"As he went ashore, [Jesus] saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things." —Mark 6:34, NRSV
Sometimes, a buddy is all a child needs.
That's the philosophy of The Village, a growing United Methodist congregation in Nolensville, Tennessee.
The Village believes in loving all children and families. Recently, the church launched the Village Kids Buddy Ministry to welcome, care for and support children who have special needs or different abilities and who might not otherwise participate in a children's ministry.
The church's website explains: "A buddy is someone who loves God, loves kids and is ready to welcome and offer extra support to any child who may need it. Buddies work one-on-one with children with special needs or disabilities and offer as much or as little assistance as needed to fully experience the Sunday morning worship service with our Village Kids ministry. The goal … is inclusion whenever possible in order to help kids be a part of the church and worship alongside their peers."
On Disability Awareness Sunday, United Methodists celebrate the gifts and graces of people with disabilities and encourage their full inclusion in the community. This special Sunday, often with a designated offering, is observed on a date determined by the annual conference.
When Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me," he meant all of them. Jesus recognized the value of each child, and this special Sunday gives us the opportunity to do the same.
Loving God, often we ignore people who long to be part of our family in faith. Open our eyes to the gifts and graces of every individual. Remind us to welcome, include and love all of your children. Teach us to follow Jesus. Teach us care and compassion. Amen.
From Discipleship Ministries: Ninth Sunday After Pentecost/in Kingdomtide – God of grace and love, we ask your forgiveness when our churches, in short-sightedness, meanness or petty arguments, have turned crowds of people away from you. As we offer ourselves and our gifts to the growing of your Kingdom, remind us we need to be helping those who are wounded and in need of healing come close to Jesus — to touch you and be touched. In his holy name, we pray. Amen. (Mark 6:53-56)
How does your congregation welcome people who have special needs or different abilities? Do they serve as acolytes or ushers? Do they read Scripture? Do they sing in the choir? If your answer is yes, keep growing the ministry. If you answered no, ask why and find ways to include everyone who wants to participate.
Invite parents of children who have special needs to share their concerns and advice on how the church can become a more welcoming community. Work with families to develop individualized plans to minister with each person. Seek opportunities to equip volunteers and educate the congregation.
On Disability Awareness Sunday, celebrate the gifts and graces of people with disabilities and encourage their full inclusion. Your annual conference determines the date of this annual special Sunday. Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors. It's not just a slogan. Make it a way of life by including all of God's children in your church's ministry.