As Southeast Christian Church moved into a new facility on Blankenbaker Parkway more than 20 years ago, the elders made the commitment to start a ministry that would focus on meeting the spiritual needs of people affected by disability. They hired me, a special education teacher at the time, to serve in a newly-created role as the leader of the Disabilities Ministry.
Not many churches had staff- or volunteer-led ministries focusing on making church accessible to everyone. I am thankful the elders believe that every person has value and a need to know the love of God, just as Genesis 1:27 says: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
With volunteers leading the way, we already offered a thriving Sunday school class for adults with developmental disabilities, buddies for children attending kids worship and a monthly respite night for parents. We continued moving forward with additional opportunities to connect.
Soon we were partnering with Special Olympics Kentucky to offer basketball, then bowling and softball. New classes and groups allowed us to teach the Bible on a variety of developmental levels.
Since then, we have added exciting new opportunities. Each summer we go to Country Lake Christian Retreat in Underwood, Indiana, for Camp Freedom. Sitting around a bonfire and singing camp songs with our ministry friends is the one thing I look forward to more than anything each year.
We now have classes during every worship service at the Blankenbaker Campus, as well as buddies making friends and offering support at Southeast’s other campuses. Parents gather weekly to study the Bible and encourage each other.
A group of adults in our ministry has come together to create a choir. This group, the HOPE Praise Team, has now performed at sporting events around Louisville and in a variety of worship services.
For the last 10 years, the church has come together in the fall to host a big party called the Shine Gala, where more than 1,200 adults from our community gather to dance, play games and enjoy a night of extravagant fun.
Outside of all these events and classes, you will also see members of the Disabilities Ministry family serving in Café 920, caroling at nursing homes while we share gifts and joy with residents, leading devotionals at our Special Olympics practices and serving in numerous ways around the church. We love doing life together and breaking down barriers to relationship and inclusion.
All of these classes and events bring joy to those affected by disabilities and to those who serve with them. They open the doors of our campuses to become a place to belong—a place to shine.
As we seek to recognize each person and how they are “uniquely and wonderfully made,” we have recently changed our name to the Shine disAbilities Ministry.
Soon you will see that name shining in the Atrium at the Blankenbaker Campus as we open a new space for people involved in our ministry. The Shine Suite will include teaching and activity space, as well as a place to gather and build relationships.
Halfway through the construction of this space, people involved in our ministry were invited to join us in writing prayers and Scriptures on the floors before the final flooring was installed. Here are a few Scriptures our students, parents and volunteers chose:
“The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalm 139:13-14).
“‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people’” (Mark 1:17).
People in the Shine Ministry are involved throughout the church already, and now they can’t wait to invite friends into their new space. We hope you will stop by once we are able to gather together again, say hello and join us in building community. Share your time and talents with a new friend.
Mary Tatum leads Southeast’s Shine disAbilities Ministry.