Several times in the Gospels, Jesus is met by weary and concerned parents. Mark 5 recounts a religious leader’s plea for Jesus to heal his daughter who was sick and dying. Matthew 17 speaks of the father who begs Jesus to heal his son. These parents came to Jesus at the ends of their capacity as they lovingly cared for their children.
Weary parents and caregivers captured the focus of Noblesville First United Methodist Church in early 2021. They developed and launched “Respite Nights,” a three–hour event where parents can drop off their children so they can have a break to relax, run errands, have a date night, etc. Specifically, the church targeted parents of children (5-18 years) with mild to moderate disabilities and limited behavior and medical concerns.
Each Respite Night has a theme, such as their upcoming March circus theme. The night includes games, snacks, and a movie, each component carefully planned with the abilities of the attending guests in mind.
The event came to fruition through the efforts of Family Ministry Director Ally Hall and Hanna Rose, an Occupational Therapy student and former intern at Noblesville First.
Noblesville First, however, has a long history of ministering to adults with special needs through their ministry to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities called Sunshine Friends. For the past 30 years, Sunshine Friends has faithfully held a monthly fellowship for individuals. This longstanding ministry has equipped the church to include things like sensory bins and swings, as well as a room for participants designed to calm their senses when overwhelmed.
For Ally, this ministry is personal. Her uncle has muscular dystrophy, and she grew up helping support his development. She spent time as a summer counselor and home facilitator for children with autism. She is passionate about creating environments where people can feel safe, have fun, and meet Jesus on their level.
So, Ally and Hannah took all that the church has learned through Sunshine Friends and worked to apply it to kids. They spoke with parents about what the ministry would need so that they’d actually feel comfortable leaving their kids for a few hours.
“We want to be the hands and feet of Jesus,” says Ally. “Our community has this need, so we asked: how can we meet it? How can we meet it exceedingly well? A lot of churches don’t have the resources or their volunteers don’t have the training or the church doesn’t have the space to make parents comfortable leaving their kids.”
In light of those conversations, Respite Nights strive for a 1:1 ratio between volunteers and guests. With nearly all of the volunteers being trained professionals who work in local schools and therapy centers, the goal of supporting parents and caregivers is truly a community effort.
Ally reflected, “Parents who are caregiving have a hard job. It’s rewarding, absolutely, but it’s hard, especially during the pandemic. We want to partner with parents so they feel seen and acknowledged, so they can get a break while their kids are safe.”
The result of these Respite Nights are not always known, much like how we don’t know the impact of Jesus’s blessing on the many children who were brought to him by their parents. For the team, the nights are a few hours of their time. For the children and their families, the impact is immeasurable as with a few hours God can hold a family together, strengthen a marriage, or revive one’s faith.
This story reflects the INUMC’s Children Matter Most initiative to care for children and their families in their flourishing. You can learn more about Children Matter Most and find resources .