This summer, I’ve been working with a church staff on their inclusion efforts. It has been a joy to watch the staff and volunteers in action. They plan carefully, arrange the classrooms effectively, and redirect the students in positive ways. As their programs grow, I know they will be ready to include learners with diverse strengths and needs.
As I observed on my first Sunday there, I enjoyed watching the kids bound into their rooms enthusiastically. The hallways were full, and, as is often the case with Sunday mornings, the pace was quick between services. Nevertheless, the Director of Children’s Ministry remained placid. She checked in with each volunteer, helped with administrative tasks, prepared for her large group lesson, and communicated with other staff. However, none of this interfered with what was obviously the most important: Greeting the children.
I watched in amazement as she greeted every single child by name. “Good morning, Michael! It’s great to see you today, Tiara! I’m so glad you’re here, Kieran!” Every greeting–just like every child–was unique. As the students passed, she was able to tell me a bit about them. She knew their likes and dislikes, strengths and needs. She shared information about their families, her fondness for all of them evident in her warm smile. She spoke about their faith development and their progress.
This reminded me of Responsive Classroom’s Morning Meeting. One of the basic components is a greeting. Several schools in which I work use this program, which is designed to create a strong classroom culture. One colleague reflected, “By the end of morning meeting, every single child has heard his or her name spoken aloud. That sends a powerful message that each individual matters to the group.” Clearly, this Children’s Ministry Director understands the importance of this.
In addition, she is modeling something even greater for the students in her program. In Isaiah 43, we hear the Lord say,
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are mine…
you are precious and honored in my sight…because I love you…
By calling her students by name, she models for them the Father’s love.
As I got ready to leave, one of the students with multiple special needs smiled at me, and said, “Goodbye, Katie!”
The Children’s Ministry Director looked surprised. As we walked away, she said, “I can’t believe she remembered your name! That is really hard for her!”
I wasn’t all that surprised, though. I smiled at the Director, thinking,
This child learned it from her…
who learned it from Him.
He knows our names!