Why A Special Needs Ministry? Inclusion! (2021)

Joe Gonnella and his daughter, Sarah, walked into the building they hoped might become their new church home. It was their first visit, and they were optimistic. That feeling soon left. Because no one spoke to them. Not before the service, during, or after. They didn’t feel welcome. They never went back.

Feeling invisible or ignored is not unfamiliar to Joe and Sarah, who experienced a catastrophic brain injury at five years old. They’re used to being stared at; used to feeling others’ unease. But they’d hoped for something different, something better, at church.

They found it at Shepherd of the Valley. “From the beginning, I noticed the inclusion,” Joe says. “There were people in wheelchairs in the front pew, getting communion. I could tell it was a welcoming community for people with disabilities.”

SOTV wants to ensure others feel as welcomed as the Gonnellas, including individuals and families with special needs. That’s why the church is launching a Special Needs Ministry — to actively invite and support this group. Kara Mensink, whose son, Max, has autism, is spearheading the effort.

“Shepherd of the Valley is one of Max’s favorite places,” Kara says. “It’s a safe place for us as a family. I want to help make it a safe place for other families as well.”

A Special Needs Ministry Steering Team began meeting last fall to discuss ways to reach and support individuals and families with special needs. The group is committed to creating programming and support to ensure individuals with special needs and their families feel welcome, included, valued, and loved. The new ministry will do this via four main strategies: accommodation, connection, nurturing, and caring.

The group is working to identify the congregation’s needs and ways to meet those needs, especially when we’re able to be in the building together again. If you’re interested in learning more, please reach out to Kara Mensink at kamensink@gmail.com.

Check upcoming News for the Flocks as we introduce you to families, like the Gonnellas and Mensinks. Learn how SOTV makes them feel welcomed, wanted, and loved.