By Chris Maxwell
Nathaniel Timothy Kuck—“a treasured gift of God,” as his parents saw him—was born prematurely on June 6, 1997, with multiple birth anomalies including Duodenal Artesia and Craniosynestosis.
Living with an undiagnosed syndrome, surgeries, therapies, sickness, and hospital visits all became a normal part of his life. After beating the odds time and again by overcoming many physical obstacles and challenges, Nathaniel relocated to heaven on November 13, 2001.
Nathaniel’s parents Tim and Marie Kuck saw first-hand how demanding it can be to raise a child with special needs. In 2002 they founded Nathaniel’s Hope, which celebrates kids with special needs while educating and equipping the local church for ministry to families impacted by special needs.
Marie talks about the lessons Nathaniel taught them. “In each life there is value and purpose,” she says. “What may appear to be imperfect in the eyes of humans, really is perfect in the sight of God.
Nathaniel revealed the meaning of unconditional love, perseverance, and he was a great showcase of God’s faithfulness. His captivating smile and the simple joy he brought to all who entered his world were God’s special gift and that is greatly missed.”
They are teaching others the lessons Nathaniel taught them. “His memory will always be cherished and the lessons he taught us will be imprinted on our hearts forever,” Marie says.
“We miss little man’s smile and his presence in our home, but the memory of his life propels us to fulfill God’s purposes after his death. Through his death, we hope to bring encouragement and life to others.”
While Nathaniel was alive on earth, his family attended a church which welcomed his needs.
Are more churches willing to adjust to these needs, even if it means changing some of today’s modern technology or some of yesterday’s seating arrangements? For those willing to welcome these families, how can today’s churches better serve special needs?
“There are so many different types of unique needs that people may have,” Marie says. “Churches must be intentional to understand the specific special needs of those in their congregation and provide accommodations.”
For churches seeking to be intentional and welcome those with special needs, here are Marie’s suggestions:
1. Provide a buddy to a child with special needs so they can get the support that is needed to be integrated into the typical ministry program.
2. For children who are unable to thrive in an inclusive environment, providing a special space or sensory room could be helpful.
3. Provide special parking spots close to entrances for those who have children with special needs.
4. Assess if churches are accessible for those with disabilities. One way to determine this is to get into a wheelchair and attempt to move around all areas of the church facilities.
5. Be sensitive to those with peanut allergies. Children’s ministries should avoid serving snacks with peanuts. For those with severe sensitivity and allergies to peanuts, churches can provide a designated seating area for them.
6. Provide earphones for those with sensitivity to loud music.
7. Enlarged printed bulletins or handouts would be appreciated for those with visual challenges.
8. Offer interpreters for those who are deaf of hearing impaired.
9. Host a monthly respite program for children with special needs. This will greatly help parents who desperately need a break. It’s also a great way for volunteers to build meaningful relationships with kids with special needs and learn how to make accommodations for their unique needs.
10. For those struggling with anxiety, consider inviting them to come tour the church and facilities when crowds are not present. Be sensitive to not create an environment where public responses are demanded.
Chris Maxwell served 19 years as lead pastor in Orlando, Florida, after five years of youth ministry. He’s now in his 16th year as Campus Pastor and Director of Spiritual Life at Emmanuel College.