Mt. Mariah UMC in the Northeast District held an Access & Disability Awareness Service on Sunday, August 10, 2014.
One of the goals for service was to provide a friendly, comfortable, and relaxed atmosphere for all worshipers. It was a non-traditional, interdenominational and inclusive celebration.
The service included participation from every level of the North Alabama Conference.
Deb Wade, the Convener of North Alabama Conference Disability Ministries, delivered a powerful message with theme “Break Every Chain” as her focal point. Northeast District Disability Chairperson Ronda Ritter provided sign language interpretation and Mt. Mariah UMC Access & Disability Awareness Chairperson Charlene Gaines preceded the message with a praise dance rendition of “Break Every Chain” by Hezekiah Walker. The service concluded with a “free to all” processional by the children to the song “Hold on a Change is Coming.” The children wore multi-colored neck chains to represent the diversity in Gods family, our communities and in the North Alabama Conference.
Gaines explains, “We basically allowed ourselves to sit at the feet of those who had travel this road for many years to teach us, help us to better understand what the classrooms, and the workshops cannot teach us. We reached out to people in our community to share their stories.”
Those who shared their stories during the service included Larry Chatman, a retired social worker who was the father of a child with a disability who is now deceased; Benita Bibb, a young lady with a debilitating illness; Jo Ballinger, who has been a foster mom to twenty-five children of all races and abilities; and Sherry Saunders, a Federal Disability Advocate assigned to North Alabama to investigate cases that involve persons with disabilities.
As she participated in the service Benita Bibb said, “Thank you for allowing me to participate by reading the scripture. I have a problem walking; there’s nothing wrong with my month. Sometime people just assume we [people with disabilities] don’t want to participate.”
Another participant in the church is Jocobe Hood. He is a 13 year old with autism who loves to play the drums.
Gaines, who also serves as Chairperson of Youth Ministry, remembers, “I first met Jocobe when his father came to speak for our Children & Youth Sunday. I almost missed a wonderful opportunity of get to know him, because I was pre-occupied with a problem with the printer when Superintendent asked me to fill in for the Youth Sunday School Teacher. Kind of like Martha fretting over the preparations for Jesus dinner.
“Early into the class I sensed I was dealing with some form of autism, and his younger sister made sure I knew that he had an area of concern. For the rest of the class period, he taught me. I marveled at all the things that he has achieved. Drums were always on the tip of his tongue. His mom told me between services he wanted to play. With help from our pastor’s son, Kelvin Jones, Jr. who led our praise and worship, Jocobe introduced himself to us.”
Rev. Kelvin Jones Sr., is pastor of Mt. Mariah UMC.
For resources to plan your local church's celebratation of Disability Awareness Sunday go to www.umcna.org/disabilityawarenesssunday.