At The Special Gathering, we often say that we don’t pay people to minister but we pay them to supervise.  For the sake of safety during our weekly programs, we divide our members into three categories.  The first group are the members who have been designated by the professional community as fully independent and our elders (our volunteers).  The fully independent people live in their own apartments with an independent living coach.  They have no supervision during their work hours or during the hours they are in their own apartments. 

The second group are the semi-independent individuals.  These are people who work in the community and, therefore, have no supervision during most of the day.  They may live at home with their parents or in a group home.  But during the daytime, they do not have supervision.

The third group are people who are in a supervised workshop setting during the day and they live at home with a relative or in a group home.  They have constant supervision.

For our independent people, we check them in and check them out.  Some of these folks are married.  They may drive their own cars.  They come and go as they please during Special Gathering. 

The semi independent and the people designated by the professional community as needing oversight are treated somewhat differently in regard to supervision.   For the sake of safety, we make four checks of these members each time a program meets.  As we move, the person supervising verifies that everyone is in place.  We check people when they arrive; we check them before worship begins, to insure that they are in place.  We visually check as the small groups begin, and we check people when they leave.

It has been the common wisdom that when a program reaches about 30 people in attendance, there needs to be one person who is in charge of supervision and does nothing else.  In Melbourne, we pushed the limits and did not get a supervisor until we were running 55 to 60 people each week.  We could do this for two reasons.  First, Melbourne was filled with 10 wonderfully competent volunteers, who were also professionals in the field.  Second, because of budget restraints, we felt we had no choice.

In 2003, we received a grant and we were able to hire a supervisor.  She worked our Melbourne and Vero programs.  Quickly this new member of our team learned that working within this cloistered, sub-culture, there are dichotomies that constantly pull at our staff.

Our members are adults.  They must be treated with the respect afforded to all adults.  Yet, sometimes their reasoning abilities are immature.  Often, their intellectual disabilities override their capacity to make reasonable decisions.

Several years ago, Lars, an avid sports fan, came to church the Sunday of the Super Bowl.  He brought the Sunday newspaper with him.  After worship, he became agitated.  He had lost his newspaper and he could not be consoled.  Several of our volunteers worked with him as he paced and muttered.  They tried to explain that he really didn’t need the paper. 

After about a half hour, they called me over.  I half-heartedly tried to find the paper and then I attempted to cajole him back into a good humor.  Nothing worked.  He became more and more irritated.

Finally, I asked, “Lars, why do you need this newspaper?”

Frustrated, he slammed his fist on the table.  “You know,”  he said, deeply hurt by my insensitivity.

“No, I don’t know. Tell me.”

“If I don’t find the newspaper, the Super Bowl teams won’t be able to play.  There will be no Super Bowl today.”

Now I understood his pain and frustration.  In his world, the loss of the newspaper that told about the game meant that the game could not play.  We got serious about finding the missing paper.  He and I searched the rooms where we had been.  Later, we searched the bus that he had ridden on the way to church.

As I got increasingly serious about the missing newspaper, Lars began to settle down.  Knowing that I understood his concern and did not discount the newspaper dilemma helped him to regain his calm.  After searching the bus, Lars looked at me and patted my hand.  “It’s okay,” he said, consoling me.  “Even if we don’t find the paper, they might be able to play the game.”

Had I not had a supervisor who was responsible for the safety of everyone, it would’ve been impossible for me to take the time to understand Lars’ concern.  That day could have been a disaster for Lars and our program.  However, having another person there to make sure that the 99 were safely taken care of made it possible for me to avert pending trouble.

Have there been time that you have felt that you needed another person to take care of the details so you could minister to a distressed member.  Would have handled Lars differently?