in a different direction. I wanted to form a class for students with learning differences—a class for students who can’t learn in a traditional Sunday School setting.

Our discussion expanded to the variety of special needs that exist in our parish and the feasibility of a ministry that would ensure support to all parishioners who seek education, community, and participation in Mass. We volleyed ideas about adults with vision impairments, sign language interpreters, support groups, peer assistants for EDGE participants and the like. Michele provided me with a list of families who might fit my criteria of need and encouraged me to ask them about their needs.

For six consecutive Sundays I accosted families in the parking lot and in the vestibule. I took down contact information and secured a time when I could connect and learn more about their families. Fr. Mark enthusiastically granted permission for the ministry’s formation, wisely recognizing that we may need to “build this plane as we fly it.”

special_needs_ministry2The Special Needs Ministry was formally established in this fall. It seeks to support all parishioners whose physical or intellectual differences create obstacles for full participation in parish life. Examples of obstacles that may need to be overcome and accommodations that exist:

Physical: Currently in place are handicap parking spaces, an elevator, wheelchair ramps, and seating options throughout the church. If you are unable to walk to the front of the church for communion, please let an usher know and a Eucharistic Minister will bring it to you.

Sensory: Some parishioners struggle to participate at Mass when there is a large crowd. The volume can be overwhelming, and the cry room isn’t a possible alternative. If this is the case for you or someone in your care, please contact me, and we can discuss some options. If a visual or auditory impairment hinders your ability to participate in Mass, let me know.

Intellectual: A special needs Sunday School class is available this fall. I am the instructor, and I have a professional background in speech language pathologist and 16 years experience working with children with various needs. We work at a slower pace with multisensory instruction. If you or your family member is interested in receiving a Sacrament and needs individualized instruction, please contact Michele McHale-Pickard or me for more information. If EDGE/Life Teen/Adult Ministry isn’t a good fit for any reason, please contact me to discuss modifications.

Finally, if you are interested in supporting this ministry, I would love to have your help. Please contact me, and we can discuss how you might fit into this important initiative.

Julie Siler: 404-285-3886