Churches all over the United States have had to reconsider how they hold services after COVID-19 came on the scene. Prior to this global pandemic, many churches focused primarily on services inside the four walls, with a smaller emphasis on activities outside of the church. While COVID-19 has kept many Christians from worshipping together in person, it has opened eyes and presented new opportunities for ministering to those with disabilities. This week, we are excited to highlight the special needs ministry at Reid Temple AME Church!

About Reid Temple AME Church

Reid Temple AME Church is located in Glenn Dale, Maryland, which is in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. The church is part of the African Methodist Episcopal denomination. Rev. Mark E. Whitlock is the Senior Pastor and has served in that role since July 2019.

Rev. Whitlock values the tenets of evangelism, discipleship, stewardship and social justice. Prior to his leadership, Rev. Dr. Lee P. Washington served as Pastor of Reid Temple for over 30 years until he retired last summer.

Reid Temple is an active church with over 10,000 members. Prior to COVID-19, services were held on Sundays at 7:15am, 9:30am, 11:15am, and 6:00pm. Bible Study is held on Wednesdays at 7:00pm. There are over 80 different ministries at the church, including ministries for military support, prison ministry, street witnessing, employment assistance, college outreach, counseling, HIV/AIDS, wellness and more! The church is passionate about being a growing community of faith, saying on its website, “You matter to us, but more importantly, your soul matters to Christ!”

About the Special Needs Ministry

The Bridges Ministry at Reid Temple AME Church started in 2003. It was the vision of Rev. Patricia White, who was the original leader of the ministry. Ms. Chrystie Lynch has been a member at the church since 1985 and currently serves as Ministry Leader. Ms. Lynch knows personally about the issues special needs families face. Her daughter, who is now an adult, was born with cerebral palsy. Ms. Lynch brings to the Bridges Ministry almost two decades of experience as a teacher and eight years of being a case manager for special education students.

Before COVID-19, the Bridges Ministry took place during the 9:30am service. Now, services for the ministry are held online at 9:00am. The ministry serves persons with a variety of disabilities, such as blindness, hearing loss, autism, cerebral palsy and ADHD. The number of participants vary from five to ten students. Adults with disabilities participate in the main service with support as needed.

How the Bridges Ministry Began

The Bridges Ministry started off with a young student and his mother. Volunteers in the ministry provided lessons for him and welcomed others with disabilities to join the ministry as well. “We wanted to be able to give the word of God to these children,” said Ms. Lynch. “Some are verbal and some are nonverbal. Some have physical challenges and some don’t. We believe that all children can learn and receive the word of God. At the same time, we wanted to make parents feel welcome to come into church. We want people to feel welcome and know that church is for everyone, not just for a few.”

After speaking with special needs parents, Ms. Lynch realized that many had negative experiences at church. “A lot of them just stopped coming,” she says. Ms. Lynch shared the testimony of a woman that felt rejected by her home church after her child with disabilities was rejected. “She said it hurt her to her heart,” says Ms. Lynch, who credits this woman’s story to being a catalyst for the ministry.

Beginning Activities

The Bridges Ministry began with a Sunday school program. As time progressed, they began to offer workshops for special needs parents. Ms. Lynch saw the need based on her own experiences with parents during Individualized Education Programs (IEP) and 504 meetings at school. These meetings are held with parents and school officials to develop a customized education plan for a child with a disability. She observed that many parents were not as informed as they should be. For some parents, these meetings can be very intimidating.

Through the Bridges Ministry, Ms. Lynch held a workshop that thoroughly explained the IEP process with parents. Special education professionals, parent advocates, and therapists were all invited to share their insights. Parents were able to ask questions freely and bring their child’s IEP to the workshop for a review. “We try to get a feel from our parents as to what is an issue for them,” said Ms. Lynch.

From there, Ms. Lynch began thinking about more workshops and ways to meet the needs of the disability community!

Ministry Programs

The Bridges Ministry offers the following programs.

  • Sunday School Classes (currently held online due to COVID-19)
  • Workshops on a variety of disability-related subjects
  • Parent Support Groups
  • Quarterly Respite Care
  • Assistance with participation in other church ministries
  • Regular communication via email


Membership to the church is not required to participate in the Bridges Ministry. Ms. Lynch is currently planning additional workshops on the IEP process since it was so well received in the past. She also is considering a workshop on behavior management.

The parent support group was designed to help with feelings of isolation that many special needs parents face. It gives parents the opportunity to connect with one another and share their stories. In addition, parents with older children often support those with younger children as they go through the process. Ms. Lynch regularly sends emails to parents, informing them of legislative changes and upcoming workshops.

While quarterly respite care is offered, Ms. Lynch desires to see it offered every month. She’s concerned about parents that do not receive breaks often. “What I love about the ministry is that our volunteers in the ministry reach out to our parents and sometimes provides extra support.”

