Photo by Wendy McFadden
Mark 2:3-4 (the story of people breaking through a roof to bring a paralyzed man to Jesus) was the inspiration for the creation of the Open Roof Award in 2004, established to recognize a congregation or district in the Church of the Brethren that has made great strides in its attempt to serve, as well as be served by, people with disabilities. This year’s recipient, Oakton Church of the Brethren in Vienna, Va., Mid-Atlantic District, exemplifies both of these aspects of service.
The award was presented during the meeting of the Church of the Brethren Mission and Ministry Board Meeting prior to Annual Conference in Grand Rapids, Mich. The award was presented by Jonathan Shively, executive cirector of Congregational Life Ministries, and Heddie Sumner, a member of the Disabilities Ministry. Paula Mendenhall received the award on behalf of the Oakton congregation.
The broadness with which the Oakton faith community has defined “disability,” recognizing that each of us is less than whole in some way, is exceptional. Following are just a few of their ministries, both within and outside of the church:
Upon hiring a new secretary with memory issues, the church worked with the Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services to provide training and basic workplace accommodations. An extensive training manual was developed, with detailed checklists for complicated tasks. Church members are encouraged to follow up by e-mail on all work requests.
The Oakton church also coordinates with county services to provide volunteer work for disabled persons, including stuffing and folding bulletins each week.
Mentoring and intervention assistance have been provided on an as-needed basis for persons with various levels of emotional and social disability. This includes tutoring, behavior counseling, assistance with legal issues, and emergency housing during family conflicts.
Sunday school teachers and attendees have been educated and accommodations have been provided for a student in the faith community with a hearing impairment. Children learn to speak clearly and face-on when interacting with their peer. During storytelling, this student often holds and reads the story picture, and is also given the option of a non-singing area (with others) during music practice.
A weekday Bible study is held at the home of a parent with a disabled infant since medical issues prevent the parents from coming to church. Church members also provide respite care as needed for medical appointments.
In an ongoing effort to make the facility and worship more physically accessible, Oakton has added an elevator and ramps, ADA-compliant restrooms, and has created several wheelchair spaces in the sanctuary by shortening pews. Large-print bulletins, hymnals, and Bibles are available; wireless hearing assistance electronics are provided upon request including a cochlear-implant T-loop.
This is just a sampling of the many ways Oakton Church of the Brethren has carefully assessed the needs of its congregation and expanded its collective way of thinking to encourage all to serve and be served. In recognition of the congregation’s clear focus on abilities rather than disabilities, we congratulate them on this much-deserved award.
— Donna Kline is director of the Church of the Brethren Deacon Ministry.