An 11-year-old boy is happy to be back at the church that’s welcomed him with open arms.
However, with the pandemic beginning to wane in the U.S., Grady has been able to return to his “favorite place in the entire world,” which is equipped with a “thriving special needs ministry,” according to his mother, Erin Witkowski.
“We drive a really far way because they make a place for any child – no matter what their needs or what their disability is – they make a way for those children to attend,” Witkowski said in reference to Liquid Church, during a phone interview with FOX News.
Grady Witkowski, 11, had been attending Sunday services at Liquid Church in Parsippany, N.J., with his family, but was forced to take a 15-month break due to the coronavirus pandemic. The church has a "thriving special needs ministry," his mother Erin Witkowski tells Fox News. (Erin Witkowski)
She explained the church’s Buddy Program has been a shining light for Grady, who has Down syndrome.
“Every child with special needs that goes there gets a buddy to be with them during children’s service,” Witkowski, a mother to four, explained. “It gives them the opportunity to be with the other children, have a great time, worship and learn.”
Grady and his family were first able to return to Liquid Church on July 11 and his ecstatic response was documented in an Instagram Reel Witkowski shared, which has been viewed more than 22,000 times.
He was just as excited when he returned to the church this Sunday and reunited with his program buddy Katy Herridge, as shown in a Facebook video also captured by Witkowski.
“This folks is what making a seat at the table for everyone looks like,” Grady’s mother captioned the emotional moment. “Tears ran down to see this moment.”
Grady Witkowski (middle), his Liquid Church buddy Katy Herridge (left) and his sister June Witkowski (right) pose arm-in-arm at the contemporary church they all enjoy in Parsippany, N.J. (Erin Witkowski)
“The homecoming back to Liquid Church and reuniting with his buddy Katy Herridge was surreal after a 15-month pause. It is his favorite place in the whole world because it’s a church that makes a way for him in such a wildly loving and accepting way,” Witkowski told Fox News. “To see Grady and Katy reunited in such a beautiful [way] was epic! I feel like we get a little taste of heaven on Sunday morning in the form of acceptance and inclusion.”
The Witkowski family has been traveling to the Liquid Church in Morris County from their home in New York’s Hudson Valley for nearly four years. Their scenic commute takes around an hour and a half.
In the last year and a half, Grady had been asking when he’d be able to return to church not realizing the severity of the pandemic.
Now Grady is able to socialize with Herridge, his friends and other Liquid Church staff who are trained to work with his unique needs while the Witkowskis wait for in-person schooling and therapy to resume.
Erin and Paul Witkowski are parents to four beautiful children. The Witkowskis attend Sunday services at Liquid Church, which requires them to travel an hour and a half by car from their Hudson Valley home in New York to New Jersey. (Jessica Drogosz / Our Days Photo + Film)
Witkowski said the church makes her and her family feel welcome and included.
“And not only for Grady to experience people who were trained, but also my other children who are typically functioning can see their brother being welcomed and treated like everyone else is really special, too.,” Witkowski shared.
In a statement sent to FOX News, Suzi Soares, the kids and special needs pastor at Liquid Church, said the contemporary Christian church is dedicated to uplifting children with special needs.
“At Liquid, it’s our privilege and passion to serve children with a wide variety of special needs, including autism, Aspergers syndrome, Down syndrome, and ADHD. We understand that having a child with special needs is life-changing. It’s our heart for every child to be supported, to engage with their peers and feel a sense of belonging,” Soares wrote.
“Our buddy program was designed so that children just like Grady can participate in our kids environments during weekend services,” Soares added. “Grady is an incredible kid with an infectious enthusiasm for life, so it’s our honor to accommodate his needs so he can experience the heart of our Heavenly Father.”