This was an unforgettable year for the Accessible Faith Initiative! We started off in January with great expectations. Then we learned how important it is to be flexible when things happen outside of our control. We also discovered that being faithful to our mission can open doors to amazing opportunities!
Many fresh and new things took place this year. For starters, it was our first year hosting autism awareness month activities under the name, “Accessible Faith Initiative.” We want to distinguish this initiative from programs we offer in the future.
Another milestone was that we had the help of a wonderful intern, Dorothy Mack, PA-C! It was our first time having an intern. We hope to have the help of more amazing interns in the future!
Prayer was a priority for this year. In January, we started having prayer gatherings via teleconference on the 4th Sunday of every month through April. Each month had a designated theme. We also invited everyone to share their prayer requests. As COVID-19 became front and center, we began to pray more broadly for everyone affected.
The Impact of COVID-19
We had 27 churches that agreed to participate this year. Our goal was to reach 50! We were excited to share our new activity ideas with our partner churches. Toolkits and graphics were provided to all participants. Click here to learn more about our original plans.
We were still in the process of recruiting churches when federal, state, and local governments started implementing social distancing guidelines due to COVID-19. Many churches responded appropriately by closing their doors and offering online services only. Because of this public health emergency, we no longer required churches to do activities on-site for autism awareness month. We also canceled our Awards Ceremony that usually occurs in May. It was disappointing to make these changes, but the health of our participants comes first!
While this global pandemic changed our plans, we were still able to have great success due to some quick thinking outside of the box!
In Mid-March, we decided to strengthen online opportunities for our partner churches. Our private Facebook group had already been in place for years, so we decided to utilize it even more to make up for the lack of on-site autism awareness activities. We planned to host a weekly spotlight on selected topics related to autism. This was designed to encourage more engagement and to educate our persons of contact for each church. We also added giveaways as an incentive after each weekly spotlight.
Our Weekly Spotlight & Giveaways were held every Sunday in April on our group’s private Facebook page. Here was our schedule:
- Week 1
- Date: Sunday, April 5, 2020
- Topic: What is Autism?
- Giveaway: A $25 gift card to a special needs family
- Week 2
- Date: Sunday, April 12, 2020
- Topic: What Does the Bible Say About Disabilities
- Giveaway: A $25 gift card for two persons of contact
- Week 3
- Date: Sunday, April 19, 2020
- Topic: How to Make Your Church More Autism Friendly
- Giveaway: A copy of Miracle 139’s Special Needs Ministry: Development and Training Manual for two participating churches
- Week 4
- Date: Sunday, April 26, 2020
- Topic: Community Resources and Support for Special Needs Families
- Giveaway: A special needs ministry toolbox for one participating church
While it was not required for this year, some churches still chose to do an activity for autism awareness month!
Pastor Joshua Gay of High Praise Orlando summed it up by saying, “Awareness doesn’t stop just because of everything else going on.”
I’m so thankful for the commitment of our partner churches! Here’s a few highlights:
- Gale Dollar recorded a special autism awareness message for her church, Bethesda Church of God. She has been the Special Needs Ministry Coordinator at Bethesda since 2013!
- GO Church shared a video that highlights the need for church members to be educated about autism.
- High Praise Orlando shared a special autism awareness message during one of their online services. You don’t want to miss this message from Pastor Kayla Hill! She shared three ways in which you can support special needs families.
- High Praise Panama City highlighted a beautiful testimony from one of their members, Jennifer Owen. She is the mother of an amazing son who has autism. High Praise Panama City also did a special program for their children’s church about autism awareness and accepting differences. I enjoyed this lesson and I’m sure you will too!
- Rapha Ministries Family Center did an activity led by their youth pastor, Pastor Stephanie White. She interviewed several people to get their perspectives on autism and placed their responses on a flip chart. You can view it here at the 13:00 minute mark.
- DeBorah Pettus and a few members from Union Baptist Church participated in Steps for Kindness, hosted by Autism Speaks.
On the last day of April, I was blessed to join Kit Kennedy on her podcast, “Unchurchable.” Kit is a podcaster and writer from Australia. I was happy to discuss with her how our churches can be more welcoming for those with disabilities and their families. It’s a blessing to share this message on a global stage! The episode should be airing soon. I’ll be sure to let you know when!
April has been a busy month. And guess what? Even more is to come later this year!
We are in the process of coming up with some new programs and options for you to get involved with in the fall. If you haven’t already, please make sure that you subscribe to this blog so that you can stay in the know! You can also follow our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts.
The best is yet to come!