My mother and I started coming to this church when I was about twenty-two years old. We had heard West Concord Union Church was starting a group called Sunday Fellowship for adults with disabilities and we came for the very first meeting. I’ve been here ever since! I’m the youngest of four and the spoiledest! But I’m the only Concordian in the family. I was born at Emerson and I‘m also the only one who still lives here. In fact, I live just a few doors away from here in a house that’s part of the “shared living program” at Minute Man Arc. That means my roommate and I live in our own apartment but there’s a caregiver upstairs in case we need anything. I love my apartment because it’s close to my friends and many of my favorite places like church, the library, and Dunkin Donuts. Janice runs on Dunkin! Ha, Ha!
Growing up, I was involved in a lot of activities. I participated in plays through Open Door Theater. I also played tennis and ran track with the Special Olympics. One year, I even went to the International Special Olympics in track and field. The strange thing is that even though I was born and raised in Concord I couldn’t always go to school here. For three years, I was sent to Lincoln schools because there weren’t any programs for me in Concord. Then, they brought me back to Concord for junior high and my first year of high school. But after one year at CCHS they decided I would be happier at Wayland High School.
After high school, I started working and eventually, moved into my own apartment. I had a variety of jobs—some better than others. I worked the longest at Concord Teacakes but it was a very physically demanding job. So I left Teacakes and went to work at Crosby’s Supermarket. Unfortunately, I had to retire from that job too due to a shoulder injury. I don’t have a paying job these days but I keep busy. I’m on the Board for Minute Man Arc and Open Door Theater, I’m a self-advocate for people with disabilities at the Statehouse, I go to Standing Strong with other self-advocates twice a month and I volunteer at Petsmart twice a week. That’s not to mention the time I spend each week helping in the church office! Oh, and I also work in the church nursery on first Sundays. You can see why I need my coffee! Janice runs on Dunkin!
Seriously, though, I know I’m lucky. I’ve always had a full life. If I had been born just a few years earlier, that might not have been true. Special Olympics began when I was five years old and I was twelve by the time schools were required to provide public education for children with disabilities. Even now, more than 75% of people with intellectual disabilities can’t find a job. Did you know it’s legal to pay people with disabilities less than the minimum wage? I’m happy to say Minute Man doesn’t do that and there’s a bill in Congress to change that law.
Many of you were there in June when I retired from Sunday School. The day I said goodbye was one of the biggest, hardest times in my life because Sunday school was a job I could always count on and I loved it. I started teaching twenty years ago with Patty Lynch. Before I started helping Patty, I had no idea God would ever want me to do something like this. It was a big surprise and a new beginning. But I had a niece who had just been born and I felt like something was telling me to go upstairs. Maybe God was calling me just like God called Samuel.
I’m glad I had the courage to answer God’s call that day and I’m grateful to Patty for welcoming me. It was a big blessing because I didn’t know Patty and she didn’t know me. I never took care of kids before and I didn’t have any idea what I was getting into. I didn’t even know what church school was because there weren’t any Sunday school classes for me at the church I went to as a child. Patty became my “Eli”. She got me started with teaching and she was a big role model for me like Eli was for Samuel. That’s why it was very hard for me to see Patty go when she left six years ago. At the time, I wasn’t sure I could keep teaching but I heard Patty and God saying to me, “Don’t leave.” Once again I answered God’s call and I stayed. I continued to teach with Ruth and Jessica and then with Melissa and with my final teammate, Lisa and all the parents that helped out. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of changes. The nursery has changed places three times since I started! The teachers have changed. The kids have changed. Even the ministers have changed. I was the only one who was always there. I hope that was helpful to the kids.
This year, I started to wonder if my call could change too. I had started to feel like God might want me to do more to help with Sunday Fellowship. But I was nervous to tell anyone I was thinking about leaving Sunday School. I didn’t know how they would take it. For months, I struggled with my decision. I tried to compose my thoughts on how I wanted to phrase it and why I felt like this was something I needed to do. Some of my favorite memories at church are being with the kids and all the other teachers and I didn’t want to hurt them. I bet that’s just how Samuel felt when he had to tell Eli what God had said!
Finally, Jessica and I talked and she told me I could still help with Sunday school as a substitute or if there’s a project she needed help with. Telling her was a relief but saying goodbye to Sunday school was still very hard. Patty and I had been texting all week before my last Sunday and then she suddenly stopped answering! I wasn’t sure what was going on! I thought maybe something was wrong! I felt a little like Samuel in the story when he thought Eli was calling him and kept saying to Samuel, “I’m didn’t call you! Go back to bed!” Little did I know she had stopped answering me because she wanted to surprise the heck out of me! When I came into worship on my last day in Sunday School I saw a familiar face in the back. It was Patty! I went right up to her and gave her the biggest hug! It was a wonderful surprise on a day that was kind of sad and a celebration. It became a celebration of two teachers, not just one.
So that’s the story of how I found my calling in Sunday School and how God is helping me realize that calling is changing into something new. I want to say how grateful I am to God for all of the opportunities I’ve had in my life. I am also grateful to Patty and my parents and all the other “Eli’s” God has sent to show me what faithfulness looks like. I guess I never realized that one day I would become an Eli too. Thanks be to God. Amen.