Photo courtesy of The Chapel
By Tom Campisi
This weekend, thousands of people with special needs were crowned as kings and queens and received the royal treatment in churches all over the New Jersey/New York City metro area. They came dressed in tuxes and fancy gowns, pinned with corsages and boutonnieres, and were pampered with hair-styling and shoe-shines before making their grand entrance on the red carpet amidst flashing cameras and rousing cheers.
Night to Shine, a prom for ages 14 and up, was truly a night to remember—a festive evening of dancing and unbridled joy where the love of God was celebrated and tangible for guests with autism, Asperger’s, down syndrome, and cerebral palsy.
Hosted annually for the last six years by the Tim Tebow Foundation, Night to Shine events were held at 721 churches around the world in 2020; Approximately 115,000 honored guests were served by 215,000 volunteers who gave them VIP treatment.
At Liquid Church’s Broadcast Campus in Parsippany, NJ, Tim Tebow made a surprise appearance. The former Heisman Trophy winner, NFL quarterback and current New York Mets’ minor league prospect thanked the church for its support and participation over the last six years. Liquid Church held Night to Shine events on Thursday and Friday, Feb. 6 and 7 for 800 special guests. (story continues after photo)
“We are honored to partner with [Liquid] and celebrate humanity and God’s love for people,” Tebow said. “Thank you for being one of the first churches on board and for loving people so well.”
Tim Lucas, Liquid’s lead pastor and founder, said the church is passionate about “serving our friends in the special needs community” through Night to Shine. Approximately 1,200 volunteers served at Liquid over the two nights.
“It’s our goal for every person with special needs to feel a sense of belonging and recognize their God-given potential,” he said. “We are honored to once again participate in this worldwide movement.”
Locally, NTS events were also held at Bethany Church (Wyckoff), Cornerstone Christian Church (Wyckoff), The Chapel (Lincoln Park), Stonecrest Community Church (Warren), St. Luke’s Parish (Long Valley), St. George Syro Malabar Catholic Church (Paterson), St. Francis of Assisi and St. Catherine of Bologna (Haskell), St. Ann Melkite Catholic Church (Woodland Park), Bayside Chapel (Barnegat), Resurrection Life Church of New York City, and Grace Community Church of Warwick, NY. (story continues after photo)
At The Chapel, Ingrid Flannery, the church’s Director of Special Needs/Inclusion, used words such as “excitement,” “sheer joy,” and “appreciation” when describing the atmosphere at Night to Shine. The Chapel, which welcomed 100 guests with 340 volunteers, has hosted the event for the last four years.
“Each year the momentum grows,” she said. “Our heart beats for this community that God so clearly loves and that we are committed to including. We believe that all people are created in God’s image with great purpose, and that, as a church, we are better together.”
In addition to the dancing and music, Flannery said guests and family members were also well served by “the TLC and soothing moments in our well-equipped sensory lounge and quiet activity rooms, while there was lots to explore and do in puzzle and game rooms.”
One of her favorite moments was seeing parents and guardians of guests watching the festivities in the balcony after they were served dinner in the family lounge.
“Some called it ‘magical’ and tearfully thanked us again and again for making their family member so happy,” Flannery said. “A few guests gave our pastor tight hugs as they departed.”
At Cornerstone, sentiments for loving the special needs community also abounded as the Bergen County church hosted Night to Shine for the second consecutive year. The volunteer list filled up quickly, as over 200 people signed up to serve 80 guests.
Jennifer Fuhr, a member of the Special Needs Ministry at Cornerstone, said she experiences “heaven on earth” whenever she serves in settings like this weekend’s Night to Shine. For over 30 years, she has volunteered with ministries such as Christian Overcomers and Joni and Friends.
“The body of Christ is truly only complete and whole when everyone is included and loved, when everyone’s gifts are celebrated and used,” Fuhr said. “People with disabilities are vital to the Body of Christ (I Cor 21:21 ff) because God’s greatness shows up in big ways in our weaknesses. Many of us, or most of us, don’t want our weaknesses to show. But those who live with a disability can’t hide their weaknesses and differences, but they can still rejoice, dance, smile, live, love and serve others and the Lord. Isn’t that how we all should live?” (story continues after photo)
Following Night to Shine, Fuhr posted this message on Facebook: “What an amazing night. It warms my heart to see my church take this on and embrace ministry to families with special needs kiddos. It was a privilege to serve on the team with so many talented others to make it happen…can’t wait for 2021!”
For Tim Tebow, there is also excitement for 2021 and beyond as his foundation celebrates another year of Night to Shine.
“It is awe inspiring to see how God is using the Church globally to stand up and advocate for people with special needs. I truly believe that the world is coming together through Night to Shine to celebrate the love that God has for us!” Tebow said. “Every town, every village, every state, every country needs a Night to Shine for their special needs community – a chance to be a part of something significant and life-changing…and to be blessed in the process.”
For information on Night to Shine, visit www.timtebowfoundation.org/ministries/night-to-shine.
Enjoy some highlights from one of the best nights of the year, celebrating some of our favorite people!!! We're so honored and grateful to have experienced Night to Shine 2020 at The Chapel…#NightToShine
Posted by The Chapel on Sunday, February 9, 2020