Photo courtesy disabilityisbeautiful.com
I love summertime. I love the longer days, the weather, and the activities afforded by the combination of endless days and sunshine. I love the promise of opportunities for new experiences and moments of unencumbered freedom. Each summer, I balance the joy found in this promise with the reality of summer school, adjusted work schedules, childcare, therapies, and managing the angst of the unknown–the undercurrent that sneakily flows through June, July and August. Many individuals and families impacted by disability and special needs balance the same and similar in the amorphous space between the present school year coming to a close and the new year not yet begun. Your church can be a tremendous support and resource to families during the summer months by being an authentic and consistent presence in their lives.
Provide Consistency of Communication
It is all too easy for families impacted by disability to believe they live life unseen by the people and systems seemingly unaffected by disability. Some common phrases I hear are “we feel forgotten”, “it seems like everyone has moved on without us” and “I feel like my needs are invisible”. Keeping consistent lines of communication open during the summer provides a pathway for those impacted by disability to feel known, seen and loved. If your ministry has regular communication tools for families during the school year (ie. a weekly newsletter, social media content, resources on your website), consider continuing to utilize these platforms as an invitation for connection. Additionally, during the summer months, reach out individually to your students and families periodically. Even a “hey, how are you all this week?” text goes a long way to communicating that the recipient is valued. Communicate clearly, kindly and with an open heart to listen to whatever responses you may receive.
Provide Consistency of Connection
Often, the summer months offer a different pace of life and ministry that lends itself to more opportunities for organic connections and invitations. Summertime is the perfect time to be creative with how your church connects with families impacted by disability! Depending on the culture of your church and community, hosting a low-key outdoor movie night, pool party, barbecue or ice cream party may be wonderful and natural avenues to invite families into fellowship opportunities. If your church hosts a parent support group or other small group, make efforts to gather (even informally) during the summer months for encouragement, prayer and whatever else your group decides. Be sure to incorporate individuals with disabilities in connection opportunities available in the larger church. Specifically, invite that teenager with ADHD to your youth group’s weekend camping trip. Creating specific opportunities for connection might be the exact lifeline someone impacted by disability needs to feel supported and loved.
Provide Consistency of Care
It is difficult, if not almost impossible, to know how to best care for someone without first communicating and connecting with them. Even if specific ministries in the church pause during the summer, do not let care pause. Care is needed when it is needed and as ministry leaders, we ought to be ready when the need arises. Consider offering two or three hours of respite for an individual family who is in need of connection and care. Do a grocery drop off for a family who is unable to leave their house. Send a pizza to a family who has a summer day full of speech therapy, occupational therapy and doctor’s appointments. Sit at a coffee shop and sip your caffeinated beverage of choice as you thoughtfully listen to someone experiencing a challenge. If the primary ministry contact for disability ministry at your church is on vacation or unavailable, designate someone in their place who can respond to specific care needs in a timely manner. Care will look different in different contexts, but it’s most important that there is someone who individuals and families can connect with should a care need arise.
As we move forward into the summer months, let us be authentic and wholehearted in our consistent efforts to love and support those in our congregations and communities impacted by disability. Let’s make the space between this year and next year a soft and welcoming place to land.