Tag Archives: church

All Are Welcome

“All Are Welcome” is a well-known and well-loved Christian hymn written by prolific liturgical composer, Marty Haugen. I’ve sung it often as a member of the congregation and even led it as a cantor on a few occasions, but never did the song impact me in the way it did this past Sunday when visiting St. John Chrysostom in Wallingford, PA.

This was not my first visit to St. John Chrysostom. I wrote a piece several years ago, called “Welcoming the Visitor”. My family and I had attended a Mass at the church at Eastertime while visiting our oldest son at Swarthmore College. I was so overwhelmed with their intentional inclusion, I wrote a story and connected with the pastor, Fr. Hallinan by email.

More than a year after my son has graduated from Swarthmore, I found myself preparing to bring our youngest son to the school for an official visit on campus. I happily anticipated an opportunity to attend church once again at St. John Chrysostom…I was not disappointed.

The moment I walked in, about ten minutes before the start of Mass, I observed several people with various kinds of disabilities. Ushers and members of the congregation greeted everyone in a kind and gentle way, expressing their joy to see them. One young adult, who seemed to be non-verbal, shook hands very enthusiastically with the greeter, a huge smile on his face. It was obvious to me that he was a valued member of the congregation and everyone he encountered was as glad to see him as he was to see them.

A few more steps into the church and I noticed some signage; one an announcement about a Caregivers Support Group and another about an Autism help line. These notices were not buried among many on a full bulletin board, but prominently displayed and easy to read.

I finally found a seat in the pew and listened to the choir warm up (a folk group with guitars, bongos and several singers.)  Of the six vocalists, the soloist chosen to lead a prominent part of one of the songs was an elderly woman with an exceptionally quiet voice. She was singing in tune, but it struck me as particularly refreshing that she was the one chosen for the solo. Not the strongest or the youngest voice, but an important voice and another obvious way that this church embraces the gifts of every person.

I could go on but you probably get the idea. St. John Chrysostom is a vibrant congregation with a strong understanding of what it takes to be inclusive.

I waited a few minutes at the end of Mass so I could re-introduce myself to Fr. Hallinan and hopefully get a few minutes to talk. We ended up chatting for more than ten minutes about our shared passion for inclusion and concluded our time together with a photo (thank you for that, Fr. Hallinan!). I expressed how grateful I was for all that this church does to promote inclusion and headed out the door.

As I got back in my car to head back to the campus baseball field, one of the points from my conversation with Fr. Hallinan that resonated strongly with me kept running through my mind.  St. John Chrysostom, like many other faith communities around the country, holds a designated service especially for individuals and families affected by disability. The “Mass of Welcoming and Inclusion”, as it is called at St. John Chrysostom is celebrated the 1st Sunday of the month. (The Mass I attended, by the way, was not on the 1st Sunday of the month, it was a regular Mass without this distinction) Fr. Hallinan said that his goal is that eventually they would not need to have the Welcoming and Inclusion Mass, that all Masses would feel welcoming and inclusive! We both agreed that an inclusive service can really be a helpful stepping stone for congregations and is still important for some individual and families affected by disability.  I couldn’t help but think, however, as I left the church, that if any congregation was nearing the goal of letting go of this kind of stepping stone, it was this church.

“All Are Welcome” at St. John Chrysostom, that is for sure in both obvious and subtle ways. I am grateful for their efforts and appreciate the opportunity to be an occasional visitor. I also know that there are many Hampton Roads local faith communities doing equally awesome inclusion work and seeing great results. If you aren’t already connected with FIN, please do share with us what you are doing. Your efforts could really be an encouragement to someone else or another faith community.

God Bless.

Karen j.

Essay Contest: Blog #4 Brittany French

Brittany was one of the first people that befriended me many years ago when my daughter and I started attending The Chosen Ministry. In her shy way, she would ask about Samantha and then about me, always remembering details that many would miss if they weren’t really listening. What a gift!

