GROUP CHURCH SERVICE SLATED SUNDAY'S FOCUS ON THE DISABLED `GATHERING OF ANGELS' COMMUNITY REACHES OUT TO DISABLED PARISHIONERS.
OXNARD - To celebrate the differences of the developmentally disabled and to encourage churches to embrace them, an interdenominational service will be held today featuring singing, dancing, poetry and prayers.
``A Gathering of Angels'' is the theme of the second annual Sabbath Sunday, sponsored by a group formerly known as the Association for Retarded Citizens and now called simply Arc.
``I think there's still a strong underlying fear in society about bringing people with developmental disabilities into anything,'' Arc spokeswoman Julie Helm-Allen said. ``But maybe it can be done through the spiritual side of life. Maybe that transition can be made and could help to integrate them in the community in every way.''
Each year across the United States, March is designated as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month.
In conjunction with that, Arc - which serves roughly 900 clients - mailed information to more than 200 local churches, encouraging them to reach out to residents with developmental disabilities and invite them to be members, greeters, ushers, readers, choir members or even deacons.
In Ventura County, what started out as simply a public awareness effort blossomed into the Sabbath Sunday event.
``Last year's program was a tremendous success,'' said Harriet Weigel, who coordinates Sabbath Sunday. ``At Our Lady of Assumption in Ventura, Father George Reynolds spoke about saints in the Catholic church who had developmental disabilities, and he had people with disabilities involved in the service.''
Michelle Brewer, 25, an Arc client since 1997, is one of the choir members who has been rehearsing twice a week for Sabbath Sunday.
``We want to do this to help support the community and to show them how good we are,'' Brewer said. ``I like being up there singing. I feel good about myself.
``When I look out there in the audience I think I see that they're proud of us. When we get done singing, they clap. That makes me happy.''
Frank Sullo, the coordinator of Arc's Training for Independent Living program and the choir director, said the singers already have performed for the Oxnard and Ventura Chambers of Commerce. During its March 19 concert at Channel Islands Vineyard Church in Oxnard, it plans to perform its show-stopping rendition of ``Amazing Grace.''
``The people think it's special,'' Sullo said. ``There are a lot of tears of joy. And when I look at the choir I see nothing but self-esteem. It's wonderful.''
Sullo teaches clients daily living skills - such as cooking, cleaning and living within a budget - and also will take them to church services if requested. Sullo said one 51-year-old autistic man attends services at four different churches each week.
``Every Sunday he takes the city bus and comes back to tell us, 'Went to four churches - own self,' '' Sullo said. ``Our people need to worship, and churches need to support us.''
Carlos Monroy, a third-year student at St. John's Seminary College in Camarillo, works regularly with Arc clients as part of his training to become a Catholic priest. Monroy, who will be participating with the clients in today's event, said he finds the experience invaluable.
``We learn about the history of the developmental disability movement,'' said Monroy, 20. ``We work with them on reading and cooking. I've learned patience, and I've learned a deeper degree of empathy. It's not enough to feel badly for them. You have to get out there and help them.''
For two decades, Ventura Missionary Church has held the Friendship Class, a Sunday morning Bible study for people with developmental disabilities.
And for 15 years, Camarillo Church of the Nazarene has held weekly social activities for people with developmental disabilities from all over Ventura County. Church volunteers cook meals, and members of the group meet on Wednesday nights to eat, hear Bible stories, play games and sing songs.
``Several of them have been with the group for 15 years,'' said Kerry Mendoza, who runs the program. ``They hate to miss Wednesday nights. We're kind of like a family.''
Photo: (ran in Conejo edition only) Members of Arc, formerly the Association for Retarded Citizens, rehearse "Amazing Grace" for Sunday's concert.
Michael Owen Baker/Staff Photographer
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Mar 12, 2000|
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