New Church A Special Journey with Extraordinary People

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This article, written by Mark Mast, copastor of Odyssey, Poughkeepsie, New York, is one of many in the newest issue of Breaking Barriers, a newsletter for churches from the CRC and Reformed Church in America Disability Concerns Ministries.

A few years ago, a church plant geared towards New York City commuters from Poughkeepsie took a drastic change and became a church with people with disabilities. Odyssey, “A Special Journey with Extra­ordinary People,” started as a monthly service with four friends in attendance; it has become a community of 150 people that worships weekly and is beginning to wrestle with what a church community looks like, acts like, and ministers like when the vast majority of its members are adults from some 35 group homes. We are committed to being a community WITH people who have ­disabilities.

From the beginning, our goal was to create a worship space that primarily met the needs of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities; people without disabilities would be a secondary focus. We are a community where people with special needs—along with those whose needs are not so obvious—work together in leading worship and Bible studies, providing pastoral care, etc. We never “dumb down,” but instead find concrete ways to bring the words of Christ alive and apply them to our various life situations.

Advocacy is a growing aspect of who we are, as we try to understand advocacy in light of John 14. Through the Advocate—the Holy Spirit—we strive to be advocates of Christ in each other’s personal lives, understanding that we are created in God’s image to love God, ourselves, and others. We recognize the frequent misunderstanding and occasional cruel treatment toward people with disabilities by established churches. Though they are sometimes considered outcasts in the world, Odyssey is committed to standing by our brothers and sisters in Christ in their struggles, whether related to church, neighborhood, employment, housing, or other life circumstances.

As a ministry of Hopewell Reformed Church in Hopewell Junction, New York, we are uncertain where God is bringing Odyssey. With no full-time ministers and a budget that is smaller than many youth programs, we know God wants to use Odyssey to touch not only the lives of people with special needs, but also all of us who find ourselves in need of the love and grace of Jesus Christ. We want to be a church community that happens to have a lot of us with “special needs.”
 

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In a private email message to me, Mark Mast was asked, "How did all the people find out about the church?" Mark replied,

We started out with a woman in our church whose son was in a group home. This organization allowed us to reach out to their homes (they trusted her). We then met with the main organizations in our area. We find they all know each other so one positive introduction was all we needed to get a meeting for permission to invite their homes to Odyssey. Once we hit 20 folks, it has all been word of mouth. We are now exploring how to again connect with the directors and then with the houses. We have 90 group homes in our area (we used to house the state institution), and we have only had contact with about 30 of them. Currently the state of New York is making the spiritual lives of those who are wards of the court a priority. So we also had encouragement from the Governor’s office (who at the time was blind) which opened a lot of doors as well. Once again, by far, it was word of mouth!