Guest Blog Written by Sarah Conway, Autism Ministry Director at North Way Christian Community
There are so many facets of the pro-life movement, and this month, I wanted to take time to reflect on how a friend (and former youth group student!) of mine is currently using her gifts and passions uniquely in her own community and work to promote the sanctity of every life. I pray her testimony and story encourages you to reflect on how you can do the same. It has been a true gift to watch Sarah’s passion for children with autism flourish as her passion for the Gospel has increased too. She’s a living example of what it looks like to shepherd people and invite them to experience the hope of the Gospel… that God really invites each one of us to come as we are, as He uniquely created us, to encounter the love of Jesus.
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My name is Sarah Conway, and I am the Autism Ministry Director at North Way Christian Community. I had the privilege of helping to start an inclusive program for kids with autism and other types of disabilities. I grew up in the world of special education (my mom is a speech therapist) and have always had a special place in my heart for people with disabilities. I attended the University of Pittsburgh and received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a master’s degree in special education. During my time in college, I interned for North Way’s student ministry program. Fresh out of college, I combined my background in special education and ministry with my personal experience of having an 8-year-old brother-in-law with autism and prayed for the Lord guide me in this endeavor. After 6 months of researching, praying, and preparing, we embarked on the launch of an Autism Ministry.
Our mission is for families with a child (or children) on the autism spectrum to come as they are, so that together they can all know, experience, and follow Jesus. Our goal is to provide a loving and welcoming environment for the whole family — a place where all family members feel safe to come as they are. Every week, we seek to provide an engaging, inclusive place for children with disabilities to grow in a relationship with Jesus and with their same-aged peers.
To make the inclusive model successful, we create individualized plans for each child in the program. Each family in the ministry goes through an onboarding process which includes completing a parent questionnaire, receiving a tour of the building, and more! Our building is equipped with an Autism Ministry Wing, complete with two sensory rooms (a gross motor skills room and a calming room), a quiet room, a sensory-friendly large group room, and a family restroom with an adult changing table. This wing is attached to our kids ministry wing, which assists with and speaks to the inclusive model.
Our goal is to make the Gospel accessible to all people – including kids with disabilities. In order to achieve this, we adapt the curriculum used in our kids church and differentiate how it is presented. Using tools such as picture cards, word sorts, coloring pages, sensory activities, and more, we have seen kids who cannot speak with words communicate they know that Jesus loves them and died on the cross for them. They show us they learn their memory verse each month, comprehend the bible story, and want to share Jesus with others. Very few things are more beautiful than these moments.
Outside of Sunday morning ministry, we love to offer respite events, a small group for parents of the ministry, open sensory room hours, a sensory-friendly summer camp experience, and overall love, support, care, and fellowship for our families. So many have a similar story – not being welcomed in most places, including the church. We believe we are to reflect God’s Kingdom, as described in Revelation 7:9, here on Earth. “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” There are no barriers in heaven, so we believe there should not be barriers here on earth. All people, regardless of age and abilities, should have access to the Gospel, and that is what we strive to make possible.
Here is a video feature about the autism ministry at North Way Christian Community: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=587018772576409
To learn more about Sarah and her church, head to this website: https://northway.org/ministries/autism-ministry/
Meet Sarah Conway! Sarah has a background and bachelors degree in mathematics, as well as a masters degree in special education from the University of Pittsburgh. She is a certified 7-12 math and 7-12 special education teacher, who currently is using her gifts to serve her local Church. As the Autism Ministry Director at North Way Sewickley Valley, Sarah is able to utilize her 5+ year experience of working in family and student ministry in the community where she grew up, and follow the calling that the Lord has placed on her life to make the Gospel accessible to every individual regardless of age or ability. Sarah’s passion for children with autism began at a young age and gave her hands-on experience of what it is like to minister to them. Sarah married her husband, Ceddie, in December 2020.