In an interview on NPR, an operating room technician who worked in a hospital in South Florida for 68 years was asked what was the secret to his long career.  I wish I could remember his name; but, alas, it slid out of my brain.  A Christian man, he said that he always followed his mother’s advice.  She told him again and again during his childhood and young adult years, “Mind your own business.  See everything.  See nothing.  Hear everything.  Hear nothing.”

Perhaps this could be a motto of all ministers.  However, it is certainly good advice for people whose ministry is within the mentally challenged.  In fact, I’m not sure that I can better expand of her advice.

Last evening at First United Methodist Church of Melbourne, Special Gathering of Indian River had our first Fun and Games Night.  It was a whopping success.  While Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community that does evangelism and discipleship, we firmly believe that part of discipleship is fellowship and fun.  We had over 50 people who attended. 

All of this began because the Brevard County Recreation Department has its summer camp in July and August.  The rec employees are tied up doing a day camp for children with disabilities.  Therefore, they aren’t able to do the Friday night socials.  Special Gathering of Brevard and Indian River decided to pick up some of the slack and have a party.

Of course, parties are the best thing I do.  And this one was great fun.  We began with pizza and salad.  Then one of our wonderful SpG volunteers, Barbara Kenney, led us in more than a hour of line dancing.  Everyone got into the action and we learned or refreshed our skills in step/toe/heel. 

After more than an hour of this aerobic exercise, we played games.  While they were fun, it ended up being a bit confusing because we hadn’t allowed enough time to organize them properly. 

Lessons learned from this event:

  • There were more than 15 members/parents/volunteers who helped with set-up, tearing down, serving and clean up.  Without a good number of helpers, the night would have been impossible. 
  • Serving food was great.  Pizza is the easiest thing.  With church special discounts given by Domino’s Pizza, the cost was only $2 a head.  Everyone can eat for that amount of money.
  • Serving food was a big pain.  Many more volunteers are required to make food service advisable.  Praise God, people were willing and able to help serve.  We had seven people who were dishing out the food and pouring drinks.  However, there was an additional five or six who were helping people who are physically disabled to get their food.  Most of these helpers were SpG members. 
  • The line dancing was perfect.  Even our parents loved the music and our members loved the fun.  I, being extremely straight-laced, loved the movements.  It was heel, toe, step forward, step backward, spin.  There are no touching or holding.  Perfect for a church event.
  • To do the games, we needed to allot much more time to organize properly.   I would say that at least 5 to 10 minutes was needed to organize the members into groups. 
  • There should be about three or four people to each group with a helper person in each group.  The helper could be a member/leader or a volunteer.  (Unfortunately, because of time restrains, we only had three large groups and no leader of the group.)
  • We had three games going at the same time.  Each game had its own table and one person stationed at the table who helped the members to play the game.
  • The games were the simple standards.  First, eat three crackers and the first person to whistle won.  Second, blow soap bubbles.  The person who blew the most bubbles on the first blow, won.  Third, everyone got a piece of bubble gum and the first person to blow a bubble, won.  Each winner was given a colored card.  Each game had different colored cards.  In this way, we knew who won which games.  We were to then have the winners of the individual games have a tournament.  (We ran out of time and we weren’t able to do the tournament either.  However, we had enough game prizes to give each person with a card a prize.)
  • Our members in Melbourne are pretty high functioning but they weren’t able to whistle or to blow bubbles with bubble gum.  They were all able to blow the soap bubbles. Your members will all be different.  We played the same games in DeLand where the members are much lower functioning and they were able to whistle and blow bubbles with bubble gum but they weren’t able to blow soap bubble. 

    Blowing soap bubbles was the best game we played

    Blowing soap bubbles was the best game we played

  • Soap bubbles are such fun for our members that I plan on incorporating them into more of activities in the future. 
  • We also had two games of Dominos going for those people who didn’t want to play the other games. 

Have you been able to find games that your members especially enjoy?  What are some of them?

Why Do We Pray?

Acts 12:12

Central Theme:  It is important to know why we pray.



       1.     Have a member read the scripture Acts 12:12

       2.     Say, “Let us pray.”  Then wait for a very long time.

       3.     When people begin to stir or look around, say, “Why do we pray?”

       4.     Have you ever thought about that?  Let’s look at that question for a moment.


       I.     Quickly tell the story of Peter in prison and the church in prayer.

              A. Why were they praying?

              B. Why do we pray?

                   1.  Everything we do begins and ends with prayer.

                   2.  Is it part of the ceremony?  the Pagentry?  Or form of the      church?


           II.     We pray for only one reason:

                   A. God answers prayer.

              B. When we pray and we are Christians, God listens to us.

              C. I don’t think Peter thought God would answer his prayer…but He did.

              D. I don’t think the church thought God would answer their prayer…but he did. 


     III.     Why do we pray.


              A. We pray to tell Jesus we love him.

              B. We pray to ask God for things.

              C. We pray to thank God for his blessings.

              D. We pray to confess our sins.

              E.  We pray to vent.  We can tell God things we can’t tell others.


Conclusion–Those things may all be true but mostly we pray because God is listening and He always answers prayer.  Maybe not in the way we would like.  But he loves us and gives us His best when we pray.

