Haven Universe is a unique, all-inclusive, relationship based, fun, high energy, community experience that has been many years in the making. For 17 years our family was blessed by the extremely diverse, radically inclusive Haven community at the Damascus Road Community Church (DRCC). CT and Edie (parents), Chip, Zak and Kelly (kids) have each been an integral part of the Haven. Our initial intention was to find a church where each family member had an opportunity to learn about God, grow in relationship with Him and learn how He could produce joy, meaning, and purpose for each of us. It was important to us that our then ten year old, very challenging autistic son, Zak, would be included. From the beginning days in the Haven, God showed us that “worshiping” together as a family along with other families in a very “out of the box” way more than fulfilled our expectations. We have learned that God creates every individual with a unique role in His community, the church, and we all have things to learn from Him and to teach each other. We are convinced that we are all equal in God’s sight and that every single individual is a unique and valuable part of the Haven community. We feel that in God’s eyes, there are no people with special needs. Instead, we are all His special people with needs. We have come to recognize that some of our most valuable spiritual lessons such as simplicity, dependency, and complete trust are taught by our “lowest functioning” teachers. We have recognized great value from including people of all ages in our worship community (the Haven). One of our core adult leaders first came at the invitation of a young child. We have seen families encouraged, brought together, and made stronger through the love and support of other families. The joy of seeing another parent interact or play with your disabled adult “child” is one example. Siblings from different families supporting each other are heart-warming. The rest of the congregation has been sensitized and encouraged by having the “disabled” among them. Many with no family disability connection have been drawn in, blessed, and make the Haven their choice of worship venue. Still others are just more comfortable in the very accepting, “hands on” setting and choose to “learn about God” this way rather than attend the sermon part of the service. Sermon CDs are made available to those who would like them.
“Saturday Night Alive” became a celebrated reality on September 11, 2010.
So… exactly how do you have “church” in a gym with people of all ages?
The “program” by which this diverse community of God’s people worship, learn about His nature, and grow in their friendship with God and with each other has evolved over the past ten years as we have been obedient to His teaching. There is a time of “relating” and fellowship through hugs, playing together (everything from basketball to chess) and creating (arts and crafts). Music is a universal language through which we can both express and be spoken to. Engaging DVDs and/or live music are an integral part of each week’s Haven experience. A simple, relevant, life changing teaching is done in a small group of 10-12 people. We offer simple prayers to God in both the small and large groups as we remember that prayer is simply talking and listening to God. Eating pizza together has been a basic, yet highly desired, mode of added fellowship that works well and is the favorite of many.
Outreach to people in the surrounding geographic area is highly valued. This has motivated the Haven, with the help of DRCC, to put on the annual “Good News” Event, where hundreds of families from all over the region come together at no cost,
at a local fairground for moon bouncing, playing, dancing, and eating together in a welcoming and totally inclusive environment, where all disabled individuals and their families are unconditionally accepted. In an effort to further reach out and provide this type of experience on a regular basis for more families, we began Haven Universe, a non-profit organization separate from DRCC.
Since September 2009, a small committed team of families has been meeting monthly in a local school gym to pray and plan Haven Universe as well as grow closer to each other to unite in creating an opportunity for the public to join in. September 11, 2010 will mark the first of four monthly “open door” Saturday Night Alive Events with hopes of increasing the frequency of events in 2011. Saturday Night Alive Events will be modeled after the Haven, however, the worship music and simple teaching will be done in a separate room and will be optional. It is important to us that people of all faith backgrounds or no faith will be comfortable participating together in the loving, accepting Haven Universe inclusive community.
Edie & CT