True Joy: Serving Adults With Special Needs

June 26, 2011


At the direction of his Sunday school teacher, Anton “Bubba” Keller Jr. inserts a music CD into a player. Music fills the little classroom of the Friendship Class at First Baptist Church of Meridianville.  Teacher Sara Sayle lays out her materials as young adult members Cassie Patterson and Adam Daniels move to their regular chairs. Co-teacher Judy Wright slips into a chair around the circular table.

Ryan Payton, who had already been sitting quietly, suddenly bursts into song along with the CD: “God of wonders beyond our galaxy,” Payton sings, smiling to himself. “You are holy, holy.”

Patterson giggles and glances to see if the visitor is surprised by Payton’s outburst.  “He sings loud,” Patterson explains.

Payton sings every word with the song, adding a layer of melody probably never dreamed of by the original artists. On the last chorus, Sayle lays a friendly hand on Payton’s shoulder and sings the last, soft “Holy, holy” with him. Keller waits until the last vibration of the chord fades away before snapping the CD player off.

It’s a special moment in this class designed especially for adults with special needs, from Down syndrome to autism spectrum to mental retardation.

But for teacher Sayle, each student has special gifts, not special needs.

Anton “Bubba” Keller Jr. regularly takes up the offering, helping deacon Danny Atnip during church at First Baptist Church of Meridianville, which also offers a Sunday School for special needs adults.

Keller has straight posture and sloped shoulders from years of training for and winning weight lifting competitions – including at the 1995 World Games. He is always willing to help lift and carry tables and chairs, and he’s quick to perceive someone else’s feelings.

Patterson, with her bubbly laugh, can always be counted on to add something positive to a conversation. Daniels, with his quiet dignity, is philosophical about discussions and meticulous about his regular responsibility to count offerings collected in the class. Payton can be counted
on to tidy anything that’s out of place, and he holds the class record for fastest completion of word search puzzles.

And, of course, he sings with all his heart when the music comes on.  “I get a lot of joy out of being with them,” Sayle said after the class. “They are a blessing to me.”

Completing ministry

The class is also a blessing to the congregation, said Dr. Tommy Bolan, pastor.  “Those with special needs are in one sense no different than anyone else who worships at First Baptist Church,” Bolan said. “They bring gifts, talents, abilities, personality and ideas to the church that are just as important as those of any other member.”  But, Bolan acknowledged, they can be a group easy to overlook or expect to just blend into any other class at the church – and that wouldn’t be what Jesus would want, he said.

“Our ministry would be incomplete without (the class),” Bolan said. “Jesus Christ placed a high value on individuals who were often overlooked by society, and we know that He values our special needs members, just as he values the rest of us.”

First Baptist Church of Meridianville

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About Michael Woods

Christ-follower, husband, chocoholic, and peanut-butter lover! I'm a father to triplet boys...each on the autism spectrum.

View all posts by Michael Woods


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One Comment on “True Joy: Serving Adults With Special Needs”

  1. Doug Goddard Says:

    Great story……….should encourage churches to start their own program……….just gotta find those champions to help start things in each congregation.


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