FIN would like to both thank and congratulate Brittany for sharing her story and being the winner of our very first essay contest.  As you read her essay you will realize that the remarkable thing about this story is how simple it really is…a church doing what many others do; reach out to the community and educate children in the faith.  What made a difference in Brittany’s life is how she felt and the continued acceptance as a person with a disability as she grew up in the church.  Even more wonderful, being a member of the congregation eventually led to finding a job nearby.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if more adults with disabilities were able to find work through the natural connections we make in our congregations?

So again we thank you, Brittany for not only writing this essay, but presenting it at our Gifts of the Heart Gala on March 11. You did a great job! -K. Jackson

My Faith Journey

Author Brittany French with Karen Fox who leads The Chosen Ministry in Norfolk

by Brittany French

The hospitality of a neighbor inviting me to church and the hospitality of the church folk accepted me even though I have several disabilities and this changed my life forever. I was three years old when a neighbor invited my twin sister and me to attend Sunday School at a church down the street from my house. My twin sister does not have the intellectual and physical disabilities that I live with every day. I began this adventure in the classroom with two wonderful teachers that made me feel loved and wanted.

In Sunday School we did arts and crafts related to Bible stories, we memorized verses and sat on a rug to hear the bible story of the day. My favorite event at church was attending Vacation Bible School in the summer. I loved playing outside and being with the other children. The other children did not treat me differently because of my disability. That made me feel good. I was always accepted for who I was. In fact, my church has five people with disabilities in the congregation because this church accepts and welcomes all people who come in.

Throughout the years, I continued to go to Sunday School each week. My faith grew stronger as I grew older and began to understand what the bible stories were saying. As an adult I joined the church I had been going to for so many years. This was a place I was accepted as God’s child, made in his image. I am what God wanted me to be. The church has helped me accept my disabilities and believe in myself.

I now have also joined “Chosen Ministry” which is a group that works with intellectually disabled adults. I love having other disabled friends. They understand some of the challenges I face. Being a part of “Chosen Ministry” has helped me see my disabilities in a different way. I am grateful to be who I am.

After several years of looking for a job, and many hours of prayer, I got a job in the daycare center which is next door to my church. Knowing that I am helping others is an answer to my prayers. My faith continues to grow as I work with little children and see how they love everyone.

Note: Brittany attends Third Presbyterian Church in Norfolk, VA

Brittany with friend Angela West at the Gifts of the Heart Gala-2018

 

Happy Birthday to the Happy Hour Class

Today I had the privilege of attending worship service at Wesley Grace United Methodist Church, http://www.wmumcnor.org/ a small congregation in the Wards Corner area of Norfolk, VA that is known locally for a lot of community outreach, impacting the local area in many positive ways.

I was invited by my friend, Gray Puryear, who is not only a longstanding member of the congregation but also serves as a lay speaker among the many responsibilities he holds at Wesley Grace.

Gray, who I have known for 10 years as he is a founding board member of Faith Inclusion Network, invited me to this service because they were planning to celebrate an exciting milestone, the 50th anniversary of a ministry for adults with intellectual disabilities they call “Happy Hour Class”.

An excerpt from a description in the bulletin about the ministry reads, “In 1967, several parents attending a church t Wards Corner in Norfolk asked the church leadership to start a Sunday School class for their adult children with intellectual disabilities. No one in the church had any training or experience with working with this special population in an educational setting, but a few members of the laity gave it a try…Today, 50 years later, that class is recognized by the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church as the oldest continuous class for adults with intellectual disabilities in Virginia.”

I was unexpectedly emotional during the service and have tried to piece together why that might be.  Part of it, I expect, was the very familiar setting of the UMC. I was raised in a small Methodist church, much like this one and the warm memories of a close-knit community were close to the surface.  But it was more than that.

The congregation had a special air of welcoming as they began this celebratory time of worship.  Quite a few people greeted my daughter Samantha and I warmly, recognizing she has a disability.  I felt like members of the congregation were especially aware, on this day set aside to recognize the Happy Hour Class Ministry, that a person they did not know who has a disability was visiting for the first time. It was very welcoming and even encouraging.

