By: Amanda Willis
Fifteen-year-old Molly and her parents, Lisa and Darin Holt, started attending Rosemount United Methodist Church a few years ago after learning about its Carnivale! program from family friends.
Carnivale! is a respite care program for families of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Molly has Down syndrome.
“The whole experience with coming to this church has opened her up completely; she wants to be that church,” Lisa Holt said. “Molly feels the acceptance, and it radiates through all of us.”
A few weeks ago, Rosemount renamed its inclusion program “Kaleidoscope.” The name, chosen because it represents so many ministries, was revealed during a Disability Awareness Sunday worship service. Maureen Pranghofer, a speaker and song-writer with physical disabilities, delivered a message about how God has walked alongside her and what a big difference her relationship with God has made in her life.
Rosemount, which has recognized Disability Awareness Sunday for the past nine years, began a task force in 2006 to evaluate inclusion ministries for the church. Gail Hoffman, whose son has Williams' Syndrome, led the team, whose first project was starting the Carnivale! program.
The task force modeled Carnivale! off of similar church programs around the state. Parents drop off their children around 5 p.m. on a Friday evening. Mom and dad get a night off, and the kids have a good time, too. After a pizza dinner, they enjoy music, crafts, snacks, toys, learning activities, puppet shows, gym time, and a piñata filled with candy, healthy snacks, and other goodies. Parents return by 9:30 p.m. to pick up their kids. About 25 participants show up for each event.
The church partners with the National Honor Society at Rosemount High School to offer Carnivale! Students are required to complete 12 hours of community service each trimester, and many of them volunteer for Carnivale! There is at least one volunteer per child, ideally two, and there is always a nurse on site.
While children with disabilities attend Carnivale!, their siblings are invited to Carnivale! Plus so as to really give parents time to themselves. The siblings take over the youth area of the church, watch movies, play foosball and table hockey, and eat homemade chocolate chip cookies.
“One of the hardest things about being a parent with a child who has a disability is to find a break,” said Hoffman. “We have families that only get a break when they come to Carnivale!”
Carnivale! happens every two or three months. Upcoming dates are Nov. 13, Jan. 29, April 1, and May 20.
The Holts aren’t the only people who have joined Rosemount UMC because of Carnivale! The church’s inclusiveness has helped attract many new members.
“When we started off, we knew that our child was the only one with disabilities, but we want to welcome new people,” said Hoffman. “Jesus says to welcome the stranger to the table, and that’s what we’re doing.”
Over the years, the ministry has expanded to include not only Carnivale! and Disability Awareness Sunday, but the Shamrock Ball (a prom for youth and young adults with disabilities) and accessibility improvements to the church building.
The second Shamrock Ball will take place April 22. Last year, youth and young adults with disabilities (high-schoolers to age 25) were invited to the ball. The 50 participants dressed up, wore corsages and boutonnieres, and danced with volunteers from Rosemount High School’s National Honor Society.
As the task force looks ahead to what is next, Hoffman is working on a certification through the United Methodist Church that focuses on ministry to persons with disabilities. She wants to help other churches with their disability ministries.
“We don’t want to be a church in isolation,” she said. “We want to share the message we have and I feel like we can help other United Methodist churches.”
Lisa Holt is grateful for Kaleidoscope. Molly has blossomed because of it and drops whatever she is doing to go to Carnivale!
“She would come home beaming and would be so happy,” said Holt. “It’s been very beneficial to all of us. When we walk in the door and everyone says, ‘Hi Molly, how are you doing?’ that just means the inclusion there is wonderful.”
Rosemount UMC made a video of the children who attend Carnivale! answering the questions: What is good about being you? What is hard about being you? And what does God think of you? Members of Rosemount UMC watched the video during Disability Awareness Sunday. Watch it here.
Learn more about attending Carnivale! here.
Amanda Willis is communications associate for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church