Pastor Brings Ministry Opportunities to Adult Students with Disabilities
When a home for more than 300 men and women with intellectual disabilities in Frankfort, Kentucky, needed a new campus pastor, they extended the invitation to Scott Bowman, 39, pastor of nearby New Harvest AG church. For two years, Bowman has ministered weekly on Sunday afternoons with the help of residents themselves, whose differing levels of ability offer no barrier to their experience of the Holy Spirit.
“It energizes me to see how much the students grasp, to see them actively serving in ministry,” says Bowman, a native Kentuckian.
Services take place at the Stewart Home & School, a magnificent, historic, family-run campus where people with intellectual disabilities live, learn, and grow together. New Harvest sits half a mile away, and each Sunday afternoon Bowman arrives at Stewart Home to a flurry of hugs, high-fives, and handshakes from a roomful of people eager to worship, share testimonies, and hear God’s Word preached.
“It’s a full-blown service,” Bowman says. “If someone wants to share a testimony or a prayer, that happens often. They choose the songs, and we play them with YouTube. … Students open and close in prayer and help me serve Communion. I’m trying to empower the students to do the work of the gospel and ministry.”
Services sometimes include eruptions of praise, dancing, and singing, and times of communal stillness when everyone is instructed to listen to what God is saying to them personally.
“We pray, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening,’” Bowman says. “Then I ask them to share if they feel the Spirit speaking. Several have shared powerful words God has spoken to them or a scripture he put on their hearts.”
One man gifted in memorization is able to quote entire portions of Scripture in front of the assembly and leads everyone in the Lord’s Prayer at each service. Bowman’s own sermon is the one he preaches at New Harvest, with maybe a touch more storytelling.
“I don’t water anything down,” he says. “They understand the gospel. They listen. Their spirits are communicating.”
One time he taught on the parable of the 10 maidens and an elderly female student spoke up: “Even when we go to sleep, our hearts are awake, and our minds are still active.”
“She said it eloquently and so beautifully,” Bowman recalls.
At the end of each service, he prays for students individually who come forward.
One time, a girl with Down’s Syndrome who stands less than 5 feet tall wanted prayer and said, “You talked about that the Holy Spirit can fill us. Will the Holy Spirit fill me, even though I’m so small?” Bowman prayed for her, that the Holy Spirit would indeed fill her.
Bowman's theological foundation for ministry among persons with disabilities was established while earning his master’s degree in ministerial leadership and a doctorate (D.Min) at Southeastern University. He says one of his prefessors, Stephen Fettke [professor emeritus in the Barnett School of Ministry and Theology], had great influence on him. Fettke, whose adult son is disabled, wrote about empowering people with disabilities.
“In his book, God’s Empowered People, he lays out a theology of disability and how we are all called, despite ability or disability. We are all empowered. That’s Pentecost in a nutshell. There’s no regard for ability or disability, in my opinion, for the empowerment to do what God has called us to do,” Bowman says.
Sunday afternoons at Stewart Home go a long way toward proving that.
Kusum Neal has taught and worked at the institution for 21 years, and has served as the AG’s Special Touch ministry coordinator for the state of Kentucky since 1994.
“I’m thrilled that Scott has gotten involved with us here,” Neal says. “The faculty and administration love him. He has been received well.”
Students “love the worship and are very engaged with it,” she says. “The Holy Spirit bypasses and speaks to the spirit. Receiving God’s Word is very important to them, and they receive it very well. They go up and get prayed for, for the same reasons you and I do: ‘I’m emotionally hurting, I’m stressed.’ It’s no different than you and I; it’s just at their level.”
Bowman's experience and educational training have convinced him of the same thing: “These students know how to love and forgive and rejoice. … God can use anybody, anytime, in any place …”