The Gift of Presence
For nearly two weeks, those of us in the Saint Paul Area Synod have been blessed by the presence of ou[...]
Greetings, I am Pastor Laurel Halvorson Bernard. You might know me from when I've visited your congregation to preach, or through my husband and colleague the Rev. Timothy Bernard, who serves at the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Roseville. For six years, I have been "on leave from call" and have found that serving the synod through guest preaching and as a resource person was a wonderful way to remain engaged in ministry.
Tim and I have four children ranging in ages 10 to 21. We enjoy parenting these busy children and, like many, saw ourselves called to parenting. In 2005, at the age of 10, our oldest child began experiencing seizures. Our life changed. He very quickly went from a relatively normal child to one who was medically challenged, experiencing brain damage and physical impairment. We were thrust into the arena of special needs. Like many parents, we had never imagined ourselves walking that journey of faith. In the beginning, I was called from my church office to the school every day by 10 am to attend to his medical needs, which were great. It became pretty clear that one of us (and often both of us) needed a very flexible schedule. Exhausted, worried and often overwhelmed, I resigned from my call in a lovely and supportive congregation to become the "at home parent."
Since 2005 I have learned a great deal about IEPS (Individual Education Plans), OMIPS (Otherwise Health Impaired Plans), County and State services for medically and developmentally disabled, as well as the medical professional world of hospitals, clinics, and emergency departments.
But more than that, I have learned that families with special needs often feel overwhelmed and isolated. While Tim and I have always found ourselves surrounded by supportive people of faith, schools, and medicine, we still had to learn to navigate the complicated world of special needs. At times it has been heartbreaking, rewarding, and even funny, as we stumble and trip our way through this journey.
Two years ago, Bishop Lull invited me to ponder what a special needs ministry in our synod might look like. Shortly thereafter, the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, on behalf of the Saint Paul Area synod, called me to serve in a "specialized call" to create a special needs ministry. This past year has been a year of exploration, networking, and dreaming.
I have worked alongside Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, which has provided many insights and educational opportunities. Pulpit supply and guest preaching invitations have connected me with families, congregations, and pastors who have shared their struggles and joys with specialized needs.
Alongside many parents and staff, I am creating a program for former students whose medical or other needs make them less likely to have employment, but who still wish to serve their communities. Many of these former students are people who will fall through the cracks as our state reorganizes how it views and provides services to the community of special needs.
As such, we are working on a pilot program through the Career and Life Transition Program of Mounds View Schools to provide former students with opportunities to serve their communities. These former special needs students are called Connectors. Our pilot program is aiming to engage with students who are deemed unreliable as employees due to physical, developmental, or medical needs, but who are not good candidates for "day programs" because they are higher functioning. The goal is to provide meaningful and joyful volunteer opportunities for these Connectors in a way that is safe, productive, fun, and social.
My blog next week will detail more about this pilot program, as well as give you ways to be involved. In the meantime, if you'd like to get in touch with me, email Pastor Laurel Halvorson Bernard at firstname.lastname@example.org.