TN Faith Community Opens Doors for Those with Disabilities

JesusAt a time when family and friends often gather at places of worship to celebrate the holidays, Tennessee’s faith community is taking a lead on ensuring inclusiveness for the state’s individuals with disabilities. One common barrier is just being able to gain access physically, but as Jeanne Crocker, a Sunday school teacher at First Baptist Church in Lexington, notes it goes well beyond. “That might include behavioral issues or specific special needs that they have to have a quiet place,” she explains. “They don’t like crowds or too much excitement, blinking lights, those kind of things you have to be attentive to.” According to the Tennessee Disability Coalition, there are about 1 million people in the state with a disability and that’s a number that continues to rise. Crocker teaches the special needs Sunday school class at First Baptist, which also offers a respite for the families of loved ones with disabilities on the first Friday night of each month. “Folks with special needs are brought to the church and for three hours we do crafts and music and games,” she relates. “And it gives families an opportunity to go shopping or get some rest or to do some things that they may not be able to do on a typical night.” Crocker says First Baptist is one of many local faith communities now realizing the importance of removing barriers to welcome those individuals with disabilities. “I was speaking to a friend of mine in Jackson, Tenn.,” Crocker says. “And she said that reaching out to families with special needs is the fastest growing ministry for their church, because there is such a need to incorporate these families and let them know that they count and that they matter.”