Reid Temple AME Church also partners with the National Federation of the Blind and provides space for a summer program for children who are blind or have low vision.

Promoting Inclusion at Church

The Bridges Ministry helps persons in the ministry that desire to participate in other church activities, such as choir, dance, or welcoming everyone to church. “It’s not just one day out of the year, but part of the life of the church,” says Ms. Lynch.

While championing disability inclusion, Ms. Lynch also seeks to spread awareness. “We’re educating the leadership in the church so that they’re not just calling the child bad or thinking that they don’t have the ability to be educated.”

For example, Ms. Lynch helped a church member enroll into the church’s bible college. The young lady was blind and hard of healing. She felt led to enroll, but was scared to do it. Ms. Lynch worked with the church to make accommodations for her.

She called me at the end of the semester to tell me she got an A in her class. A lot of times in our churches, we don’t think about how someone may not be able to see that. Someone may not be able to hear that. What do we need to accommodate that? We as a ministry present to the church things that people don’t think about unless they have someone in their family that has that situation.


The Impact of COVID-19

COVID-19 has changed the way things operate for the Bridges Ministry, but Ms. Lynch sees an opportunity in the midst of the pandemic to make a difference. “It allows us to reach a wider audience,” she says. “We are building on that. It was a little challenging for some of the teachers because they weren’t familiar with using this technology. It’s provided the opportunity for us to grow in that area. There are new opportunities provided there and [we] are expecting that to grow even more as we build our online presence.”

Ms. Lynch also speaks about her concerns for adults with disabilities during this pandemic. “The Bridges Ministry doesn’t just cover children. That’s one facet of it. We also have that advocacy piece.”

Advice for Parents

Ms. Lynch is passionate about making sure that parents know how to advocate for their disabled child’s education. “I really want parents to advocate for smaller classes for their children,” said Ms. Lynch. She also encourages parents to plan for transition early. “We have to plan ahead. A lot of people don’t realize that when they turn 18, they’re considered an adult, whether they have the cognitive ability or not. There’s steps you need to take before that. We did a series on that.”

Ms. Lynch and I discussed how some children, especially African-American children, fall through the cracks and receive a late diagnosis of autism. Ms. Lynch shared how she once had a child in her seventh grade class that did not get diagnosed with autism until she referred him.

I think that stigma, for parents, is a big issue, because they don’t want their child to be labeled, as I’ve been told by parents before. Stop worrying about the label and get your child the help that he or she needs. We have to make a concerted effort to turn these parents into advocates for their children. The church can help by providing workshops and opportunities for parents to come together.

Future Planning

Planning for the future is very important for special needs families. As a matter of fact, the Bridges Ministry held a workshop on this very topic. There is one important question that Ms. Lynch would like for parents to seriously consider:

If something happens to you, who is going to step up and take care of your child? Plan for it when they’re young. Don’t wait to start. You don’t know the day or the hour. You want to make sure there’s some financial security. Appoint whoever you think would do it.”

She feels strongly about this because she has seen what can happen when a parent doesn’t have someone appointed to take care of their disabled child. The parent of someone in the Bridges Ministry passed away and did not have any future planning in place for her son, who is disabled. A family member decided to place him in a facility. “Make your wishes known,” says Ms. Lynch.

Wisdom for Churches

Ms. Lynch says that her fellow church members have responded positively to the Bridges Ministry. “It was a growing process for them too because the other piece to it is that there’s a fear component. People fear what they don’t understand. Now, they’re so much a part of the church that people look for us and they’ll say, ‘I met this woman and I told her about you.’ That’s how we get people to come in,” explained Ms. Lynch.

Ms. Lynch’s passion for special needs ministry is contagious. As a matter of fact, one of the members of Reid Temple AME Church moved to North Carolina and started a special needs ministry at her new church!

I asked Ms. Lynch what advice she would give to other churches that are thinking about starting a special needs ministry.

I wish more churches did it. Whenever I’m speaking with people and they tell me they don’t have one in their church, I encourage them to get one. Start small, take small steps. Go out, preach the gospel! Just do it!

Where is your greatest need? We did surveys before we got started. The people will come, but you gotta go out and get them too! That’s what we’re commissioned to do!”

For More Information

The Bridges Ministry at Reid Temple AME Church is making a difference in the disability community. If you would like to connect with the Bridges Ministry, you can reach Ms. Chrystie Lynch at 301-352-0320 ext 462. You can also send an email to: rtamebridgesministry [at] yahoo [dot] com.

*I hope that you have been enjoying our series on special needs ministries and disability advocates! Reid Temple AME Church is our third feature. Be sure to check out our previous highlights on First Baptist Church of Glenarden and Salina Miller!