February 18, 2011

Catholic Education Outreach / Ken Ogorek

Awareness, inclusion and special religious education

“Our parish doesn’t have anyone with special needs.” How often I have heard this misperception.

In fact, the question isn’t whether a parish has persons with disabilities. It’s more like, “Given that 14 percent of our U.S. population has a disability of some sort, who are the persons with disabilities in our parish [14 percent of our parishioners], and how are we including these folks in parish life?”

At least one of our 151 parishes and missions has an Inclusion Team. This group constantly asks the question, “Who is missing from our parish life, and what can we do to include more people regardless of any disability?” Is God calling you to form an Inclusion Team at your parish?

Parish administrators of religious education and youth ministers are in need of people with knowledge of teaching methods and additional techniques for including persons with disabilities in our catechetical efforts.

Are you a special education teacher or someone who has otherwise acquired knowledge and experience working with people who have disabilities? Your parish administrator of religious education and your youth minister would love to hear from you with an offer to help in this area.

Several of our parishes host at least one group that specifically focuses on special religious education. Under the acronym of SPRED (Special Religious Development), this ministry—started in the Archdiocese of Chicago—welcomes persons with disabilities into small groups that meet every other week for developmentally appropriate faith formation.

SPRED catechists themselves form a close-knit group of adult Catholics who share their journey of serving in this unique way together. These catechists often express that they receive far more than they could ever hope to give to our friends with special needs.

Is God calling you to help with your parish’s SPRED group? Is he calling you to start the SPRED ministry in your parish?

The Office of Catholic Education works with parish leaders in several key ways regarding persons with disabilities:

  • Helping raise awareness of persons with disabilities among all parishioners. (Remember that 14 percent?)
  • Resourcing catechetical leaders about making efforts more inclusive.
  • Supporting SPRED ministry in various ways, for example, the 11th annual SPRED Dinner Dance on March 19.

We continue to grow in our understanding of how best to serve persons with disabilities via the ministries of evangelization and catechesis in our local Church.

Consider these questions again: “Is God calling me to form an Inclusion Team at my parish?” “Do I have experience with special needs that could be of help via my parish administrator of religious education or youth minister?” “Should I offer to participate in my parish’s SPRED group or explore the possibility of starting this ministry?”

Only you and God know the answers to these questions. I know that he will provide the guidance you seek. The Office of Catholic Education stands ready to assist you with information to help.

(Ken Ogorek is the archdiocesan director of catechesis. For information related to this column or any aspect of evangelization and catechetical ministry, contact him at 317-236-1446, 800-382-9836, ext. 1446 or kogorek@archindy.org.)

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