Dear Church Leaders…

Many thanks to Jenny Emory Redick who wrote the following poignant letter to church leaders on her Facebook page.  With her permission, I share it here because this letter so eloquently captures the essence of  why we at FIN work so hard to bring awareness and educate on faith inclusion.  
Jenny lives in Virginia Beach and is mom to two lovely girls, one of which has multiple disabilities. She was a FIN Board Member not too long ago and we have always appreciated her outspoken and inspirational writing style…

Jenny and her husband, Jim Redick

Dear Church Leaders, I love you all, and think you are amazing – Especially when you are real and admit humanity in all of its failings. Your jobs are hard. I appreciate you!
You don’t know many of us, but let me introduce myself as an example of a rather large group of people who have faith and enjoy church and want to be there, yet often than not, are not present when the bell tolls.
I am a lover of God and Jesus. A human -hypocritical, failing without Him, putting my hope in Him and all of His love, mercy and grace that gets me through each day. He is my Father, Savior and he has seen me through this earthly life in its entirety! I do not “have it all together”. I frankly don’t even want to anymore, as I am tired on many different levels. I am a parent of a child with medical diagnoses and behaviors that can often be aggressive toward others. When my family or part of my family, enter church, we pretty much stand out, look different, attract attention (not the pleasant kind). I get it, though.
I don’t make it to church regularly. I would like to, as I love to be there and be reminded of the goodness of the Lord, and why I need Him in my life each and every moment.
Here’s the thing… I need more emotional, physical and spiritual energy to get through the process of actual attendance. You see, most church buildings are not up to ADA codes and laws, so, toileting and even sometimes entering a church or rooms in a church are impassible. The majority of church members (I am lucky to have a group of individuals at a “mega church” who are committed to regular support of my child” when I make it) act like the rest of the non-attending of the world – some smile pityingly, some rush by, averting their eyes at the glimpse of a child with wheels, some stare with true annoyance and rolling of the eyes if we ever attempt full inclusion – meaning, my child gets to be in the same service but is loud or makes praise noises that do not blend nicely with the others who are not neuro-diverse. Again, I get it. We are a minority, and not necessarily pleasant to have around. At least not when we all have the same stagnant frame of mind where those who are neuro-diverse were hidden away, not stepping foot or wheel into a church sanctuary.
So, I’m asking you for help. I’m asking you to talk about these realities of our newer world where people who are neuro-diverse are not shut away, up in the pulpit, in the Sunday school classroom, and in the board meetings. I’m asking you to practice interacting with people who are neuro-diverse, until your comfort level has risen considerably. I’m asking you to admit these failings of the church, just like other failings like – not tithing enough or not serving the youth enough, or not serving the needy in the community enough in front of the church or classroom. I’m asking you to research best practices of inclusion (they are out there – produced by tired parents like myself for your benefit and the benefit of our children) and apply them in your services and church functions. I’m asking you to budget for making the entire church, oh, and new additions to the church, entirely ADA compliant. I’m asking you to learn “people first language” (ie. we don’t say “cancer kid”, so why say “handicapped kid” or, God help us… “retarded kid” .) and use the appropriate language and ask your congregation to use it. (Believe me, half the battle of improving comfort level regarding interacting with those who are neuro-diverse is not knowing what to say or how to say it!)
There’s a lot more, but this is getting long and, I’m sure, very tedious for you to read.
Please do NOT think that I am not deeply grateful for the small village of individuals (church members and attendees) who have taken the time, commitment and energy to shift their paradigms, help us get to church, help us when we get there and learn how to interact and teach my child about Jesus. They even offer us periodic respite outside of church hours, and let me tell you, it’s pretty much one of the best gifts I have ever received in my life! It has been deeply healing and gratifying to accept this Jesus- love through other humans. I could definitely do more, and I plan to. I really do. I’m just asking that you do more too. You see, I have it really, really good in life. But, there are thousands in my community, in OUR community, who do not have it like I have it. Thank you for listening, and thank you for making the changes that I know are coming your/our way!
-Jenny Redick