‘We Like To Celebrate Everything’: Special Church at First Presbyterian

Every Thursday for the past 29 years, Jassinia Mysogland has arrived at First Presbyterian Church on Oenoke Ridge Road for a unique experience featuring parties, crafts, snacks, music and most of all—friendship.

Special Church members Jassinia Mysogland, Robert Witt, Todd McInerney, Lisa Griffin and Nicki Dibiago displaying their craft at Thursday’s New Years celebration. Credit: Kim Devine

Last week, Mysogland joined fellow members of a program called ‘Special Church’ in celebrating New Year’s and a birthday, as well as the return of Cathy Newman, a former co-leader visiting from California. Program director Nancy Reichart said with a smile, “We like to celebrate everything.”

Approaching its 30th anniversary this year, Special Church was founded by parents of special needs children and adults seeking an “alternative church experience,” Reichart said. With 16 members hailing from New Canaan and surrounding towns, Reichart calls First Presbyterian Church “the best place to be on a Thursday afternoon.”

Because all of its current members are Christians, Special Church is considered ecumenical, she said, though it absolutely would welcome and accommodate people of different faiths.

Thursday’s 2.5-hour program got off to its typically measured start, with members trickling in to mingle, read aloud a “reading of the week,” and complete a New Year’s-themed craft. Excitement surged when the celebration officially started. Five volunteers handed out New Year’s headbands, hats and beads and brought out an ice cream cake. (The cake itself was crowded with all three messages: ‘Happy New Year,’ ‘Happy Birthday’ and ‘Welcome Back, Cathy.’)

When NewCanaanite.com asked Special Church member Todd McInerney  what he liked best about the experience, he could not pinpoint his favorite part.

“Everything,” McInerney said. “I love it here. It’s fun and I make many friends here.”

The last half hour of the program is dedicated to Arts for Healing music therapy. Matt Hennessey handed out instruments to members and led the group in the songs “Life is Beautiful,” “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah” and “Under the Boardwalk.” Matt struck a balance between entertaining the members, by singing lyrics such as “Will I Be Pretty” in Que Sera Sera, and encouraging the members to participate in a variety of ways. Clearly energized by the music and the environment, Special Church members did just that: Some danced in the middle of the circle, sang, played air guitar, and practiced hand motions together. Music therapy concluded at 5 p.m. with a goodbye song, ending the program with “‘Til we meet again.”

Volunteers such as Mary Runestead stayed after music therapy to clean up and say goodbye to members. Runstead, who has a degree in Special Education and has been volunteering at Special Church for one year, describes her experience with the program as “very rewarding”.

Runestead said she believes the Special Church community has a lesson to share with the world.

“Our members are so kind to each other,” she said. “That is a good message for everyone.”

Participants highlight everything from friendships to the food as their favorite aspects of the program, but volunteers attribute the program’s success entirely to the members. “Our members are special not because of the challenges they face but because of the people they are,” Reichart said. “They are the sunshine of this program.”

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