West Albemarle Baptist Church, Albemarle, prayed about starting a special needs ministry for several years, but the pieces hadn’t fallen into place. Prayers were lifted for answers to who would lead this ministry, and what would it look like?

As church leaders continued to pray and say yes to the Lord, they were unclear about how or when it would all come together. But, as always, it was in God’s timing.

During this season of waiting, God was working in the hearts of Gabriel and Amanda Nicholson. Amanda had recently left a 23-year career in the disability field to focus on raising their children. Their son has multiple diagnoses, including autism, which made daily activities more challenging.

As with many special needs families, church was the hardest thing they did all week. Families of children with special needs often do not feel accepted or understood; and the church can be unwilling, unable or unprepared to accommodate their child.

The Nicholsons’ prayers led them to step out in faith and begin looking for a new church home. Their journey brought them to West Albemarle Baptist Church. God confirmed in many ways that this was the place for them.

After participating in Vacation Bible School (VBS), they approached Abby Dillingham, the children’s ministry director, about adding a sensory sensitive class to VBS the next year. In addition to VBS, Dillingham offered the idea of a class for the church’s Wednesday night Awana ministry, and a special needs class was born.

Families of children with special needs often do not feel accepted or understood; and the church can be unwilling, unable or unprepared to accommodate their child.

The church’s team worked hard to create a sensory- and mobility-friendly room. Plans included open floor space with alternative seating such as bean bags and oversized pillows, quiet areas with a tent and relaxing pillow corner, weighted blankets, noise canceling headphones and more. The curriculum was adapted to work with any skill level or mobility concern.

As the church began the class, they asked themselves if anyone would come. An honest fear was what would they do if lots of kids came – who would be willing to help in the class? As always, God had a perfect plan. Within two weeks there were five kids attending the class and after a ministry fair, God sent volunteers to help as well.

In the Awana class, the kids learn about Jesus and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment from completing their Awana books. Each child has a specific plan created based on their skill level to assist them with earning their wings and jewels for their vests.

Classes allow kids with special needs to learn at their own pace, give parents the opportunity to attend worship services and Bible studies, and have created a special needs community among the families. Much needed friendships have developed not only between the kids but the parents as well.

The beauty of this ministry is it didn’t end with an Awana class. What started as a simple “Yes, Lord” years ago has flourished into a Sunday morning and Wednesday night ministry. Nine families have benefited from this ministry in the six months since it started. Five volunteers are available to assist in the classes, as needed.

West Albemarle is excited to be planning the first special needs VBS class this summer. God has truly fulfilled the desire He placed in the leadership’s hearts so many years ago. He is able to do so much more than we can even imagine if we just say “Yes.”

by Abby Dillingham  /  Children’s Ministry Director  /  West Albemarle Baptist Church