PORT DEPOSIT, Md. (BP) – Autumn fun doesn’t get much better than hayrides, pumpkin decorating, and hot cider. But for many individuals with disabilities, fall activities can be a bit overwhelming rather than exciting. Pleasant View Baptist Church in Port Deposit, partnering with The Banquet Network with support from the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCM/D), offered a unique opportunity to provide a more laid-back fall festival for these families. Pleasant View Senior Pastor Harold Phillips and his wife, Corkie, opened their home for “Harvest & Hayrides.”
According to its website, The Banquet Network “inspires, equips, and resources churches to reach, serve, and include individuals 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 as young people talked, threw balls and swung on a swing set. Corkie helped with decorations, greeting guests and preparing the food area.
Harold loaded a tractor bed with hay bales and gave the group a ride for several miles to the church and back to his home. Riding with their parents or guardians and a few Pleasant View church members, guests had fun chatting with each other about their pets. One boy said, “I have a cat named Raven.” Another said, “I have a bunny named Cheeseburger.” One young man asked for selfies on the hayride to show his daddy. Some were loud, others reserved, concentrating on pieces of hay or waving at cars. One young lady sat with her mother, smiling shyly as the tractor bounced along.
Returning to the small farm, a few guests were excited about “picking” their pumpkin to paint, while others headed to the barn. The horses and the donkey (named Barnabas) were a big deal, as was a small dog that wandered around. Some guests were bold, walking fast and close enough to have the farm animals nervously backing up, while others were much more tentative and found themselves backing away.
“Even those that were fearful loved being around the animals,” said Banquet Network Executive Director Katie Matthews. Harold, she said, gently modeled the correct way to approach the horse and donkey and how to be gentle.
“One of my favorite parts was watching our daughter Jade teach a teen boy named Anbao how to feed the horse, and he loved it!” Ambo also was fascinated with the dog, petting it or holding it as much as possible. Matthews said she loved seeing Anbao’s face light up when he was with the dog. She said many who aren’t around people with disabilities don’t realize that even if someone can’t talk or isn’t talking, they are still communicating – with their eyes, or by pointing or flashing a big smile.
“We were so impressed with the Phillips family,” said Matthews, whose husband C.J. is pastor of Bethany Church in Columbia, Md. “Harold and his wife really cared. They didn’t just do this because it’s a nice thing to do, but they really cared about it.”
Speaking as a mother of a child with disabilities, she said, “C.J. and I both felt this was a great event for our kids. Usually, they get overstimulated, and it’s not actually fun. Then we have to go home and deal with the behavior issues and overstimulation. This was perfect, enjoyable, and not chaotic – it was calming. …
“One of our guests is incredibly lonely and isolated as a person with a disability. So many events and organizations and support groups are available when you are younger, but not for young adults. This girl said she had a great time and asked, ‘When can we do it again?’”
She wasn’t the only one. Matthews told of one young adult man with disabilities who kept talking about having an event in December, and even set a date and had everything planned out and was talking to everyone about it.
Harold and Corkie Phillips said they were “honored” to be able to host the event.
“I love kids who have disabilities and their families,” said Harold, who used to teach in a school for children with disabilities.
Pleasant View Baptist has several people with disabilities in its congregation, and the church is striving to meet those needs. Harold said he recently baptized a woman with a 3-year-old who is affected by autism. The woman has been asking 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 disabilities ministries or that would like to host an event for individuals with disabilities can contact The Banquet Network.