There's an old saying that you should NEVER discuss Sex, Politics or Religion in "polite" company, or a group of people you hold in high regard. I guess I'm about to be impolite, as I am going to talk about the hot button of Religion.
Autism is bursting at the seams from schools, playgrounds, day cares, community centers... So you would think the same happens in our churches, right?
Well... Not exactly...
The truth is most families with a child struggling with autism don't make it to the front doors of the church... or other things... I know because I was there once myself. It was just so much easier to seclude ourselves in our own little bubble and not have to deal with society's judginess. Children with autism and their families are ostracized in our community wherever they go. They're made to feel different (I suppose we are, but isn't everyone a little "different?"), less than, and unwelcome. Our kids struggle to make friends at school, get laughed at, are bullied and are made fun of. That is our reality.
Going to Church can be difficult for families dealing with autism spectrum disorder or any other kind of special needs really. Children with autism often struggle in new environments, and placed in a room full of strangers can be overwhelming for them. I've talked to many families who have said "It's just too hard, so we don't bother going," or " we can't find a church willing to accept our child's differences, his/her inability to sit still or not make odd noises or gestures," or "My child won't sit through a service as he/she doesn't understand when to sit, stand, kneel, pray, etc. and I just don't have the energy to defend my child's behavior to people who as Christians should not be judgmental and so confrontational."
Who's to blame for this? Is it the parents? Ummm, no. Is it the children? Definitely NOT. The fault lies completely with the church, and when I say church, I mean the church as a whole. I don't care what denomination you are. The mission of the church should be to bring people to Christ, to make each and every person with or without a disability, young or old, aware of their divine purpose in life.
Many families of children with special needs may be struggling financially because they have their children in therapy, treatment, counseling, tutoring, etc. The parents are the full time caregivers, advocates, translators, speakers, and don't forget teachers with little to no help. Tapped out of additional energy, these parents need a safe place that doesn't judge their parenting skills or their child's odd behavior, such as hand flapping, utterances, strange noises, stimming, etc. These parents and children want and NEED to be accepted, loved and safe. If there is a place where they all should find these needs met, it should be at their church. Sadly, for many, this is not the case.
Losing one's religion or as I prefer to call it, faith, is a terrible injustice. My faith keeps me strong for my children, and when I feel alone, sad and hurt, my faith keeps me inline and true to myself and my family. Without my faith, I don't think I could have survived my personal trials and tribulations. My faith is my life line, and without it, my hope for the future is gone. I don't go to church because I am religious... I actually hate religion. To me, religion is man made rules, regulations, and ceremonies I don't feel will get me any closer to God. Religion to me is humanity's way of reaching God through their own efforts, which is impossible. Just think of the tower of Babylon. They never did reach the heavens. Faith on the other hand allows me my personal relationship with God who loves me, even with all my flaws and foolishness so much, He sacrificed His own son for my salvation. I go to church because I want my children to know my God who is so full of love for them, He doesn't care about their autism, is not ashamed of it because He created them in His own image. I want them to know He has a divine purpose for them in their lives and they are not alone. I want them to be proud of themselves and not hide and be ashamed, because God is proud of them. But how do I do that without a church to support me and my children?
I want a church where my children can sit with me during service and celebrate, without the judgement of others. I don't want to have to explain why my daughter is humming instead of singing, or why sometimes I need to interpret words to others or explain what she is talking about. I want my children to contribute in the service so they feel they are an integral part of their church. I've been fortunate enough to find such a church, but to be honest, our family is the only one present with children on the autism spectrum. The congregation loves my kids, and supports my family and encourage us in any way they can. We have been blessed with a caring reverend who has all of my children involved in some way with the Sunday Service. But I wonder where the rest of you families are? And I'm not just talking families with autism, but families with young children. I've met a few parents with young children (no diagnosis) who have chosen not to go to church because they feel their children are too young and would not last in Sunday School, nor would they sit still in the pews, disrupting service for the rest of the congregation. How sad! How are the kids supposed to learn if they're not exposed to the church?
Reverend Mark has made a decision, not just because of me, but because he sees our Autism Winnipeg PACE kids coming to Youth Group, but come Sunday they're not at church. When he wondered why, I explained the above you've just read. So he's made a decision. He wants to have a special service for families with young children. With or without disabilities. He wants families with young children to come and have fun, not sit in pews bored out of their minds. Without Sunday School. This service is reserved for us clingy parents who want to celebrate our relationship with God with our kids. The service would recognize that young people do not sit still and that they are as welcome as anyone else. No organ, no real structure, contemporary music. This service would last approximately 30-45 minutes or so, followed by fellowship time: cookies and juice and maybe even a game. If we were to hold this service on Friday evenings, we could have Youth Group right after the service!
As with anything new, Reverend Mark would need our help to start worshiping in this new and exciting way. Here's how you can help:
- Commit to being there and engaging in the service.
- Hopefully we will start in July. If we can start in June, so much the better.
- Share your ideas of what shape you would like to see the service take.
- Invite your friends, neighbors and family to come and be part of the service.
- Help with advertising (ex. posting on your facebook page)
- Invite musicians you know who may be willing to come and lead the music component of this Worship Service.
- If Friday evenings don't work, which evening would work best for you?
If you feel you've lost your religion, wondering if you should stay or should you go, I ask you to consider this new way of worship and come join us. Email me for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Reverend Mark Satterly at 204 979 0510.
Consider yourselves hugged,
Lou and family