Work-Til-You-Drop Volunteer

Work-Til-You-Drop Volunteer

When my children were small, they would want to “help.”  In our galley kitchen, one cabinet top is about three feet wide.  I would put them on top of that counter while I mixed and stirred.  I would tell them, confidently, “Watching is helping.”  That is a great philosophy when you want to teach a child to cook but you don’t want them to get in your way.

I found that many adults still think “watching is helping.”  In fact, I had one adult man tell me that his job was to show me the things that needed to be done.  He continued, “You obviously can’t see the important things to do because you spend all your time with ‘busy work.'” 

The Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  Our members are all developmentally delayed.  Our mission is to do classic ministry rather than social ministries.  We disciple and evangelize.  Many of our members do have secondary disabilities or physical limitation.  However, I’ve found that almost all of them are more than willing to pick up a chair or help move a table.  Most of them are not lazy.

In addition, I work with an amazing group of volunteers who take great joy and pride in working until they drop.  Nothing pleases them more than to leave a worksite, hot, sweaty and exhausted after a couple of hours of labor.  In fact, their greatest complaint to me is “I need something else to do.”  This is a very good thing since we must borrow from almost everyone in the county. 

When a ministry is so dependent on others, it’s important to understand that you must leave the facility or van or equipment you want to borrow in better shape than when you borrowed it.  If it breaks, we fix it.  If it gets dirty, we clean it.  If we move it, we put it back.  On Sunday, we had an indoor picnic.  I’ve developed a good relationship with the Sunday maintanance crew because I seldom ask for their help.  Several of our members and I come early to set out the chairs and table and move our equipment. 

The agreement with the church is that they don’t want us to put up the chairs and tables at the end of our session.   However, his Sunday, I learned that the maintenance man would have to stack the chairs himself.  There were four women volunteers left in the church, cleaning and staightening.  “I’m going to do this for the maintenance man.  He wants to leave by 2pm,”  one volunteer informed us. That was all it took. Everyone went to work.  Within minutes the chairs were stacked and positioned against the wall the way they needed to be.  Even though, the chairs did look as though they had been stacked by a group of women, the church staff was grateful for our help.

There are two principles that The Special Gathering lives by.  First, we always leave things better than when we used them.  The second is we make friends in low places.  We understand it is the secretaries and maintenance people who really run the churches.  Make them your friends and you can have almost anything you want.  At staff meetings, when the maintenance crew says, “Special Gathering is the cleanest group we have in the church.”  Believe me, it carries more weight with the senior staff than all the smoosing you can do with the any of the pastors. 

Having worked in almost every position in the church from secretary to area director, I’ve learned that these two principles work to benefit any ministry.  What are some of the things you do to insure that your support staff know that you appreciate their efforts?  How do you involve your members in order to let them know that they are helping, not watching?

Broken Toy Brain

Broken Toy Brain

Okay I’m like the rest of the Techno and wannabe-Techno world, I have a toy brain.  It all began years ago, when we realized that a cell phone bill was a lot cheaper than a secretary.  All my phone numbers are nowforwarded to my cell phone.  We bought the expensive Treo, about a year before the Blackberry came out, because we could carry our data bases and our calendar with us wherever we went. 

As the Area Director of Special Gathering of Indian River, it is important to have access to the records of our members during program hours.  We are a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  As a ministry dedicated to the evangelization and discipleship of mentally challenged people, our programs are designed specifically to do classic ministry.  In short, we do church that is geared for people who are developmentally disabled.

For years, we carried large looseleaf notebooks with pages of information containing our members’ health and emergency information.  Health and safety is a paramount goal for us.  Carrying a tiny Treo phone that embodies the data that once was carried in our brains seemed so much easier.  And, of course, it is…until your phone is dead.

Last night when I realized my phone’s battery was going away, I connected the Treo to the charger to wait about 20 minutes for it to become fully charged.  Problems evolved when the phone didn’t charge but began blinking and trying to restart.  It’s been restarting all night.  It’s physically painful to see my toy brain trying to reboot. 

This morning I’ll go to the phone store and they will do wonderful things and I’ll have my brains back.  Praise God for technicians.

Are you pro-active in regard to the health and safety of your members?  If not, why not?

I\'m not going

At times parents will call.  Their voices are strained.  They admit to being frazzled and frayed.  One mother confessed as we stood in the church the first Sunday her son came to Special Gathering, “I really must have a break.”  Bradley, her hyperactive son was experimenting with the elevator buttons, while her husband was smiling and egging him onward.  “He is so curious and active.  I don’t have a minute of peace,”  Bradley’s mother continued.  Her voice was laced with exhaustion and disappointment in her inability to cope.

Her 18 year old son’s mental age is about five years old.  He has all the curiosity of any five year old, his boundless energy matches his mental age while his physical strength corresponds to his actual age.  “I’m not going,” he said for the fifteenth time.  His father grinned at his wife,  “He wants to stay with us.”

