Open Roof Fellowship
"Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dig through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith he said to the paralytic, 'Son, you are forgiven…'" Mark 2:3-5
The Open Roof Fellowship is comprised of Church of the Brethren congregations that have put forth significant effort to establish and grow ministries for and with persons of all abilities.
Open Roof congregations are enriched through diversity and enlivened by welcoming persons of all abilities into Christian fellowship, worship, education, discipleship, and service. They seek to ensure that “all may worship, serve, be served, learn and grow in the presence of God as valued members in the Christian community.” Through this designation, in addition to being connected to each other, congregations are listed as such by the denomination, and receive information of interest from the Church of the Brethren Disabilities Ministry Office and the Anabaptist Disabilities Network.
A self-assessment gauging congregational accessibility is available, and questions can be addressed to Debbie Eisenbise, Director of Intergenerational Ministries at 1-800-323-8039 x306. Applications for the Open Roof Fellowship are due by June 1. Fill out the form on-line or print out a copy and follow the instructions provided for submission.
Two congregations were acknowledged for their extra efforts to welcome persons with special needs into their congregations. Stan Noffsinger, General Secretary, and Jonathan Shively, executive director of Congregational Life Ministries, presented the 2015 Open Roof Award to Cedar Lake Church of the Brethren in Auburn of the Northern Indiana District and Staunton Church of the Brethren of the Shenandoah District.
Cedar Lake Church of the Brethren has made significant strides through the years to accommodate the needs of its members and empower all people for engagement in worship and in service, expanding their welcome to others in their community.
They have supported and helped to raise children with severe brain trauma who are now adults active in the congregation and serving as ushers, greeters and grounds keepers. In addition, Cedar Lake supports students with "physical and learning challenges" who participate in a work / service program overseen by the local high school’s special education department. Some of these students are members of the church. Along with being a placement for this program during the school year, the church provides summer opportunities for service as well.
Cedar Lake has paid special attention to the Christian education needs of all, utilizing the gifts and abilities of a member with a degree in special education to assist in children’s programming. As that program expands, staff considerations include a commitment to continue to meet all children’s particular physical and emotional needs.
In addition, they have met challenges posed by age-related disabilities providing large-print and projected texts and hearing enhancement devices. And the congregation has remodeled for accessibility allowing those with wheel chairs easy access to the building. Hand railings and automated doors welcome all who might need extra physical assistance.
Staunton Church of the Brethren has discovered that making a few changes can make a world of difference to those whose disabilities might otherwise compromise their level of participation in the life of the church.
Bill Cline, who uses a walker, writes: "We used to have to use the back door on the lower level to get the fellowship hall; now we have the elevator. I don’t know how we’d get in the church without it." With regard to worship, he comments: "The screen is a lot easier to read than the hymnal [and] shorter pews are a wonderful help with walkers."
Don Shoemaker, who uses a wheelchair, writes: "Now we can get to the basement without going outside and around." Norma Shoemaker commented that without the changes "[Don] would not have been able to attend [any longer]."
The changes to the building have created a worship space with a cross evident in the center of the sanctuary where the pews have been shortened for accessibility. A screen (with attention to clear uncluttered text) allows those with limited sight to participate in worship. And hearing devices have enabled a member to remain active in the choir.