The service was full of evidence that this was an important day; a large banner was dedicated to commemorating the 50th anniversary and every part of the service included members of the Happy Hour Class from the greeters, to acolytes and musicians. The theme of celebration was obvious and happily contagious.

Gray Puryear, Lay Speaker at Wesley Grace UMC and one of leaders of the Happy Hour Class

I was also quite moved by my friend Gray’s sermons both to the children and the adults.  His basket of different kinds of apples, an illustration of how people are all different yet still all apples, was simple yet effective for the children. His message in the sermon was equally clear. Referencing Exodus and the story of Moses telling God that he was “slow of speech” so he couldn’t possibly be God’s spokesperson, Gray pointed out an important point.  Just as God provided an accommodation in appointing Moses’ brother Aaron to help Moses, we too are called to provide accommodations to help each other. As Gray put it, “when we provide an accommodation for a person with a disability, we are acting in the image of God.

The beautiful service, complete not only with some contemporary worship music but also a song I have not sung since childhood, Jesus Loves Me, was thoughtfully organized. Even their special guest from Richmond, Ms. Cheryl Edley-Worford, Director of Inclusivity and Lay Leadership Excellence in the Virginia Conference of the UMC https://vaumc.org/LayLeadership was on hand to offer her congratulations and gifts to the congregation.

As Samantha and I left Wesley Grace UMC today, I was reminded that it is the small, thoughtful efforts that sometimes add up to make a big impact for the congregation and their visitors. Listening devices, a screen with large print of all songs and prayers, friends helping friends with walkers and wheelchairs, a clear message from the leadership preaching inclusion and acceptance and the inclusion of persons affected by disability in all parts of the services, make for a welcoming environment. In my eyes, these accommodations and attitudes of acceptance all added up to Faith Inclusion Network’s vision to Accept, Include, and Celebrate all persons affected by disability in our faith communities.

Congratulations and thank you to members of Wesley Grace UMC, Gray Puryear, and Pastor, Scott Beck on this special anniversary.

God Bless!

Autism Moms and Dads Blog Series-Interview # 3

I did not have to look far to find these parents who graciously both agreed to respond to our interview questions. Rick and Ruth Robins are parents to Tripp, a third grader at The Williams School in Norfolk, VA, where I also teach band.  Although we have just begun our friendship, Ruth has already been wonderfully encouraging and supportive of my work my FIN and we have had some great discussions.

There are SO many parents out there who are trying to navigate the world of integration with children who have ASD but lean more toward the high-functioning/Asperger’s side of the spectrum.  We appreciate Rick and Ruth’s  willingness to share a bit of their experiences thus far. 

Rick and Ruth Robins-Interview #3

Tripp Robins

Question: How old was your child when they were diagnosed with autism?

Ruth: Tripp was five but the signs had been there since he was 15 months old. Family (specifically my mom) had been trying to tell us something wasn’t right but I was in denial. Can you share how you felt when you received that diagnosis? I felt numb, then very guilty. I tried to figure out what caused it. Maybe it was the medicine that I was on when I was pregnant with Tripp. Aspergers runs throughout my family so I didn’t have to look very far to see that we have a genetic predisposition towards it.

Rick: Our son was 4 when he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. I was perfectly unfamiliar with autism at the time of his diagnosis. Google forays into the subject informed my earliest preliminary senses of what it meant for our son and our family. It was an overwhelming time. It was a gut-punch to look at the statistics on autism as they related to work, marriage, independent living, and the metrics that typically frame our expectations for our kids’ lives. It was particularly hard for me to think that my son could be socially challenged and disadvantaged. I was also surprised at the difficulty of finding the necessary therapeutic and educational resources. There is no single, easily accessed clearing house for resources for parents to point them in the right direction to necessary behavioral therapies and other resources. Fortunately for us, my wife’s openness about our son’s autism helped us to find therapists and a school for autistic children, both of which helped him immeasurably.

Question: How has living with autism affected your family? (immediate or extended)

Ruth: It, without a doubt, has taught us grace, grace, and more grace. Also, how to love in a way that is beyond our physical capability.

