Through a recently created worship service called God Loves You Dearly, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in West Salem handed a touch of that peace to special needs children, adults, and their families.
The service is the result of several people of faith who saw a need in the community and collaborated on a way to fill it. Debuting in October, the first two services averaged around 20 people and included those with Downs Syndrome and Autism as well as others who had come just to be an encouragement to families.
“It’s very interactive,” said Pastor Jason Schockman, emphasizing that the setting takes into consideration individual requirements such as subdued lighting, and for those who need it, sign language and even ear mufflers.
“It’s for those who care to hear God’s Word without worrying about distractions,” said Schockman. But he was quick to add, “This by no means segregates our Sunday morning service. Our Sunday Service is by no means quiet.” He said he works from the perspective that children’s noises are the light and life of the church.
The idea for a special service gradually emerged from conversations between Shockman’s wife, Colette who works as a special needs para-professional at the West Salem School District and Sarah Kolander who works daily with the special needs population at Life in Harmony, also in West Salem.
According to Kolander, some families with special needs children feel uncomfortable attending a regular worship service. The Missouri Synod district of the Lutheran Church didn’t offer any options in our area, she said. So, they innovated, crafting a way of helping special needs people engage in the life of the church by tailoring a service specifically for them. “We meet them right where they are,” she said.
Shockman said that the nature of the service is very fluid, constantly changing to meet the needs of those who attend.
“Our first service in October went very smoothly but we saw some places where we could improve,” he noted. “In November we made the improvements and saw the way people responded.”
Kolander was equally pleased. “We had great participation when we added sign language and gestures,” she added. “The engagement was amazing. We used a lot of instruments during songs for those unable to sing.”
The trio is assisted by Brooklynn Scholze and Patricia Horstmann who also have experience working with the special needs population.
The Church hosts the special service on the second Sunday of every month. The next service is Dec. 10 at 3 p.m.