By Jessica Brodie
Tired of the pandemic keeping them isolated, one faith-centered group decided to organize a giving spree that would not only help share the love of Christ, but also connect them with each other.
This summer, Reconciling Ministries of South Carolina mobilized its membership across the state through a virtual fundraiser to benefit Aldersgate Special Needs Ministry.
Aldersgate is a South Carolina United Methodist ministry formed by families and friends seeking to prepare for the future of their loved ones with developmental disabilities. Reconciling Ministries of South Carolina is part of the Reconciling Ministries Network, an unofficial caucus of United Methodists that promotes full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and other individuals in the life of the church.
Sidney Gatch, president of Reconciling Ministries of South Carolina, said their group effort to help Aldersgate was an excellent way for them to come together around a common cause, essentially becoming a circle of blessings.
Because of COVID-19, Gatch said, “We’ve all been separated all over the state, not seen each other, talked to each other, just become complacent. This was an opportunity to get together, to remind ourselves we are still here and our church still has a ways to go. And it did exactly what we wanted it to do—it helped a good charity we all felt was a good cause and brought our group together.”
As of press time, Reconciling Ministries has raised more than $6,000 for Aldersgate, and more funds continue to roll in. One hundred percent of the donated funds will go to Aldersgate.
“Aldersgate is just one of those underserved ministries in the UMC, and a lot of people don’t know about it,” Gatch said. “As soon as they figure out what it is, they are immediately supportive. Almost everyone knows someone with an adult special needs child. The parents are their caregivers, and they get older or die, and they can’t take care of these adults who’ve been taken care of all their lives.”
Aldersgate provides housing for men and women with special needs so they can live in a Christian environment with a professional staff dedicated to providing a loving home. Currently, there are three Aldersgate homes in South Carolina— one in Columbia near Epworth Children’s Home that houses women with special needs, one in Orangeburg near The Oaks that houses men with special needs, and one called Rick’s House near The Manor in Florence for four men with special needs.
“Their mission is wonderful and we immediately and unanimously approved Aldersgate as an organization we wanted to work with,” Gatch said.
On Sept. 13, Gatch met Aldersgate Board Chair Susan Kovas at the Columbia home to present a check to their ministry.
Kovas said she is incredibly grateful for the donation.
“I just think it’s wonderful they had a heart for our ministry and saw there was a need,” Kovas said.
Kovas said Aldersgate is a much-needed ministry because adults with special needs are facing a tough situation.
“It’s almost a crisis, really, in our country and in our state because we have so many elderly parents taking care of special needs adults,” Kovas said. “What’s going to happen when they are no longer here to do it?
“A lot of our residents would be homeless without our homes.”
Aldersgate was born out of a need for this type of ministry. One of the original board members, Yvette Hering, got together with other parents 25 years ago and decided there should be a support network for parents facing choices in housing for their adult children with special needs. They reached out to a number of faith organizations, and the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church immediately stepped up. The ministry grew under the leadership of the Rev. Milton and Betty Moss McGuirt, who guided and developed it into its present form. For many years, the board members handled every detail of the homes. In 2018, Executive Director Elaine Mathis was hired. She and the board are taking Aldersgate to new heights.
In 2003, the South Carolina Conference approved Aldersgate as a ministry that would operate within the umbrella of the UMC. They formed a task force and incorporated that year, and in 2009 built their first two homes. The third home followed in 2016. They are hoping to build more in the future, and they are launching a pilot drop-in-style respite program at Grace UMC, Columbia, where parents can drop off their adult child while they run errands or go to the doctor. They are also working on a retreat program with Asbury Hills. Next May, residents of all three of the homes will spend a weekend at Asbury Hills, and they are hoping if this goes well to expand this to non-Aldersgate home residents, too.
Those who live at an Aldersgate home do not have to be United Methodist. There is a formal application, and they must possess the skills to live in a group home with staff that help them become as independent as possible. Many Aldersgate residents have jobs and volunteer responsibilities.
“It just doesn’t get any more important than this,” Kovas said about their ministry efforts.
Gatch said Reconciling Ministries of South Carolina hopes to do a statewide fundraiser regularly now to help others.
“We were just wanting to shine a light on Aldersgate, and that’s what we did,” Gatch said.
For more information about Aldersgate Special Needs Ministry, visit https://www.aldersgatespecialneedsministry.org/.
If you’d like to be included on Reconciling Ministries emails, send your contact information to [email protected].
By Jessica Brodie