Rick: It has been difficult. It has also had a maturing effect on all of us. Immediately after his diagnosis, we were plunged into a crisis mode, trying to deal with his behavior and finding the necessary educational and ABA therapy programs and medical resources. We knew that an early intervention in his behavior was important, and we did everything that we could. That included an ABA therapy school, ABA therapists on weekends and as needed, neurofeedback therapy, finding a pediatrician specializing in autistic children, allergy testing, diet modification, etc. Crises often have their own life cycles, and we have fortunately been able to make progress through this as a family. He was able to successfully transition into a small private school after two years in the autistic school. We were on pins and needles as he transitioned schools, but he did great. It has never been a linear experience. Behaviors and tics emerge, get addressed and extinguished, only to give rise to other behaviors, foci, or issues. It has reshaped our expectations and capacities to have more bandwidth in our responses as parents and family members. It has made me much more empathetic.

Question: What is currently your biggest challenge as an autism mom/dad?

Ruth: Tripp’s perseveration on things can be really difficult. He won’t let things go and when he doesn’t get his way it can lead to a meltdown. He then feels guilty because he knows it’s not okay, but his emotions take over.

Rick: Our son is 10 and has a 13 year-old neurotypical sister. In the early years our son’s atypical behavior were the focus of a lot of our energy. This inevitably created asymmetries in the time, attention, and behavioral expectations that we exercised with our children.

 

Question: What is currently your greatest joy as an autism mom/dad?

Ruth: After YEARS of intense therapy Rick and I see Tripp coming into his own. He is able to articulate himself better and is beginning to have self-acceptance. We also hone his natural God given gifts to the best of our ability.

Rick: I have learned to appreciate my son for who he is, including his tendency to perseverate on issues (he hates our dog) and occasional, epic meltdowns. But he is an incredibly lovable kid, and he loves to fish with me, which gives us a great medium for our relationship. He is unique in his interests and extremely smart, so we are excited to see how he will use his gifts.

Question: Has autism affected your faith?  If yes, how so?

Ruth: Yes, it has made me lean on God more. There were many, many times I reached the end, I had nothing left and it was “Your grace is sufficient for me” that kept me going. I knew that each second, minute, hour, and day God’s grace was enough to keep me taking one step in front of the other.

Rick: Individuals within our church family have made a big difference in our lives and in our son’s life in particular. When he was about 4 to 6 years old, he was wiping out in classroom settings, and that included Sunday school classes. A family in our church, and their sons, who are passionate about autism, took turns being our son’s “buddy” in Sunday school, and they would help him to have a successful class experience. Others have filled that role during church services, since he performs better sitting with them than sitting next to his sister! He has been well loved by our church family.

Question: Is there anything else you would like to share about being an autism mom/dad?

Ruth: We have learned to appreciate each of our children for who they are and who God created them to be, not to try to mold them into something they are not. Also, we have learned to focus on what really matters, the rest in just extra fluff.

 

Autism Moms Interview #7 Angela Kahler

april_is_autism_awareness_month_1

I met Angela Kahler at our first Gifts of the Heart event in 2012.  We connected as autism moms and fellow Catholics immediately and I knew she and we would become good friends. (Which we have!)

A bundle of energy. Angela is extremely involved in the community.  She was on the FIN Board of Directors for 4 years and is still very active with FIN events.  She is also a Disability Advocate at her church, Church of the Ascension in Virginia Beach and the Treasurer of the Virginia Beach Special Educational PTSA.  

Thank you for your friendship, Angela, and all you do for your family and the disability community.

Question: How old was your child when they were diagnosed with autism? Can you share how you felt when you received that diagnosis?

Angela: Joe was pretty young. He was 23 months old when he was diagnosed. I grieved the loss of the life I wished and planned for for my son. I was devastated. Since then, I have realized what I wanted for my son was a happy life- Joe has always been happy. We are blessed. Different things make him happy (and plenty of the same things- love and affection.). I worried, will he marry- the truth is I think he will find happiness in non-typical ways. 

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Question: How has living with autism affected your family?

