Summit Church Moves Towards Inclusion
Submitted by Jeanne Thiemann
For some members of the community, church is hard. Older buildings can be difficult to access with a walker or wheelchair, amplification systems can be problematic for those with hearing challenges, Sunday School may not be equipped to deal with children on the autism spectrum, as well as many other issues. Central Presbyterian Church in Summit has been working on these issues to make their community of faith more inclusive.
Central began removing barriers years ago with the installation of an assisted listening system in their Sanctuary. More recently, changes to the main entrance included a ramp connecting the ground level to the Sanctuary and Auditorium to ease the way for those with mobility issues.
Programming for children and youth has been a focus in the last few years, especially with the hiring of Rev. Deborah Huggins as Associate Pastor. Deborah is a doctoral student in Special Education. Before becoming a pastor, she worked as a teacher certified in Special Education. Deborah oversees the children and family ministry at Central. The church has also recently hired a Behavior Support Aide to work in their Sunday School classrooms with children who need some extra help. Parents are free to worship and engage in small group fellowship and study, knowing that their kids are safe and welcome.
Adults with disabilities are also welcome at Central, where it is recognized that these adults also need a place to belong. Central continues to work to be a place of belonging for people across the spectrum, with opportunities for worship, service, and fellowship for people of all abilities.
The church offers a unique worship experience on first and third Sunday evenings, titled “WAVE”. A contemporary worship service, WAVE is held in the accessible auditorium, where children and others are free to move around the space. Dancing and spontaneous expressions of joy are common and encouraged. Seating is flexible with small tables, couches, and plenty of room for wheelchairs and strollers.
Senior Pastor Don Steele said, “The Church should be open to everyone. The congregation of Central wants to welcome everyone by removing as many barriers as possible. We are always willing to listen to those whose needs are not yet being met, so maybe we can address their issues in the future.”
For those who still cannot physically attend church (or prefer not to), Central broadcasts their Sunday 10:00 a.m. service live on Summit’s Hometowne TV, and posts the video to their YouTube channel, Central Presbyterian. Services are also available through their website, centralpres.org. Central is located at 70 Maple Street in Summit, NJ.
Photo by Central Presbyterian Church