PERSPECTIVES: A Place of Belonging

By Laura Sugg

We became a part of Centenary United Methodist Church (Centenary) because of their acceptance of all, but also the acceptance and welcoming of my child and brother, who both have disabilities.

What made me want to be a part of this church was their inclusion of all backgrounds, ages, nationalities, beliefs and different learning levels.

Centenary believes that church and community are the essentially the same. Its nonprofit organization Centenary Community Ministries (CCMI) works with several community groups. The Macon Roving Listeners (MRL) is one of the Real Communities Partnerships of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD). Through the MRL, individuals with and without disabilities, including youths and adults, have had opportunities to work in the community. The listeners conduct gift interviews of community members, and these interviews allow individuals to share their gifts, talents and love or concerns for Macon. MRL also has community classes and dinners to allow for continued conversations and the development of lasting relationships between individuals with and without disabilities.

With the community outreach programs, such as MRL and others through CCMI and Centenary, we are looking at what individuals need from their community, as well as what individuals need to feel like they belong. How can folks from all walks of life be included and welcomed as positive attributes to their community?

Church is a place where families and communities join, meet and grow. It’s a part of our culture. There is this desire to want to be accepted and welcomed into your faith community. At Centenary, you do not have to change who you are to belong to our church, but that the church accepts you exactly as you are.

Faith-based communities are known for helping individuals deal with their struggles. Through support groups and community education classes people can communicate the things they may need or how to make connections, as well as find help for their families or individuals in their families with disabilities. It’s a form of advocacy.

You have this connection through your church to be able to say, “Hey, I’m really having trouble” or “I’m concerned about my child who has autism” or any other kind of disability. What can we do to reach out to an organization that works with individuals with disabilities? I think the church aspect gives you a sense of comfort that you can reach out to people.

As a special education teacher, my goal has always been to try to form a more inclusive community where we bring people out and get them involved, as well as help communities be more aware of the gifts and talents of individuals with disabilities.

Laura Sugg is a Special Education Teacher and Transition Specialist at Woodfield Academy, Project Director of the Macon Roving Listeners and Director of Community Building at Centenary United Methodist Church.

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