Of course, there are many differences between men and women; but one of the biggest differences is the attitude toward tools. Men love tools and love inventing tools. There is a tool for every job a man has to do. Did you know there is a special wrench used exclusively for adjusting spark plugs? Another one for adjusting the carburetor on your car? There is even a widget that is only needed to replace the screens of your house.
Women on the other hand love to work with whatever is available. Give a woman a metal nail file, a butcher knife and a pair of scissors; and she will attempt to conquer the world.
At times those of us in specialized ministries are told how special we are because we do what we do. Usually, we smile and thank the person. However, we know that this is actually not the truth. At The Special Gathering, we work with people who are mentally challenged. Our members are more like other adults than they are different. Even though we do have different tools in our tool box from those used in the normal congregational setting.
First, we must insure that our members are safe. I jokingly say, “I’m the only pastor in South Brevard or Indian River County who carries rubber gloves in my suit pockets.” But rubber gloves are merely the beginning. We must check our members when they arrive and when they leave. We must insure that they are safe about each half hour by doing a visual check on many of our members.
Second, we need some training in how to teach. Our members learn on a third to fourth grade level but socially they are kind of stuck in junior high. Nevertheless, they have all the concerns and worries of any other adult. Combining those skills while understanding that our members must be treated with the dignity of any other adult, does take some fine tuning of your teaching skill set.
Third, we have transporatation issues. Today, I’m minus a van to pick up my members because the church that lends us their vans needs to use it. I have to rearrange my transportation schedule. Our members don’t drive. If we don’t pick them up, they probably won’t get there, no matter how much they want to attend. We have learned, that if we pick people up, the attendance rate is 80 to 90 percent. If we depend on others, that is, support staff to provide the transportation, their attendance drops to 30 to 40 percent. And the longer support staff is used, the greater the decrease in attendance.
Of course, there are other issues that face us. On the other hand, there are some pretty important things that we don’t face. Our members are extremely grateful for anything we do for them. We often say that we are the only pastors in town who are loved by all of our members. Part of our tool box doesn’t have to be a way to pacify our parishioners.
If you look at statistics, our congregations are fairly large. But no matter how successful we become, we don’t have to be concerned about anyone else wanting to take our jobs. In the years, I held positions in the local church, there was always someone aspiring to take my position or wanting to tell me how to do the job I was doing. At Special Gathering, we have no sandpaper attachment needed to smooth over the feelings of people who want to take our positions.
Also, our members are pretty stable emotionally. There are some members who have a dual-diagnosis but they are definitely in the minority. When I first ventured in to this ministry, I was warned by my pastor to beware of this population because they are draining. Then I explained that I would be working with people who are mentally challenged and that they are surprisingly emotionally stable. “Oh,” he said with a grin. “Then you’ll be working with people who are less draining than I do.”
Yep, those of us who are on staff and volunteer at Special Gathering believe that we have the best positions in the Church. We are working with people who are grateful, helpful and pretty stable. Weighing the pros and cons, I’ll keep my tool chest.
What are some of the ways your church is different from the members of The Special Gathering or other special needs ministries?