Awake Church, a Christian Reformed congregation in the Aurora neighborhood of Seattle, Wash., is “in a community where we encounter disabilities of all kinds on a daily basis,” said disability advocate Amber Saldivar. That reality prompted the church to consider how prepared they are to welcome those with particular needs, and they set about equipping their members to do just that.
On February 25, about a dozen members of Awake Church gathered to participate in what they called Companionship Training. The goal was to ensure that everyone who enters the doors of the church feels welcome and supported by developing a network of hosts with the skills to embrace whomever they encounter.
“We purposefully encouraged certain people to attend, based on their gifts and talents, in the area of hospitality and leadership,” Saldivar said—though the training was open to anyone who wanted to attend.
The Aurora neighborhood where the church is situated has become known for drug use and homelessness. “We wanted to be really intentional about welcoming people who might cause some to feel quite uncomfortable because of their appearance or behavior, and this training and host program have been a great first step,” Saldivar said.
Every week a designated host will not only welcome all newcomers and guests, but they also monitor the comings and goings from the church building. The training helps these new hosts take “responsibility for ensuring anyone who walks into a Sunday service feels welcomed and a part of things.”
“These people, while they still may feel uncomfortable, would feel equipped enough to approach a wide range of people,” Saldivar said. “They would also step up with kindness and skill to engage when someone is disrupting the experience of others in the service.”
The training, which Saldivar developed with support from staff at Disability Concerns, consisted of dialogue and some vignettes of example situations that could arise. Hayden Wartes, the church’s pastor of community life, said the new host program has been well received. “We do not get your ‘typical church goer’ coming wandering in through our doors on Sunday morning, so we have to be creative and intentional in how we do things.”
Saldivar sees the host program as just the beginning. The church is looking into deescalation training as well as other resources to further assist them in welcoming everyone.