You know what pops into my head if someone says “healthcare?” A smell. That antiseptic scent somewhere between rubbing alcohol and Lysol. I might see in my mind’s eye a shiny hospital floor or imagine the crinkly sound of exam table paper.
But this week in an e-newsletter all about healthcare, I came across a different take on what the term should mean. It involves church. An Episcopal church in northern New Jersey has started offering an “All God’s Children” service on the first and third Sunday of each month. The service is geared toward kids with disabilities, particularly autistic youngsters, those with varying degrees of attention deficit and also pervasive development disorders. It must feel like a miracle to parents of special needs kids looking for some help to feed their children’s souls.
Yes, there’s no doubt in my mind – this church is offering healthcare. Managing an illness or chronic condition can be an exhausting, 24/7 job. And I think especially if it’s a parent managing a child’s condition, there’s often little room for anything social or spiritual. Through the worst of it, even emotions get set aside while mom or dad manages a crisis on autopilot. (How unhealthy is that!) This church is offering families balance in their lives and holistic care. It can’t help but improve outcomes to pray and be embraced by welcoming church volunteers and, just for a short time on a Sunday morning, step away from the constancy of life with special needs.
What I really like is the church’s webpage for this special service. It’s children’s-church-in-a-box for any religious organization that would like to replicate the idea. There’s a full description, video clips of a service, and links to media stories about their novel idea. Anyone can download their 18-page operations manual (page 7- suggested gluten-free snacks; page 13 instructions for Joyful Noise volunteer - “…speak loudly into the microphone, as the kids will likely make noise throughout this segment. Repetition, call-and-response, and simple mimicked movements work well;” page 15- one adult in the Prayer Room and one at the door at all times. Make sure no child leaves the building without their parent.)
So, does your doctor ask how life in general is going? Does the practice offer a list of resources outside of physical healthcare? Does your own house of worship or school or workplace ask how it can accommodate health concerns and include special needs? If not, suggest they take a look at Christ Episcopal Church of Budd Lake, New Jersey. Now there’s a practitioner of good healthcare (without the antiseptic smell).