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Imagine, a retreat for children with disabilities


Imagine's new facility at Northview includes a sensory activity room where special needs children can play while mom and dad are in church.
Northview's new Imagine centre includes instructional space with blackboard wall, video playback, and story sharing space during teaching time.
Families, friends, and volunteers crowd in for a first look at the new suite of rooms for special needs children in Northview's Imagine program.

Northview expands specialty ministry space


Pastor Robyn Dueck remembers clearly a conversation she overheard years ago at a symposium in California. Sitting in a corner chat area, she overheard a group of people bemoaning the lack of help in most churches for special needs families.

“Can you imagine,” said one mother, “what it would be like if you could go to church as a couple – and sit together?”

“Can you imagine,” said another, “if there were a church that could teach our kids about Jesus in a way that’s effective?”

“Can you imagine a church that understood our children’s needs?”

Dueck, a children’s pastor, had heard about special needs at a previous convention and felt God had put it on her heart. But it was the “imagine” conversation “from the mouths of parents” in Los Angeles that spurred her to action.

On her return to Willingdon Church, Burnaby, B.C., she spoke to then-senior pastor Carlin Weinhauer. She was thrilled when he said, “We should do this.” Thus was born the “Imagine” program that exists to this day at Willingdon.

Dueck moved to Northview Community Church, Abbotsford, B.C., some years later, and took that dream with her. Northview’s leadership also encouraged her to set up a program to care for special needs families at the Saturday evening service.

Northview’s Imagine started with just a few kids and volunteers more than eight years ago. It operated with specially-trained volunteers in just one room of the church. It was out of sight, and not many people were aware of its existence. But word spread and attendance grew.

Two years ago, Northview appointed Brent Lanigan to staff as director of Imagine. He brings a background in special needs combined with pastoral and education degrees.

Today, Imagine ministers to about 20 families. Normal attendance on a Saturday night is 8–10 children, ranging in age from 3 to early 20s. Their needs range from autism to Down’s syndrome. Lanigan says there is a real sense of community among the families in Imagine, and also among the team of 15 volunteers.

A typical Imagine class, led by Lanigan, consists of a play time that includes special equipment (including a teepee and trampolines), intentional Bible teaching, and an energetic song time.

Eight years in, there is something special to celebrate. Dueck says no one dared to think of any changes in Imagine – until Northview’s leadership asked if they would like more space after a building addition freed up some rooms.

Sept. 7, a three-room suite was officially opened on the main floor, close to the auditorium: an instructional room, a parent sign-in lounge, and a sensory activity/play area. It also includes a quiet room and a specially fitted bathroom. It was decorated by Adriana Bryce, administrative assistant to the children’s ministry department.

“This is a dream realized. It’s almost overwhelming,” said Dueck. At the opening celebration in the new centre, she prayed for the new facility, its children, its workers, and its parents. “Thank you, Lord, for the opportunity to be here.”

She hopes other churches can do similar ministry to special children – giving “these wonderful families” a place where they know their children are safe, happy, and secure – and where parents are free to attend church together.

—Barrie McMaster, B.C. correspondent

Read more on disabilities and the church: “Can I give you a hug?”

Updated Oct. 4, 2013: Link added.

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Sherri September 11, 2013 - 20:09

This is so exciting! I’m so glad more churches are responding to this critical need. A similar program that would meet the needs of our oldest son with autism was one of the major reasons we ended up at the church where we now find ourselves. Knowing that he is welcomed and loved and taught the Word and that there is a place for him in the Body means SO much to us!

Laura Kalmar September 11, 2013 - 23:13

Thanks for your comment, Sherri! Stay tuned for a wonderful feature on this same topic in our October issue called, “Can I give you a hug?”


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