Angela: We are much more aware of autism of course, but also all other differences, i.e development, abilities, etc. Even my extended family is focused on not just supporting Joe but kids and adults with differences.

Question: What is currently your biggest challenge as an autism mom?

Angela: Joe has been in speech therapy, OT and ABA (off and on) since he was 2. He is now 11. We have been on a fast paced schedule with little rest for that many years. I worry about not doing enough to help him reach his potential but I also worry about us having enough time to just enjoy life.

Question: What is currently your greatest joy as an autism mom?

Angela: I have embraced the truth that children with autism are children first. Joe and I have been spending a lot of time just doing typical mom/son things- watching movies, reading, laughing. As a family, we have been enjoying more of these regular joys.

Question: Has autism affected your faith? If yes, how so?

Angela: I clung to my faith when Joe was diagnosed. Very well meaning friends asked me if there was something I was doing that was preventing Joe from being “healed”. I am Catholic. As I often do when looking for answers to important and hard questions, I turned to my faith and the Bible- and the story- was it the sin of the blind man or his parents that caused him to be blind? Neither this man nor his parents sinned- this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. I also think differently about autism now then I did when Joe was first diagnosed. Joe’s autism is a difference but it does not define him. I have had to do a lot of soul searching. Admittedly, when Joe was first diagnosed- I thought autism was a tragedy, almost a death sentence for people with autism and their families- please forgive me, I didn’t know. It is a difference. It is part of my son. He is a blessing, gifted and talented as God made him. He also brings out the best in others. He is something special. His smile is contagious. My brother went to church with us and I was praying for Joe to make it through without being too loud- Joe danced to the music, laughed, smiled and enjoyed church- my brother remarked- he was a blessing to everyone around us at church. Prayers answered. Lesson learned- have faith.

Question: Is there anything else you would like to share about being an autism mom?

Angela: To my 39 year old self- I would say, try to relax- 9 years from now Joe will be a sweet, adorable, happy kid. You will have advised many moms how to get their kids the help they need, find therapy and doctors and you will look them right in the eye and tell them this will all work out. You will have been supported by smart, loving compassionate people- you are not alone. I also wish my 60 year old self could tell me something now- I am very hopeful for the future. I can tell Joe still has a lot to teach me.
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Autism Moms Interview #4 Kathleen D. Bolduc

 

april_is_autism_awareness_month_1One of my favorite things about leading Faith Inclusion Network is the opportunity to meet amazing people from around the country who are writing and presenting about faith and disabilities.  I first encountered Kathleen D. Bolduc through her book, “His Name is Joel”. After reading about some of her experiences with her son Joel, I remember thinking, “I found someone who understands! A spiritual person who wants to raise a child with autism in the faith. I need to talk with her!”

Not too long after reading her book, I did get to meet and talk with her, when she agreed to come present at our FIN That All May Worship-2011 Conference.  Thank you, Kathy for all the wonderful resources you have authored and thank you for participating in this Autism Moms blog series.- K. Jackson

Interview with: Kathleen Deyer Bolduc

Author of The Spiritual Art of Raising Children with Disabilities (Judson Press, 2014), Autism & Alleluias (Judson Press, 2010), A Place Called Acceptance: Ministry with Families of Children with Disabilities (Bridge Resources, 2001), His Name is Joel: Searching for God in a Son’s Disability (Bridge Resources, 1999)

Websitewww.kathleenbolduc.com

FB: http://www.facebook.com/KathleenDeyerBolduc

Question: How old was your child when he was diagnosed with autism? Can you share how you felt when you received that diagnosis?

