Removed from worship

Churches handle special needs children in different ways, some large enough to create dedicated ministries while others look at it on a case-by-case basis. As Bobby mentioned earlier, some churches can't handle children with special needs and end up either subtly or explicitly rejecting them.

A local television station in North Carolina recently uncovered a story of church's rejection from a mother of a 12-year-old son with cerebral palsy for "being a distraction." The story says that Kelly Helms was supposed to meet with the church leaders, but the pastor canceled the meeting when he heard she had contacted WSOC.

Helms said it was not a good feeling but saw an opportunity to contact the pastor with an offer to start a ministry for special needs children. She says the idea was rejected.

When Eyewitness News went to Elevation Church, an employee told us they focus on worship and not ministries.

But Elevation Church officials emailed Eyewitness News Wednesday night after our story aired. In a statement, a spokeswoman said "Everything we do is about ministry. We focus specifically on our worship and children’s ministries – and we partner with many other ministries in Charlotte."

The church statement continued to say "...this young man and his family were not removed from our church. They were escorted to a nearby section of our church where they watched the service in its entirety."

It's understandable that a TV station would find this story interesting. Churches don't usually ask people to leave worship services and don't often cancel scheduled meetings. Unfortunately, the story misses many basic details that would help the readers have more context. For instance, what kind of church is Elevation Church and did that make a difference in how they handled the situation? The church's website says that it has 8,000 attendees, so it's probably one of the larger ones in the area. Is it more formal? Denominational? Explaining the type of church it is could shed some light on why they handled it the way they did.

The story says the pastor contacted an advocacy group for the disabled for training with the staff. Does that mean he acknowledges his staff is weak in this area? The story doesn't really give indication that the TV station attempted to contact Steven Furtick and just spoke with employees--was he unavailable for some reason?

Also, why did the mother choose Elevation Church for Easter Sunday? Does she have a faith background? Does she have certain expectations of churches that she saw weren't met? Have they had more success at other churches? Fairly basic questions keep coming up as you read the short report.

Overall, reporters could explore more religion and special needs stories and look into which kinds of churches do a better job of handling families with special circumstances. For instance, might a Pentecostal church handle special needs differently from a Methodist church?

Perhaps sheer size makes a difference for some churches. For instance, megachurches might have the financial resources to set up a dedicated ministry for special needs, but it might also struggle with knowing how to handle specific cases when it's trying serve so many people. Stories like this one probably regularly pop up in local communities but reporters can take it beyond the initial anecdote to explore ways churches are handling (or not handling) the question.

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