The time is a quarter past four on a white-hot Florida afternoon as two cream-colored buses glide to a stop in front of a community center. Brakes hiss, door cranks turn, and the passengers empty onto the pavement. Some walk stooped over, ungainly and loose-limbed, others are almost unnaturally erect. Some are in wheelchairs. Some wear football helmets. Some look ordinary. One wears a large medal on a multicolored ribbon that reads “Special Olympics.” These are members of an “invisible” society—mentally disabled adults.

The occasion that brings them together is a rally of the Special Gathering, a ministry to the mentally challenged community in Cocoa, Florida. The Special Gathering is directed by Richard Stimson, a tall, yuppie-looking pastor in his thirties. Right now Stimson is standing by the door, greeting everyone. There is no condescension in his manner, not a trace of paternalism. If anyone suggested that he is like a father to this flock, he would bristle with indignation. To them, he is never Reverend Stimson; he is always Richard, their brother, friend, and spiritual guide.

A special calling

Stimson was born into a Presbyterian home in Cocoa, Florida. His twin brother, Bill, was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, leaving him mentally disabled. To Stimson, though, he was simply his twin brother. They even shared their own “twin” language.

When Stimson was in high school, he plunged into the worldly Cocoa Beach lifestyle of surfing and drugs, losing interest in the faith of his parents. After graduation, he and a friend went looking for work in the Texas building boom. They went as far as Louisiana, where he got a job in a plywood plant. Soon he was named union steward. Eventually, he decided to leave ...

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