The  legacy of a 12-year-old girl lives on in a disability ministry at Central Lutheran Church in Mondovi, Wis. 

In 2015, a couple who worships at Central introduced the possibility of establishing a disability ministry. Mark and Laurel Fleming are members of Grace United Methodist Church in Naperville, Ill., but they attend worship at Central when they travel to their second residence in Mondovi.  

The Flemings started Open Doors at Grace in 2010 after teaching junior high Sunday school for several years and noticing that some kids had trouble fitting into the social fabric of the youth groups for various reasons. They wanted to start something similar at Central. 

“Our mission was—and still is—to include children and youth with developmental disabilities in Sunday school, worship and other activities of the congregation in a way that enhances the experience, not only for those with special needs but also for others around them,” Mark Fleming said. 

The initiative for the ministry gained momentum when members of Central asked that their wheelchair-bound daughter, Kylynn, might receive services that would allow her to participate in Sunday school and other church activities. Plans were underway to provide accommodations for Kylynn when she died of complications from Dandy-Walker syndrome, a neurological disorder, in October 2016.  

“It began to open our eyes to the preciousness of these children and the challenges their families face in making life normal for them,” said Rolf Morck, pastor of Central.  

Kylynn’s passing had an immeasurable impact on a congregation that preached caring but realized they could do better to show it. “It’s one thing to say we care and are concerned,” Morck said. “It’s another to do something about it. If we’re truly welcoming, we need to take time and set up ministries to understand the person’s and family’s needs. More importantly, we need to see the preciousness, spirit and joy these individuals bring to the congregation.” 

In Kylynn’s memory, Central’s disability initiative was renamed Kylynn’s Hope Ministry, with the mission to help the congregation become an accommodating and accepting church home for children, youth and adults with special needs.   

“It’s one thing to say we care and are concerned. It’s another to do something about it. If we’re truly welcoming, we need to take time and set up ministries to understand the person’s and family’s needs. More importantly, we need to see the preciousness, spirit and joy these individuals bring to the congregation.”

In April 2017, Central welcomed Bella—Kylynn’s best friend who is also wheelchair-bound—and her family as the congregation was unfolding Kylynn’s Hope Ministry. Since then, two more children with special needs have joined that ministry, along with a young adult who uses a wheelchair and was new to the congregation.  

Kylynn’s Hope Ministry addressed some children’s needs with one-on-one support buddies in Sunday school and vacation Bible school, but the ministry’s steering committee knew that to be a fully welcoming congregation for people in wheelchairs, some physical barriers in the building had to be overcome, particularly the stairways connecting its three levels. The committee found a solution in the Garaventa Lift Group, which manufactures the Super-Trac, a portable electric lift that makes it possible for people in wheelchairs to have full access to Central’s entire building.   

Through a multifaceted fundraising campaign, Central raised the needed money to purchase the Super-Trac. Donations came from congregational gifts, a fundraising event, a generous bequest from the family of a longtime member with Down syndrome who passed away several years ago, and a $5,000 grant from ELCA Disability Ministries through The Campaign for the ELCA. 

At press time, Disability Ministries had given 12 such grants in 2018, totaling more than $47,000, said Carol Josefowski, the program’s coordinator. This is part of the ELCA’s commitment to respond to the needs of people living with disabilities so they can participate as full members of the church and the body of Christ, which was affirmed by the 2013 Churchwide Assembly.  

Josefowski said she hears people with disabilities express a desire to not only be in church but also experience baptism, confirmation and communion, and to grow into leaders who live into their vocational baptismal call in the church community.   

“Both persons living with varied abilities (cognitive, developmental, learning, physical, psychological and sensory) and members at large witness ways in which the church inhibits spiritual growth for its members and potential members, as well as their families,” she said. 

“Persons living with a disability are human beings, created and formed by God. They seek to know Jesus, become members of the church, reflect Christ within and serve. Without such members, the church is broken and unreconciled, incomplete and missing parts of the body of Christ that affect our ability to share with the world what a difference Christ’s love and grace makes in the world.”

Cindy Uken
Cindy Uken is a veteran, award-winning reporter based in Palm Springs, Calif. She has worked at USA Today, as well as newspapers in South Dakota, Minnesota, Montana and California.

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