May 21

Creating a Community of Hope

Before coming to Intermountain, I spent a little over 15 years in children’s and youth ministry in the local church setting. For 8 years I was the youth minister at a small church in Southwest Washington, and most recently spent 7 ½ years at a larger church as an associate pastor. In both roles, I was looked to as the “expert,” or at the very least the one who was responsible for the church’s outreach to families, children, and youth. I hope I added a lot to those ministries I served, as I know I learned a great deal from those experiences and the people I served alongside.

One aspect of ministry to families always bedeviled me, if you’ll allow me that term! Most of what I did in ministry and programming, and most of the training, materials, and resources available, seemed geared towards children and families that simply didn’t exist! Well, maybe they existed somewhere, but the children and families I encountered in ministry were unsatisfied by the rehearsed answers to the standard questions. More than that, nothing and nobody had prepared me to meet the individualized needs of families that had issues of depression, attachment, self-abuse, learning disabilities, or special needs. I found myself, like other ministers I suspect, doing my best… trying hard, but ultimately feeling like I had failed these families who had come to me and to the church for help, understanding, and mostly… Hope.

Growing up the younger brother of a family member struggling with terminal illness, and a parent of a medical-special needs child today, I am especially sensitive to the special needs that families like ours have when desiring to integrate into a faith community. A strange catch-22 takes place… the family realizes they don’t quite “fit the mold” and come into a church or fellowship with low expectations about the accommodations that might be made for them. The church staff and volunteers, likely overwhelmed and underequipped, mean well but often don’t understand the challenges these families face and don’t know how to lovingly ask the right questions that would facilitate better integration. Often, a parent or sibling might be asked to always be present to attend to the needs of a child of special needs… not providing that parent or sibling the chance to be ministered to themselves.

This common occurrence attributes to the statistic that I often hear cited regarding families that are working with some sort of special need—90% just don’t come to church, youth group, small group… whatever. There are models for disability ministry out there (see: http://childrensministry.com/articles/special-needs-no-child-left-behind) that might work for your church or fellowship group. But first and foremost, the foundation for ministering to these families starts with a heart for the challenges these families face and their need for the same thing that likely drew you to God—a desire for hope. Hope that things could get better and that someone might understand. Hope that our children could be raised up with other children that shared their values and view of the world. Hope that the grace, understanding, and compassion shown to others might be extended to them and their hurts, as well.

Over the next three years, I am hoping to build my own skills and knowledge base so that I might become a resource to you, your ministries, and your churches. I’m entering a special cohort of study through Multnomah University specifically tailored to finding ways to incorporate into a ministry setting the best that Intermountain has to offer from a century of providing hope and healing for children and their families. I also hope to create a network of churches in Montana, and beyond, that feel called to take on a ministry to families that—like mine growing up—didn’t quite “fit.” I hoping to create a community of hope—pulling these families and their children out of the shadows and into the light of community, support, fellowship, and joy.

I’d love to hear from you! I’d like to hear what you’re doing to meet the challenges of the kids and families that come to your with special concerns or needs. I’d also like to hear about your frustrations or expressed needs—just where and how do you feel you need to be better equipped? I am hoping for a give and take, a sharing of ideas, and a growing together as we seek God’s best for ALL his children.

Sincerely and humbly,

Chaplain Chris Haughee