Kathleen: We have three sons. Matthew is the oldest – he was born in 1977. Justin is our second son, born in 1979. Joel was born in 1985, when Matt was in 3rd grade and Justin was in Kindergarten. Believe it or not, we didn’t obtain a diagnosis for autism until Joel was 12! You have to remember, he was born in ’85. Autism was not nearly as prevalent then as it is today. Joel’s first diagnosis was hypotonia, which is low muscle tone. He was a very floppy baby, and was slow to hit all of the physical milestones – rolling over, sitting up, crawling, walking, etc. He was an extremely sociable baby—bright-eyed and engaged with people. It wasn’t until he was two that behavior began to be an issue. He had virtually no attention span, became upset very easily if his routine was disrupted, began to pull people’s hair if they got into his space, etc. His language and play skills were delayed. When Joel was three, we decided to enroll him in a multi-handicapped Kathyphotopreschool. Not that I thought he was “handicapped” (that was the word that was used in the 80’s). I was sure he was just “behind” in his development. He had to be tested to enter preschool. The psychologist sent his report in the mail. I opened it to read the words “moderate mental retardation.” (Again, this is a word that was used in the 80’s). You know what I did? I folded that report up and stuck it in a drawer! There was no way, in my mind, that Joel had mental retardation. Classic denial! It wasn’t until Joel was five that we obtained a multi-factored evaluation from Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati. And yes, Joel had moderate mental retardation as well as PDDNOS—Pervasive Developmental Disabilities Not Otherwise Specified. That’s when the grieving really hit, for both me and my husband, Wally. I think we were stuck in denial for so long because Joel was so beautiful and so sociable. It was the behavior and attention span that were the issues. It wasn’t until Joel was 12 that we obtained a diagnosis of autism. That was after he was expelled from school for aggressive behavior. The grieving came out as depression for me, and anger for my husband. Thankfully, we pursued marriage counseling as well as individual counseling to work through our feelings.

Question: How has living with autism affected your family?

Kathleen: Siblings of children with disabilities definitely get the short end of the stick in a lot of ways. A friend of mine calls them “second bananas.” So often, the child with a disability gets the lion’s share of the attention. I studied disability’s effect on the family system for my master’s degree, and I realized that many of the issues we were facing in our family were common to all families that live with disability. One of our boys began acting out, the other withdrew. It didn’t take us long to figure out that we needed to get some family counseling. That was extremely helpful! The counselor’s office was a safe space for everyone to talk about their feelings. In one session, one of our boys said “I’m tired of the way you treat Joel like royalty!” Ouch! He was right! Joel basically got what he wanted most of the time because we wanted to minimize tantrums. We helped him dress. We helped him eat. We helped him do everything! It’s funny, how once something is verbalized and brought out into the open, it changes everything. We began requiring more of Joel. We started splitting up once in awhile—Wally or I would take Matt and Justin out to do something, while the other parent would stay home with Joel. We made sure Matt and Justin had some on-on-one time with each of us. Wally took the older boys camping quite often, and we remained active in their school and sporting activities.
The other side of the coin is that sibs of children with disabilities often express a great deal of pride in their disabled brother’s or sister’s accomplishments, because they realize the challenges they have overcome every single day. These sibs develop an ability to look past a person’s outer wrappings to discover and admire the person within. When Justin was 9 or 10 he said, “I think God gave Joel to us because he knew we would take extra good care of him.” I think both of my guys are better people for having grown up with Joel. I think they are more compassionate, thoughtful men.51uYoaE2daL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Question: What is currently your biggest challenge as an autism mom?
Kathleen: My biggest challenge at the moment is allowing my son to become a more independent adult. From the beginning, we believed it was important for Joel to live as independent a life as possible as an adult—to live in his own place, outside of the family home. Because Joel loves the outdoors and animals of all kinds, we dreamed for years of him living on a farm. We were overjoyed when we found a group of parents building a farm community for adults with autism in our general vicinity when Joel was in his early 20’s. The farm was ready for move-in when Joel was 25. It took us five years to fully understand that the farm environment was not a good fit for Joel. Although Joel loves being outdoors, 30 acres of land to roam was too stimulating for him, and his anxiety grew over the time he lived there. It was also difficult for him to have three housemates, and all of the staff that number of housemates entailed. The staff turn-over was high, so there were constantly new people coming in and out of the house. That was extremely difficult for Joel. We hired behavioral specialists, worked closely with the administration of the farm, and also with the county board of DD to try and make it work for Joel, but we finally had to admit that this was just not a good fit. Joel needed to be out in the community on a regular basis, living in a house with one or two familiar staff, and fewer housemates.
It was a hard decision, but last year we bought a house for Joel in our own community, and his long-time caregiver of 13 years (who had moved to the farm with him) moved into the house as Joel’s main companion. I have to keep reminding myself that this is two guys living on their own. They don’t need a mom fussing over them all the time! We have been so blessed to see Joel blossom in this environment. He loves shopping for groceries at the local Kroger, going to Walmart for house supplies, helping do dishes, etc. His routine is very stable now. They go to the Miami University Rec Center several days a week to walk the track and swim. He sings with the Miami Best Buddies Friends Choir. Enjoys spending time with his Best Buddie, Grace, and his adopted sister, Sarah. I still tend to think of Joel as a kid—he has a very youthful face, and of course, his cognitive age is very young. But the fact of the matter is, he’s a young man in his thirties, and I have to treat him as such!

