Seeking a safe and judgement-free environment for their foster son who has autism to engage with others in the community, Assistant Pastor Jennifer White, Solid Rock Mount Pearl Wesleyan Church, Mount Pearl, Newfoundland, and her husband Chris soon found they were not alone. After joining a local Facebook group filled with other parents looking for activities to do alongside their children with autism, Pastor White promptly stepped forward to create the needed space.
Jonathan’s Heart Ministry affects hundreds of families who attend neurodivergent-friendly events led by Pastor White and the Solid Rock Mount Pearl Wesleyan Church throughout the year. Lead Pastor Peter Hayes and members have faithfully supported Pastor Jennifer and Jonathan’s Heart Ministry. “It (Jonathan’s Heart Ministry) speaks to the need in our community for acceptance and love,” said Rev. Hayes.
From a popular reptile event to backyard barbeques, ultraviolet (UV) dance parties to movie nights and Easter pictures, families are enjoying the welcoming presence Solid Rock Mount Pearl Church creates. Being cognizant of the variety of challenges children with autism face, each event is strategically planned with these barriers in mind.
Arriving at the church just months before COVID 2020 global lock downs, Rev. Hayes met Jennifer White, a young woman in the church who was born and raised in Newfoundland. Pastor Jennifer expressed a call to ministry but was not quite sure what direction God was leading. Rev. Hayes started walking with her on her ordination as she began taking courses through Kingswood Extended.
During the ordination process, the Atlantic District Board of Ministerial Development (DBMD) asked about what ministry she envisioned for herself in five years. After a season of prayer, she felt God calling her to become a foster parent. Within a short few months after becoming licensed as a foster parent and being gifted with a 6-year-old non-verbal boy with autism, she approached Rev. Hayes about starting Jonathan’s Heart Ministry.
“I have learned that God is faithful,” said Pastor Jennifer “That he not only loves the special needs community but that he loves and cares for me as well. Yes, I ‘know’ that he loves everybody else around me and the world, but sometimes I forget to stop and take in that God really does care about every single aspect of my life.” She and Chris have two autistic children living with them and feel grateful for where God has led them as they have followed his call on their lives.
This realization has come full circle inside a recent focus group of parents that Pastor Jennifer is leading to further explore ways to serve the special needs community. One mother of five shared that she had pretty much given up on church until now because of the unique challenges her children face.
Rev. Hayes is really pleased with how the congregation has responded to the ministry and to Pastor Jennifer. Whether through encouragement and cheering her on or volunteering at Jonathan’s Heart Ministry events, the church is standing with her and saying, “Let’s see where God takes this together,” said Rev. Hayes. Pastor Jennifer is on track to be ordained in the summer, 2023.
In talking about the future, Pastor Jennifer beams! With the church’s support, her heart is to start a sensory-friendly church service to better serve families with special needs children. From seating options like rocking chairs and bean bags to low lighting and a streamlined music experience, Pastor Jennifer is inspired by the need to help all people hear the hope of the gospel and have the opportunity to be Made New in Christ.
Rev. Sarah Cochran is a Wesleyan pastor serving in Interchurch Service for Destiny Rescue, an agency rescuing kids from sex trafficking worldwide, and a graduate of Wesley Seminary, Marion, Indiana.