Dancing the Night Away
On Sunday, Feb. 12, scores of young people from Faith Church, a multisite Reformed Church in America congregation based in Dyer, Ind., took part in the Tim Tebow Foundation Night to Shine 2021, a prom-like event for people with disabilities.
Either at home or at small parties, the young men and women were dressed in fancy clothes as they danced and twirled in rooms full of balloons and glitter. While they were having fun, family members or friends snapped photos and shared them with Faith Church.
In years gone by, this event was held in the church building in Dyer, but this year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the event took place in people’s homes and via online videoconferencing. This is yet one more example of how churches and ministries have had to adapt in the 12 months since the virus imposed social distancing across North America.
“The night out was a very effective ministry event, even if people couldn’t come to the building,” said Vinnie Adams, special needs director for Reflectors Ministry at the RCA congregation.
“We are pleased that we could pull this off — and from the photos it’s clear people had a great time.”
Taking part in the Night to Shine 2021, the young people (14 years old and over) and their parents and caregivers joined more than 700 churches and some 110,000 people around the world for this special event modeled after high school proms. The young women wore prom dresses, and the young men — for the most part — wore suits and ties.
Tebow, a former NFL quarterback and professional baseball player, hosts his night out every year, but this year, because of COVID-19, the event had to go virtual.
“Usually we hold it at the church and hand out items at the door,” said Adams.
But this year members of the Reflectors Ministry, with help from scores of volunteers, filled bags with crowns and tiaras — for each young woman to be a prom queen or each young man to be a prom king. The bags also held corsages and boutonnieres.
“We dropped the bags off at the people’s homes. They really appreciated that,” said Adams.
The Reflectors Ministry is an integral part of the Faith Church community and provides — when folks are able to gather — times for meals, opportunities for one-on-one Bible study, outings and respite for parents of persons with disabilities, and chances to participate in events such as Night to Shine. They also go bowling, have picnics in parks, go swimming, and enjoy other social events together.
“Our ministry is one place where people with disabilities aren’t put to the side. It is a place for them to build community,” said Adams.
“Our approach is less around reaching out and more about offering opportunities for people to invest in belonging — in being together. Before COVID-19, we had a lot of social gatherings.”
A Joint RCA/CRCNA Ministry
As part of the RCA, Faith Church benefits from a Disability Concerns ministry that includes a collaboration between the Christian Reformed Church in North America and the RCA.
The two denominations work closely together to share best practices and resources. They also produce a joint newsletter, Breaking Barriers, to help motivate and educate congregations such as Faith Church.
Right now on the CRCNA’s Disability Concerns website, for example, is a video created by Reflectors Ministry and titled “Psalm 139,” in which people with disabilities present various lines from the text.
“I thank God for Faith Church and for the work Vinnie is doing in Reflectors Ministry — some of which, like this video, has blessed many other congregations too,” said Mark Stephenson, director of the CRCNA’s Disability Concerns ministry.
Faith Church, said Stephenson, is unusual with regard to ministry with people who have disabilities — for two reasons: first, that they are large enough to have someone on staff who has that responsibility as part of their job description, and, second, that they decided they wanted to be so intentional about ministry with people with disabilities that they created the position at all.
“Most congregational leaders will look at Faith Church and say to themselves, ‘Well, we could never afford having a position like that.’ But funding is not the key here. The keys are intention and attention.”
Reflectors is a ministry that has created and is sharing its resources and what it has learned with congregations across North America and beyond, said Terry DeYoung, coordinator for the RCA’s Disability Concerns.
“Faith Church also serves as a model for other large, multisite congregations, and it continues to do so during the pandemic as it finds ways to lead and to serve its own community,” he said.
Dancing Alone and Yet Together
For people with disabilities, this has been a challenging time, given that they have had to attend school online and deal with other disruptions in their lives because of the pandemic.
Ironically, though, some folks seem to be looser and more receptive online than they are when they are at church, said Pam Vandermeer, who directs Reflectors on the Dyer campus. The church has five campuses, and the special needs ministry is at work on three of them.
She sees young people smile more often and make funny faces on Zoom, for example, she says. And they might reach down and show the folks on Zoom their pets.
“One of the gifts of the pandemic has been the chance to visit with people in this way,” said Vandermeer. “We have regular check-in calls on Zoom for everyone. A lot of informal connections have been made.”
The Reflectors Ministry has also held game nights on Zoom. They have gone out regularly to drop off food and other items to people; they have also arranged birthday and graduation gatherings in the church parking lot and in other spaces.
“I’m grateful that the pandemic has given us the extra time to reach out and talk to people,” said Vandermeer.
Seeing the images of young people dancing and smiling and happily waving their arms during the Night to Shine event, Vinnie Adams was surprised and pleased. He said he had wondered how it would go this year. But it was clear that the families, caregivers, and young people threw themselves into the event.
“Watching how it went really had an effect on me,” said Adams. “It made me realize that people are much more capable than you might give them credit for. They did it from home — and it was so great!”
Elaine and Kristina Plucinski, who participated in the Night to Shine, sent an email after the event, thanking the church for holding it.
“Your church and staff did an amazing job on items, packaging, and delivering the bags for our young adults,” they wrote.
“You made each and every one feel special. You did a great job. . . . Let us pray that we can have our prom in person next year. But as you saw — everyone did OK.”