One local church in Xenia, Ohio, USA, is changing lives for Christ by welcoming a special group into their community and into their lives.
“I am a Promise!” This was the title of a delightful children’s song by the Bill Gaither Trio back in 1975. It is also a true description of the life of every human being who God created, even those with disabilities. Nazarenes in Xenia, Ohio, USA, chose an appropriate name for a Sunday School class they started as an outreach to adults with special needs more than 25 years ago—The Promise Class.
Every Sunday, professional caregivers transport about a dozen folks who live in group homes to the First Church of the Nazarene in Xenia. The class assembles at 9:30 a.m. for various activities. They learn from curriculum provided by The Foundry Publishing. They especially love donuts, and they love to sing! Every birthday is celebrated with a party during Sunday school. Members of the class sit with their caregivers in the front three rows of the sanctuary for the worship service.
They are an important part of the local church body.
A local organization in Xenia called Toward Independence was founded with the purpose of “giving people with developmental disabilities the fullest life possible” (www.ti-inc.org). When an opportunity arose for Toward Independence clients to be taken to church, Xenia Nazarenes stepped in to provide a place for them to be welcomed and assimilated into church life through The Promise Class.
Garnet was an educator and children’s worker who taught The Promise Class for many years. Garnet’s ability to hear deteriorated early in life, and she had difficulty with personal communication as a result. People often marveled that a teacher with hearing limitations and students with speech limitations could communicate in a love language all their own. Garnet didn’t let that hold her back. She would often say, “They can’t talk, and I can’t hear, so we get along just fine!”
This church’s investment in The Promise Class has been evident through the years. When Garnet had to step down from teaching, another willing volunteer (Fran) immediately stepped into the role. Fran partnered with Garnet during the last three years of her life. Together they modeled Jesus’ compassion by visiting their students and shopping for birthday and holiday gifts and crafts.
At Garnet’s funeral in July of 2017, Toward Independence clients and employees came out in full force to celebrate her life. They were sad to say goodbye to their teacher and friend, but they were delighted to sing their favorite songs again. Everyone in attendance was blessed.
Lives are being changed through this special ministry. Cindy, one of the caregivers who brings her clients to The Promise Class, has testified to her changed life because of her experience. It didn’t take long for her to respond to the gospel message she heard there as she attended the class and worship service. Cindy has faithfully brought her three group home residents to church for eight years and is now team teaching the class with Fran. Amanda, another faithful caregiver, states: “Yes, it’s a job because you get paid. But it’s a life, working with people to help them fulfill their lives.”
Assimilating children and adults with developmental disabilities into a church can be challenging for the Body of Christ. Often these churchgoers have some distracting habits during the worship service. They sometimes speak and laugh out loud unpredictably.
Despite these challenges, the First Church of the Nazarene in Xenia has been intentional about fulfilling the mission of the church to make Christlike disciples.
They have made these souls a vital part of their local church body and, as a result, they have grown in love and understanding toward this important part of the fellowship of believers in their community.
Becky Hancock is a retired piano teacher and pastor’s wife living in Xenia, Ohio, USA.
Holiness Today, Sept/Oct 2018