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A Place of Belonging

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We’ve got a new Monday night group, and they come with snacks!

The Joy-Filled Hearts group exists to show God’s love through an environment where those who are neurodivergent (have disability labels) feel welcomed, accepted and included. Their hope is to create a joy-filled space with true fellowship and mutuality between individuals who are neurodivergent and people who are more neurotypical (do not have disability labels).

Michelle Cashman, who facilitates the group, asked our Woodland friends with disability labels what they were looking for in a Monday night group, and overwhelmingly the answer was, “I want to know the Bible more.” So, with that in mind, Joy-Filled Hearts is using a Woodland curriculum called “God’s Story” to go through the whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation.

Sometimes churches have a tendency to refer to Bible stories and characters as if we all know them already, but a lot of us don’t! This group gives members a chance to learn these stories and become more familiar with the Bible itself. But even for those who have heard them before, Michelle says that, “Revisiting old Bible stories is refreshing, because you look at them differently in different seasons of life.”

Michelle has received feedback from both neurotypical and neurodivergent people who have said, “I never felt comfortable in a regular group, I didn’t like praying out loud because I thought I’d be judged, and I didn’t know the Bible like the rest of the people. Here I can read out loud and no one makes fun of me. I used to feel like I didn’t fit in, but in this group I fit in.”

Michelle says, “I think Woodland has a big opportunity to be the ones to accept people, to not have people who are set aside. So many of our folks come on Sundays and are greeted and they feel cared for. People say ‘Hey you weren’t here last week, where were you?’ This is a kind of belonging and Joy-Filled Hearts is another place to belong.”

“Our hope is to have many more people join: people with or without disability labels, people who work in or are familiar with the disability field, but also just people who have a heart for making others feel accepted, people who want to love on folks. The heart of what Woodland teaches is ‘learning to love together.’ That’s what we’re doing.”

Why is it called Joy-Filled Hearts? Michelle says, “Our goal is for people to leave feeling joyful, and uplifted, excited that they’ve just learned something new in the Bible. In the world of disabilities we often focus on the negative, so we’re always going back to the positive: where did you see joy?”

If you would like to experience the joy that comes through connecting with others and studying the Bible, come on Monday nights at 6:30 (enter Door C) or contact Rob Kistler rkistler@whchurch.org with questions.

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"I am a podrishioner that just wanted to say thanks for sharing Woodland Hills through podcasts and videos. This is my place to get a spiritual refill, and it’s where I get most of my teaching from. Since I've starting following you four years ago, my view on God, myself and other people has radically been changed. Thanks so much, and keep sharing the Kingdom!"

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