St. John Chrysostom Parish in Wallingford has won the Opening Doors Parish Award from Loyola Press, in partnership with the National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD). The national award honors one U.S. parish that demonstrates an ongoing and authentic commitment to worshipers with disabilities.
NCPD’s board chair called St. John’s “a shining model of what parish ministry can be with persons with disabilities.”
Three judges, representing the Archdioceses of Atlanta and Portland in Oregon, and the Diocese of Toledo, selected St. John Chrysostom Parish after reviewing numerous applications from across the United States. The award criteria examined parishes that demonstrate a deep commitment to parishioners with disabilities, providing access for full participation in all aspects of parish life: sacramental, catechetical, social, ministerial, and community service.
“We are grateful for this recognition from NCPD as we seek to provide all worshipers at St. John’s with a genuine feeling of belonging at the Lord’s table,” said St. John’s pastor, Father Edward J. Hallinan. “This honor reflects not only the efforts of our ministry leaders, but the true love shown by all of our parishioners, day in and day out, for those who worship with us. We will continue to seek out new ways to serve the Lord and all of our brothers and sisters.”
St. John’s outreach to the disabled began in 2014, when Father Hallinan noticed that families who had brought emotionally, physically and intellectually disabled children and adults to Mass and parish events seldom returned. He sought out these families to listen to their concerns.
Over several months he learned many stories of isolation, embarrassment and pain from families who feared (or had experienced) a cold shoulder if their disabled loved ones behaved differently in Mass. He challenged and invited the parish to become a totally welcoming faith community where all individuals and families could worship and participate fully in parish life.
A new Ministry with Persons with Disabilities emerged, led by a parishioner who works in the disabilities field.
The Parish Religious Education Program (PREP) also developed an adaptive PREP track that prepares children with a variety of disabilities to receive their sacraments.
In August 2015, St. John’s launched a monthly Mass of Welcoming and Inclusion — the first and only such monthly Mass in the Philadelphia Archdiocese — with modifications for worshipers with disabilities and an American Sign Language interpreter for the hearing impaired. This Mass has drawn worshippers from across Delaware County. Persons with disabilities serve in ministerial roles at this and other St. John’s Masses.
Meanwhile, parish social and holiday events designed for families with disabled members help build relationships outside of church. The parish also provides personal assistive listening devices, low-gluten Communion hosts and training of ministry leaders, ushers and eucharistic ministers to better serve those with disabilities across the parish.
Nor does St. John’s have a cry room for children, disabled or otherwise. Masses are filled with the sounds and activity of children and adults of every circumstance and ability.
“The parish staff and parishioners are a wonderful model of including all people in their parish family,” said NCPD Board Chair, Sister Kathleen Schipani, I.H.M. “What I especially admire is their planning process, which includes people with disabilities and their family members. What I also find very impressive is how they reach out to group homes in their parish boundaries, an area that is so often overlooked. They are a shining model of what parish ministry can be with persons with disabilities.”
NCPD and Loyola expressed in a statement the hope that the award would inspire all parishes to sow “seeds of welcome to persons with disabilities,” and to make “accommodations for all to partake at the Lord’s table (producing) a bountiful harvest that nourishes the entire parish.”
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