In late 2019, the Christian Education Committee approved formation of a subcommittee to explore the needs of individuals who are differently abled or who live with sensory or perceptual challenges. In line with our church’s vision “to be an inquiring, inviting and inclusive Christ-centered community,” we wanted to become aware of any barriers in our Church’s structures, communication or attitudes that might hinder full participation in congregational life. Although all members approached the work from differing backgrounds and life experiences, all are committed to finding ways to serve all of God’s people.
Our initial meeting defined goals for the subcommittee:
- Research ways in which churches increase/improve their ability to include individuals with special learning needs and accommodation needs into their congregational life
- Examine ways in which Derry includes and accommodates for individuals who are differently abled or who live with sensory or perceptual challenges
- Make recommendations regarding ways in which Derry can support individuals with cognitive, perceptual, attentional, mobility or sensory challenges into all aspects of congregational life
Subcommittee members committed to researching relevant materials and to making personal contacts with area churches which advertise “Disability Ministry.”
As we researched this very broad topic, we realized that we needed to define the demographics to be considered: individuals with vision loss, hearing loss, mobility impairments, intellectual and sensory differences and behavioral challenges. All age groups should be considered. As we researched and made personal visits, we found many common themes:
- Assessment is critical as well as re-assessment of needs
- Follow up from assessment is essential
- Recommendations should be based on congregational needs
- Education for greeters, ushers, teachers, aides is essential
- 15-20% of the populational have some functional challenges
As the pandemic closed our building, our subcommittee continued with virtual meetings. We defined the ways in which Derry currently includes and accommodates: ramps, handicap accessible doors, large print Bibles and bulletins, auditory amplifiers, quiet lounge with audio as well as accommodations for individual learning differences within classrooms. We confirmed that the first step forward needed to be assessment of needs.
Published congregational needs assessments from Presbyterians for Disability Concerns, Lutheran Initiatives, and Congregational Accessibility Network formed a framework from which the subcommittee developed a six-question survey to give a more complete picture of any barriers which might hinder full participation into congregational life by individuals who are differently abled. Staff reviewed the survey and all involved concluded that the unusual and evolving operational challenges experienced during the pandemic made this a less than optimal time for survey distribution.
The subcommittee pivoted to consider how to be most helpful during this time of limited in person gatherings. Informational material was developed and published in the eNews with tips to help individuals with mild hearing or vision loss achieve optimal access to virtual meetings.
As in person activities resumed in summer and fall, the reservation form was modified to include the statement, “If you have accessibility needs which may impact your full participation in worship, please let us know how we can help.”
Here we are, one year later. Our subcommittee is committed to assuring that everyone has access to full participation in all church experiences. Our next step will be distribution of the Individual and Family Needs Assessment, which asks if cognitive, mobility, perceptual, attentional or sensory challenges have limited their access to church activities or worship and how we can help. As with all aspects of church life, timing of the assessment survey will be driven by community wellness, building access and staff discretion.
Along with all of our church family, we look forward to the day when our doors are fully open and we can continue the process of assuring access for all. Assess needs, develop targeted plans, provide education, and assess again: we can’t wait to involve our caring and compassionate congregation in this endeavor.
If you are experiencing accessibility challenges which impact your access to online worship or educational opportunities at church, please call the church office (717-533-9667) and your concern will be directed to someone who can help.
I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them, I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. Isaiah 42:16
I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. Matthew 25:40
Celebration! The word on my Epiphany star which I received from Derry last January. It was easy to think about Celebration coming into the new year knowing that we had two trips planned, a beach week, and family celebrations. New beginnings are easy to celebrate. I have that star posted where I can see it every day.
As we returned from a two-week trip to Florida, blissfully unaware of how serious the situation with the virus was here in Pennsylvania, things began to change. It was March 13 and by the time we got home from the airport, the schools were planning to close for two weeks. Since we had been away, we hadn’t stocked up on essentials and found them in short supply.
The next several weeks were an adjustment for all of us. Choir practices were canceled, church was closed, going anywhere seemed to be a risk. We used Giant Direct, brought the groceries in and disinfected the packages. If we had to go into a store, we wore gloves in addition to masks. Due to the shortage of cleaning materials, I made my own bathroom cleaner and still use it.
I realized this would be how we would be living for quite some time and it seemed to me that instead of swimming against the tide the best thing to do was to go with the flow. It was enjoyable to see families we had never met taking neighborhood walks. I began to embrace it, looking at it as an opportunity to organize files, drawers, and closets. I dug through family files that I had long ignored. In that activity, I found many interesting pieces of my family history, some of them disturbing, but worth acknowledging. I found a new kind of quiet.
