Shameless plug (for both a blog and a mission field)
No, we’re not as relentlessly logical and suavely polemical as The Anglican Curmudgeon, but since he cross posts at his own blog and here, I figured I would give you a look at the kinder, gentler blogging my wife and I share at Sometimes Care Giving Stinks.
People with special needs, chronic conditions or terminal illnesses, along with their families, present an abundant mission field. As just one example, 1 in 88 American kids are diagnosed on the autism spectrum - our 18 year old is one of them. As we blogged on Sunday,
Finding a church home can be as hard as finding any other public space for people with special needs and their care givers. Many people come to church for a time of peace, beauty and order – and those of us who know that “sometimes care giving stinks” have no illusions about how those in our care can chase those qualities right out of the room.
A commenter on that post shared an all too common horror story,
“I stopped going to church many years ago for that reason. For a while when I did go, I would put my son in the 2 year old room… a wonderful lady kept the extra watchful eye on him, and they actually grew very close which of course made it easier for me to leave him in there so I could go to ‘big church’. One day after service I went to get him from the 2 year old room (by this time he was about 6 years old, but cognitively 2). As I stood in line with the other parents I heard the man infront of me complaining about ‘That tall boy in there needs to go, he doesn’t belong here… I don’t care what his issues are, but I don’t want my daughter being dumbed down by him. He could hurt any of our 2 year olds’.”
On a more hopeful note, Episcopalians in the Northeast created Rhythms of Grace, a liturgy that welcomes special needs people and their families. It is now offered one Sunday afternoon each month at Calvary Cathedral here in Sioux Falls.
It is likely that most of our communities have families that have given up on church because of a care giving situation. The sheer hassle of getting a special needs or physically challenged person out the door, the potential for uncomfortable situations and cold hearted reactions in an uptight church, and the care givers’ lack of freedom to just relax and worship all conspire to cut special needs families off from church participation. Such families provide a mission field for the local church.
But a church need not come up with a “program” in order to include these families. Sometimes, all that is needed is the good will and flexibility of parishioners. Such is the case at our parish.
My wife and younger son were unable to come to church for the better part of two years. Our older son used to ride herd on his brother, but when he left for college the younger kid figured out, “Hey, I’m way bigger than mom, and dad is up there in funny clothes doing whatever he does, so I’ll just make whatever noise I want and get up and down as I please.” While the congregation was gracious, his antics were a distraction. Sometimes he would get up and go downstairs or even outside. He has seizures from time to time, so my wife would have to leave the service to monitor him. Eventually, there was no point in even trying to attend.
Fortunately, a parishioner (a large male parishioner) felt God nudging him to minister by sitting with our guy during the service. This gave us back the “big brother” factor and now my family is back in church. A congregation’s “human resources” are its best asset for including special needs families.
Spiritually, those of a Catholic bent will find special needs people receptive to liturgy. Many of them thrive on predictable routines and order. They will connect with particular phrases or pieces of music, so the stability of traditional liturgy has potential to reach them and include them in the Body of Christ. (But be warned - sensory issues are big and some will not want to receive Communion. Others will be undone by organ blasts or incense.)
For the more Reformed among us, special needs families can be powerful signs of grace. They are not going to be tidy pewsitters whose Christianity is based on nice behavior and good deeds. Their lives are roller coaster rides, with frequent plunges into failure alongside the highs of sacrificial love. They are stuck in situations that can’t be “fixed” by human good will and effort. On top of that, special needs people will not be able to understand (or at least convey understanding of) propositional religion. If they are saved, it is by God’s imputed righteousness.
Intentional outreach to special needs people and their care givers can be a literal application of Jesus’ instructions,
He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14 ESV)
Thank you and God bless you for your kindness to families like mine.
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