A Prom for People of All Abilities
A grant enables outreach to families with special needs in Florida.
Red carpets are usually reserved for celebrities and other A-listers. But on Feb. 10, they were rolled out at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Boca Raton, Fla., for some 150 people with special needs.
2017 was the second year St. Paul held “Night to Shine,” a prom experience created by the Tim Tebow Foundation to celebrate people with special needs. During the event, guests received the royal treatment: hair and makeup, shoe shining, limo rides, dinner, dancing and swag bags.
The Rev. Stephen Carretto, senior pastor of St. Paul, said the event has taught the congregation “what having joy and celebrating life really looks like,” as hundreds of guests and volunteers danced the night away together.
But for Carretto and his leadership team, it’s about more than throwing a fun event each year. There’s a larger plan to provide respite for parents and caregivers and to connect these families to the congregation.
In 2016, St. Paul received a $25,000 grant through The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s “Stand With Your Community” program to host a series of events — including Night to Shine, movie nights and other events — for families with special needs.
The program, which comes as Lutherans around the world prepare to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation later this year, was made possible by a partnership between the LCMS, Thrivent Financial and Lutheran Church Extension Fund. It focuses on inspiring and empowering laity for local witness and mercy outreach opportunities as a reflection of Martin Luther’s passion to share the Gospel.
I was able to see my ‘special’ son experience a night like no other in his life. Sandy McGilvray
For Sandy McGilvray, the love and care shown to her teenage son, Tyler, at Night to Shine was “overwhelming.”
“I was able to see my ‘special’ son experience a night like no other in his life. Not only was he able to participate, but he was ‘honored’ by attending this event,” she wrote in a thank-you note. “I could see on the face of your volunteers their sincere appreciation and admiration for these special young people.”
And the congregation isn’t stopping there. Carretto said they are working to make the sanctuary more welcoming for people of all abilities by creating a wheelchair-accessible communion rail and soundproofing a space where families like the McGilvrays can sit without worrying about disrupting the service.
“We’re creating that relationship with the hope that Christ can be glorified,” Carretto said. “We hope they feel comfortable coming into our church so that they can be involved in our Word and Sacrament ministry.”
- Read about the “Stand With Your Community” program: blogs.lcms.org/2016/stand-grants-enable-mercy
- Find Reformation resources: lutheranreformation.org