New Autism Ministry at Kenova United Methodist Church

By WV UMC Admin

Sometimes things come together in amazing ways. Last spring, Sandra Budden of Kenova United Methodist Church connected with the autism community in two ways. First, she began following Rev. Shannon Blosser’s posts and blogs about autism, and second, a friend and Kenova UMC member, Bob Tomblin, mentioned that his non-verbal, autistic grandson loved visiting the church and seeing the stained glass windows, but struggled with participating in worship.

Sandra was able to connect Rev. Blosser and Bob, and Bob began to learn more about how churches can be more inclusive of autistic individuals. The two had several conversations, and it led to Bob visiting Rev. Blosser’s church (Pea Ridge UMC) to see their sensory area. Inspired by the possibilities, Bob proposed to the Kenova UMC Church Council that the church implement the “Spectrum Worship Ministry.”

The proposal was that a ministry would be set up for special needs children, youth, adults, and their families. Many times a special needs child is not understood and may be shunned, causing the child, siblings, and their parents to stop attending church. By offering a sensory worship experience, we may be able to reach not only the special needs child, but their siblings and parents for Christ. In addition to special needs children, the ministry has been expanded to include youth and adults.

The church enthusiastically jumped on board, and a committee was formed of church members who have experience with children and adults on the autism spectrum. In August 2022, the committee attended an Autism Inclusion workshop at Pea Ridge UMC; in the same month, Sandra began researching grants that could help them launch this new ministry.

Two grant applications were submitted, and monies were received from each of them. Specifically, the WVUMC Congregation Vitality Grant yielded $3000 and $750 was received from Disability Ministries of the UMC. These monies, as well as donations from the congregation, have allowed us to set up the children’s calming area and the older child/adult room. The children’s calming room is painted a soothing color, and contains weighted blankets, noisy blocking headphones, tent, sensory books, sensory toys, and weighted stuffed animals. Bob and his grandson have been able to use the room since it was completed in November.

A separate area has been set up for older children and adults to give them an area to watch the live streaming of the worship service. The prayer and goal is that once the person has adjusted to the worship service itself through the live streaming, the individual(s) can return to the sanctuary to experience the worship service in-person.

In order to share about Spectrum Worship Ministry with the community, a brochure has been set up, several ministry moments have been presented at Sunday morning worship services, and the Kenova UMC church bulletin and newsletter has discussed ongoing activities. The next big step is a support group meeting for those in the congregation or community who would like to learn more about the ministry, which is scheduled for February 16, 2023.

Sandra shared, “The congregation at Kenova UMC is very excited about the ministry. We realize that 1 out of 44 children are currently diagnosed with autism. Several monetary donations have been given to the ministry from congregation members and via word of mouth, the church office has begun receiving questions about the ministry. At a recent men’s prayer breakfast (November 2022), Rev. Blosser spoke to the men and through the discussion, several guests have spread the word and now, Rev. Greg Page, Locust Grove Baptist church is interested in starting the ministry at his church. I feel that our congregation as well as the community are inquiring about the ministry, interested in the ministry and are supportive of the ministry.”

Please be in prayer with Kenova UMC, as the Spectrum Worship Ministry continues to develop and encompasses their mission statement to reach, UP in Worship and Prayer, OVER in Discipleship and Care and OUT in Witness and Service, in the love of Jesus Christ.