Some churches take a while to create. Community with a Cause, which held its first worship service on Oct. 3, may actually have begun 30 years ago, when Don and Cindy Geller gave birth to their son Gregory.
Greg's seizure disorder and other disabilities created an unexpected kind of family full of daily challenges. A foundation of well-tempered hope forever changed the way Don thinks about God and God's church.
On Sept. 12, Gellers's thoughts came to life when more than 60 people gathered in the fellowship hall of Lexington Park UMC for a preview of a new worshipping community designed especially for people with disabilities.
This church-within-a-church has been named Community with a Cause. It is an initiative of the Baltimore-Washington Conference's Vibrant Communities. It also has the blessing of the conference Committee on Persons with Disabilities.
In laying the groundwork for this endeavor, Geller conducted research on this mission field. In a Launchpad Training Report, he noted that approximately 64,000 people live within a seven-mile radius of Lexington Park in southern Maryland and approximately 7,000 of them have a disability of some sort.
Within this affinity group, he wrote, "the majority of those family members and caregivers are not worshipping at a local church because they were ashamed or embarrassed whenever their special needs son or daughter acted out."
"Too often," Geller said, "individuals with disabilities are treated as outcasts and their parents or caregivers are told they are no longer welcomed to worship at a given church. They are given the usual excuses such as, 'the congregation is not adequately staffed or equipped with trained volunteers who can meet the disabled person's individual needs.' They are urged to find some other faith community that might be better equipped to accommodate their special needs son or daughter, even though no such faith community exists in southern Maryland."
In his first sermon, Geller promised those gathered that the worship experience will be designed specifically with them in mind – relevant for and catering to people with disabilities, their families and caregivers.
"The vision of this new community will be to restore hope that God understands their struggles and has heard their prayers and to reassure them that God has not forgotten them nor their disabled family member," he said.
He stressed the touchstone Scripture passages of every parent with a special needs child, "God works for good for those who love God," and "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
This was the first sermon Geller has preached. But then, he said, "everything we do here will be a first as we share the struggle with those whom God has gifted differently."
He encouraged those present to be willing to do things differently and be a new kind of faith community that truly welcomes and includes all people. "Let the spirit speak to you," Geller said.
"What they want, what we all want, is for the world to love them just as they are," Geller said. "One in five people in the United States has a disability and most of them do not have a church family. Let's change that. … Community with Cause will stand in the gap with Christ."
Melissa Lauber, Baltimore-Washington AC UMConnection Staff
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