NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (ABP) — Churches that do a good job of including members with special needs like autism often reap side benefits of a positive witness to their community and sometimes even numerical growth, says an expert in disability ministries.
"I’m beginning to hear more and more stories of congregations who are saying, 'Out of our inclusive work with people with autism and their families, it’s changing us as well and for the better,'" said Bill Gaventa, director of community and congregational supports at the Elizabeth M. Boggs Center on Developmental Disabilities in New Brunswick, N.J.
"Spiritually," he explained, "but also people are talking about that in terms of numbers and church growth, because of people who have felt welcome and are coming and the word has gotten out that this is a welcoming place and congregation."
Special-needs ministry is a two-way street, he stressed.
"Part of this is about helping people and children with autism to learn how to be members of different faith communities, but it’s also about helping that whole faith community to realize what it means for anybody to be a member of that community," he said. "It’s a dual process of helping somebody to learn the culture but also helping a community to look at its own culture."