The mother’s eyes were now glued to the floor.  “I know.  But I must have a break,” she repeated for the seventh time.  “I must have a break,”  she said staring at me in an apologetic gesture of her hands. 

I placed my hands on hers.  “Of course you do.  And he will be fine.”

Father herded him into the assembly room and Bradley was immediately met with three of his friends from school.  “Cool,” Bradley said as he was ushered to his seat by two of our male volunteers and a young woman who has become our unofficial “new members’ friend.” 

It is extremely painful for a parent when the reality of a sometime-impossible job meets the end of your endurance.  This deadend street appears to have not turn-around alcove and no way to escape.  It is usually the mother who reaches this impasse first.  The shame of coming to this place in the life of your child with a disability is so vibrantly alive you can almost taste it in the air. 

I am always thankful when a parent with such a desperate need discovers Special Gathering.  Yes, we are only a once a week program but that is more than they thought the Church would ever be able to give to them.  And they are amazingly grateful.   The Special Gathering of Indian River is a ministry that is sponsored by more than 40 churches.  We function in South Brevard and Indian River County in Florida.  Our only purpose is to evangelize and disciple people who are mentally challenged.  However, a great bi-product of this important arm of the Church is that we are able to provide a respite time for Bradley’s parents.

As the parents of our newest member walked out the church door, the dad put his arm around his wife.  “He’s going to be okay,”  Bradley’s mom said.  Her husband nodded in agreement and gave her a squeeze. 

By the end of the program, as we were loading Bradley on the bus, he asked, “I’m coming next week?  Can I ride the bus?” 

“You sure can,”  I said.  He’ll be picked up at 8:30am and he’ll get home at 1:15pm.  That’s enough time for his mom to get a shower, get dressed, go to church, come home and fix lunch or read the paper. 

It’s wonderful when desperation brings a new member who begins the morning with “I’m not going” and ends the day asking, “I’m coming next week?”

Have you found some ways to make a new member feel welcomed?  What about the person who has anxiety because of his/her separation from parents?  What are some techniques you’ve found that work to eliminate their concern?

Buddy Check at Camp AgapeBuddy-checks at Camp Agape help to eliminate risks of swimming in the pond

I was born into a family of risk takers.  My father started (and closed) a variety of businesses in his lifetime.  Many of my uncles and aunts were entrepreneurs.  My brother became a champion athlete because of his ability to take risks.  He also left a secure engineering position with South Carolina Electric and Gas to form his own electrical contracting/construction business when his family was young.  He was willing to take the risk of failure in order to succeed.

I am the area director of The Special Gathering of Indian River.  We are a ministry within the developmentally disabled sub-culture, doing classic ministry–evangelism and discipleship.  In the 19 years that I’ve been part of this community, I have observed a population of risk takers. 

Of course, that is a broad generalization because not everyone is willing to take risks.  Elizabeth became confined to a wheelchair at a young age because she once fell and she wouldn’t risk the danger of another fall.  Arnie has stayed at the same job for more than 30 years even though his boss refuses to give him adequate compensation for his work and he constantly talks down to Arnie.  But as Arnie says, “He’s given me a job for 30 years.  Why take the risk?  I could go somewhere else with better pay and be fired in a week.”

But in ministering and befriending the members of The Special Gathering, I’ve been impressed the variety and constant display of risk-taking in which our members engage. Even though Larry is mentally challenged he enjoys making new friends.  I don’t want to risk rejection, so I tend to shy away from people who seem to divert eye contact and not smile when our eyes do accidently meet.  Oh, but Larry has made some wonderful friends by his ability to overlook the curious, blank stares and smile broadly forcing eye to eye confrontation.

Tom has a disconcerting way of taking the risk of standing too close–invading your personal space–in order to engage in conversation.  While I always back off,  Tom is bold enough to continue to pursue the person with whom he desires to converse.  It is interesting that this boldness has created a bond of understanding between us that I find curious. 

Michelle risks discipline by forging her way into places that she doesn’t belong.  On Sunday morning, as we move from our refreshments to the upstairs classrooms, she must be gently herded like a rouge sheep.  I tell her that she can’t go into the gym where the children are playing basketball.  “But I want to go in there.” 

“But we aren’t allowed to be there now.”

“But I want to go there.” 

Of course, she and I are casually walking to the elevator during the entire conversation.  By the end of her fourth “but I want to go there” the elevator door has closed and she is safely heading for the second floor.  By the end of the exceptionally slow elevator ride, one of her friends has engaged her in a conversation and she’s eager to join her companion in their Bible study class.

The same is true in spiritual areas.  Jack was born a constant risk taker.  When he truly discovered that Jesus loved him, that risk-taking tenacity easily transferred to his relationship with the Lord.  His prayers are bold.  He memorizes the scriptures that he reads.  He freely tells people about the wonderful things God has done in his life. 

Accessing the level of risk-taking  your individuals members are willing to take is an important step in understanding the values and personality of each member.  It may also be a key to locking a more vital relationship for them with the Lord.

Who are some high risk-takers in your program or Bible study class?  Who are the people who don’t like taking risks?  How does this effect their relationship with the Lord?