The best stories are ones that stretch your imagination beyond the horizon, make you hold your breath and bite your nails in suspense, and ultimately leave you with an overwhelming sense of joy that engulfs you like a warm blanket. Let me tell you one such story.
It began about twenty years ago when a group of moms longed to go to church, but couldn’t. Each of them had a child with disabilities. They desired to join other believers on Sunday morning, but their children needed specific, attentive care. Who would watch their children while they worshipped?
So, they came up with an idea—one mom would stay at home and watch all the kids while the other moms went to church. The next week, they would switch. To help them remember whose turn it was, they followed the motto, “One week, the blondes were on. The next week, the brunettes were on.” These moms continued their quiet ministry for years, adding a few new families their group. Around 2010, the number of children in the group was close to 25. They had started using a few classrooms in the church and moving toward a more formalized ministry.
In 2012, Calvary Church’s senior leadership team launched a priorities initiative, and Bridge Disability Ministries was a major part of that focus. As leadership had studied the community, they realized that there were many other families who had a real need for a place of belonging. Investing staff, space, and resources into Bridge would allow more families to join the church community and benefit from regular church involvement. It was an exciting time of growth and the ministry really took off!
By 2016, nearly 140 children and young adults had become part of Bridge Disability Ministries. But rapid growth came with new challenges. Families were contacting the church faster than the space and volunteer team could keep pace.
One day, a mom called the church coordinator, Lori Leman, seeking a church that would embrace her three children. At the ages of five, three, and two, each showed signs of being on the autism spectrum. Lori’s heart sank—all the classrooms were filled to overflowing. As dedicated and amazing as her volunteers were, Lori couldn’t safely accept three more children.
“I felt awful that the mom couldn’t come,” Lori shared, “it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” Further breaking Lori’s heart, the mom explained that they had tried all the other churches in the area. And everyone had pointed her to Calvary for its disability ministry.
But Lori had a ray of hope to offer. The church was in the process of opening a new campus the following year. Calvary Quakertown was scheduled to open in February 2017 and would include an entire wing for Bridge Disability Ministries.
Lori asked the mom if she could wait six months—there would be more than enough room for her children at that time at the new campus.
The mom couldn’t get the words out fast enough, “I live in Quaker Town!”
A few months later, this family toured the brand-new facility on Opening Day, and all three children immediately took to their new classes. Lori ended the services that morning full of gratitude and awe at God’s plan for meeting this family’s needs. Not only would those children be served, they would be served safely in a secure environment.
“You want to do what you do really well, and slowly branch out,” Lori said. It sounds counterproductive, but Lori explained that the love behind this hard truth is best illustrated by referring to a bridge: built with a deep and solid foundation, reaching across a wide and fearsome gully. It consists of many smaller pieces put together, and it allows people to cross over safely. It’s often not exceptionally beautiful or fancy, but it’s strong. And it’s safe. Calvary Church’s Bridge program is that and so much more for families affected by disability in the Bucks and Montgomery counties area of southeastern PA.
Danielle Ledoux is a former intern with Joni and Friends’ Cause 4 Life program who enjoys writing about God’s work in people’s lives. She is a graduate of Pensacola Christian College and is currently getting her Master of Fine Arts in Dramatics.