Opening Doors To All Abilities: Creating & Maintaining an Inclusive Church Home

By Nicole Zaccaria

When I was in graduate school, preparing for a career in speech pathology, one of my professors asked us to read and reflect on words written by Emily Perl Kingsley.  She was an award winning writer for the children’s show, Sesame Street, who found herself in a new role after the birth of her son, Jason, in 1974.  Jason, also a writer later in life, was born with Down Syndrome.  Mrs. Kingsley’s words have since become well known by parents and professionals working with children with special needs.  They were written in response to being asked what it is like to raise a child with special needs.  I’d like to share them with you:

Welcome to Holland

When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum, the Michelangelo David, the gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting. 

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland." 

"Holland?!" you say. "What do you mean, Holland?" I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy. 
But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay. 

The important thing is that they haven't taken you to some horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place. 

So you must go out and buy a new guidebook. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met. 

It's just a different place. It's slower paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around, and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills, Holland has tulips, Holland even has Rembrandts. 

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy, and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life you will say, "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned." 

The pain of that will never, ever, go away, because the loss of that dream is a very significant loss. 

But if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things about Holland.

These words were powerful to me as a student, and became even more so when I had a child diagnosed with developmental delays.  All of a sudden, there were so many considerations in everything our family experienced:  which grocery story was the least stimulating; how to have Santa deliver new presents for my son, but not so many that the change in the room would distress my daughter; if family would understand her needs at holiday gatherings; declining invitations to summer picnics if they were held after the sound of cicadas sang in the night because they routinely caused meltdowns.  There were possible obstacles to many of the events that my friends’ families were seamlessly delighting in.  Of course, I had the choice to let these obstacles loom over us or to overcome them.  I chose to embrace our life.  

Nonetheless, obstacles become a widespread reality to families in Holland.  Wouldn’t it be nice if church were one place that did not cause additional stress?  Grace offers that!  We invite families here and love them for exactly who they are.  Our Open Doors Ministry offers supports so that families can worship, attend Sunday School, sing in the choir, participate in Vacation Bible School, and develop friendships. Our supports hopefully eliminate the stress that occurs in so many other aspects of their lives.  We are grateful for the gifts that our individuals with special needs bring to us.

We welcome YOU to attend our next workshop:  Opening Doors for All Abilities – Creating and Maintaining an Inclusive Church Home.  Whether you are a parent of typically developing children or children with special needs, a Grace member already involved with Open Doors, a Grace member interested in what you can do, or a local church looking to develop and/or start a ministry for individuals with special needs, we will have something for you.  We will include information about Grace’s Open Doors Ministry, a parent testimonial, information from a local special education teacher, and insight from a local social worker.  

This workshop will be held in Fellowship Hall on Saturday, April 21, from 8:30 a.m. -11:45 a.m..  The cost is free, but advance registration is required at by Sunday, April 15. A continental breakfast will be provided.