PORT DEPOSIT, Md. (BP) — There’s nothing better than wagon rides, pumpkin decorating and hot cider for fall fun. But for many people with disabilities, fall activities can be a little overwhelming rather than exciting. Pleasant View Baptist Church at Port Deposit, in partnership with The Banquet Network with support from the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCM/D), provided a unique opportunity to provide a more casual fall festival for these families. Pleasant View senior pastor, Harold Phillips, and his wife, Corkie, have opened their home for “Harvest & Hayrides.”
According to its website, The Banquet Network “inspires, equips, and resources churches to reach, serve, and include people and families affected by disability: joyfully, simply, and cooperatively.” Banquet Network workers and other volunteers set up a “pumpkin patch” and prepared a decorating station with paint and fun accessories. Harold Phillips grilled hot dogs while the youngsters talked, threw balls and swung on a swing. Corkie helped with decorating, welcoming guests and preparing the dining area.
Harold loaded a tractor bed with bales of hay and drove the group several miles to the church and home. Riding with their parents or guardians and a few members of the Pleasant View Church, guests had fun chatting with each other about their pets. A boy said, “I have a cat named Raven. Another said: “I have a bunny named Cheeseburger.” A young man has asked for selfies on the hayride to show off his dad. Some were loud, others reserved, concentrating on bits of hay or waving at cars. A young woman sat with her mother, smiling shyly as the tractor bounced.
Back at the little farm, a few guests were delighted to “pick” their pumpkins to paint, while others headed for the barn. The horses and donkey (named Barnabas) were a big deal, as was a small walking dog. Some guests were daring, walking quickly and close enough for the farm animals to nervously back up, while others were much more hesitant and found themselves backing up.
“Even those who were scared loved being around animals,” said Katie Matthews, general manager of the Banquet Network. Harold, she said, gently modeled the right way to approach horse and donkey and how to be gentle.
“One of my favorite parts was watching our daughter Jade teach a teenager named Anbao how to feed the horse, and he loved it!” Ambo was also fascinated with the dog, stroking or holding it as much as possible. Matthews said she liked seeing Anbao’s face light up when he was with the dog. She said many of those who don’t come into contact with people with disabilities don’t realize that even if someone can’t talk or doesn’t speak, they’re still communicating — with their eyes, or by pointing or displaying a big smile.
“We’ve been so impressed with the Phillips family,” said Matthews, whose husband CJ serves as pastor at Bethany Church in Columbia, Maryland. “Harold and his wife really cared. They didn’t just do it because it’s a good thing to do, but they really cared.
Speaking as a mother of a disabled child, she said: “CJ and I both felt it was a great event for our children. Usually they are overstimulated and it’s not really fun. Then we have to go home and fix the behavioral issues and the overstimulation. It was perfect, pleasant and not chaotic – it was calming. …
“One of our guests is incredibly lonely and isolated as a disabled person. So many events and organizations and support groups are available when you’re younger, but not for young adults. This girl said she had a great time and asked, “When can we start again?”
She wasn’t the only one. Matthews talked about a young adult with a disability who kept talking about having an event in December, and even set a date and had it all planned out and was telling everyone about it.
Harold and Corkie Phillips said they were “honored” to be able to host the event.
“I love children with disabilities and their families,” said Harold, who taught at a school for children with disabilities.
Pleasant View Baptist has several people with disabilities in its congregation, and the church strives to meet those needs. Harold said he recently baptized a woman with a 3-year-old child who has autism. The woman asked about ministries for her child. The need is there, he said, and they are and will continue to respond and expand that ministry.
Churches interested in learning more about disability ministries or interested in hosting an event for people with disabilities can contact The Banquet Network.
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