I decided that the best thing to do was not to think about what had been taken away but what had been given during this time. For me it was the gift of time, time to not be so busy and time to prioritize what I do with my life. Probably the most difficult was the three month separation from the grandchildren but even that was not at all as heartbreaking as what many families endured. So many had to say goodbye to loved ones without the benefit of a celebration in church. So many were unable to visit their older relatives. My challenges have been small in comparison.
As the time has gone on, I have found ways to find joy in each day and I have been eternally grateful for what Derry Church has done to help us stay connected, to provide meaningful worship, and offer online support. Being able to sing in a small group was a new experience for me and I enjoyed it. Friends of mine who do not have this from their churches tell me how fortunate I am.
I know that I have the resources to successfully get through whatever is ahead in the coming months and I know each day I am able to embrace the Epiphany star and find a way to make this challenging time one of celebration, albeit different, still Celebration!
At 7:30 am, Tuesday, October 29, 2019, we boarded the Presbyterian Education Board (PEB) bus at the headquarters in Lahore, Pakistan, for the two-hour drive to Sargodha. We 11 Derry travelers were greeted by the entire student body, Christian and Muslim. Kindergarten children dressed as fairy tale characters, that month’s curriculum theme, presented us with bouquets of roses. There were hats and scarves for the men. The older students danced and drummed and sang. We toured the elementary school displays of science projects and visited classrooms in both the boys and girls schools.
At the Christian Girls Boarding House 74 girls greeted us with huge smiles. Debbie Hough told them how much Derry cares for them. “We want you to study hard, be healthy, and pray, so that you are strong in mind, body, and heart.” We sang “Jesus Loves Me” with them, and many of them knew the refrain in English. We each chatted with a small group of girls. When I asked, English got several votes for favorite subject, then science. They have big dreams. Most said they want to be teachers, others said scientists. We were impressed and inspired by their enthusiasm for learning and their appreciation for education.
Like parents everywhere, Pakistani parents want the best education possible for their children. So they seek a private school, not a government or Taliban school. But many of them are poor, and a good education is out of reach. PEB’s mission is to provide enduring, high quality education of mind, body and spirit to individuals of all religious backgrounds, regardless of their ability to pay. They are highly regarded schools in their communities and continue to grow.
For ten years, Derry Church has maintained a partnership with PEB. PEB operates 25 schools, primary through high school, including some boarding schools, that serve more than 5,900 students. Derry, through the Friends of Sargodha group, has a particular relationship with the schools in Sargodha. Our goal is to provide ten scholarships every year. You can help.
A full scholarship for a day student is $370 a year, about a dollar a day. We are dividing that amount into ten shares, $37 each, to offer you the opportunity to support a portion of a scholarship.
You can purchase one or more shares by writing a check to Derry Church notated “Pakistan Scholarship” or giving online through the church website and selecting “Pakistan Scholarship.” Whether you are able to give one share, three, or 15, together we can fulfill the dreams of ten students in 2021. PEB students will thank you for the precious gift of education that will help them contribute to positive changes in society as citizen-leaders in their communities, churches, their country and the world. Who knows? – your student may one day be the one to change the world.
Editor’s Note: On the first Thursday of each month, the eNews feature article highlights the mission focus for the month. In January we’re lifting up women’s equality, justice and opportunity.
This Thanksgiving holiday was vastly different for Stop the Violence (STV), an organization in Harrisburg dedicated to providing counseling for women of domestic violence, as well as providing food, clothing, gifts and school supplies to families in need. Stop the Violence gave away over 50 Thanksgiving baskets and, for the first time in 25 years, had no food left over. Stop the Violence was unable to purchase turkeys from the Food Bank this year, but a friend of mine who works with a non-profit organization offered us almost four dozen turkeys (they also had hams to hand out). God is always intervening and keeping watch over those with the greatest need.
The Christmas season was also different this year. Many families signed up for food baskets instead of toys for the kids because they are destitute. There are many families that are really suffering: they have no money, they cannot pay their bills, they are getting ready to be evicted, and they have family members that have died (or are dying) from COVID-19. Suicide is on the rise.
I’ve been consumed with consoling those who lost loved ones and praying for those who are still sick in hospitals. I’ve made many phone calls and sent texts to encourage people that are having a hard time with pandemic. Many people are isolated and are afraid to go out. This has been one of the hardest Christmas seasons I’ve ever seen.
Despite these hardships, we’ve been working to counsel women and families, provide food baskets, deliver toys and new coats to the children, and provide small Christmas trees and decorations to try to bring joy into the community. We’ve provided blankets to seniors and children thanks to a volunteer whose women’s club made and donated over 50 quilts. God has been so good through all the tears, broken hearts, death and sorrow. God makes it possible to make a difference no matter what the situation. God turns attitude into gratitude.