Question: What is currently your greatest joy as an autism mom?

Kathleen: My greatest joy as an autism mom is to watch Joel worship. He absolutely LOVES the Lord, and our little Vineyard Church gives him to freedom to worship as he likes. Sometimes this means standing right in front of the band, waving his hands in the air as he sings along. Sometimes it means dancing like he’s at a rock concert. Sometimes it means raising one arm in worship, his face glowing as if it’s lit from within. It is a totally awesome sight. There are plenty of Sundays when he can’t sit still at all; when he keeps saying, “Amen! Church is over! Time for lunch!” But the frustration of these weeks are swept away by the times he is visibly caught up in worshiping Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

Question: Has autism affected your faith?  If yes, how so?

Kathleen: Everything I valued in my life before Joel’s birth had to be re-thought and re-valued. – the value of intelligence, efficiency, logic, self-control. The old rules no longer applied, and my spirit, which craves peace, order, comfort, and security, withered as I struggled to make sense of the seemingly senseless…a beautiful boy with a damaged brain.
But the life-giving waters began to flow as I caught fleeting glimpses of reasons to rejoice in the midst of it all. Joel’s infectious grin, his silly jokes, his compassion for people who were hurting, his spontaneity and unconditional love. I had long struggled to fit prayer and meditation into my busy daily routine. Suddenly it was no longer a struggle. I simply made the time because the waters that welled up in the silence filled all my empty places to over-flowing. I couldn’t do without it! So, even though there was a lot of adjusting on my part, Joel blessed me beyond my wildest imaginings!

51YDFSQMbyL._AC_UL320_SR208,320_I often say that Joel has been one of the most important and influential spiritual teachers of my life. I don’t believe that God causes disability in order to teach us compassion or to bring us closer to God. However, I do believe that God walks through disability with us—I believe He draws very close to us as we walk this road. I believe that all things work for good for those who love God. I believe that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. Because of Joel, because of autism, because of the road I have walked these past 31 years, I have come to know God on a first-name basis. I have learned to depend on Him for everything, and to trust that He is working through every situation in my life as well as in Joel’s life and the life of my family as a whole.

Accept. Include. Celebrate.

FAITH INCLUSIN NETWORK T-9

This story is written in honor of all my friends who have Down syndrome.

Happy World Down Syndrome Day!-K. Jackson

I walked into the gathering slowly, tired from a long Monday that included teaching, driving, and frustrating phone calls to my bank. I was spent and ready to just pick up my daughter and get home to start the evening routine. But something happened in the moment I walked in the door…something simple yet profound.
I was greeted, not just warmly, but enthusiastically by one of my friends at The Chosen Ministry, a social ministry for persons with disabilities. No, not by my daughter-she rarely gets excited like this-but by a friend who just sees me a few times a month. As I made my way into the building my friend, who has Down syndrome, by the way, blessed me with a huge smile, a hug, and made me feel welcomed. She was glad to see me and demonstrated it enthusiastically.
Just recently, Faith Inclusion Network has rolled out our new Vision Statement with the Motto: Accept. Include. Celebrate. As a Board of Directors, we spent months making a decision about the correct wording for the vision and how to express it in a few short words. What I realized last night, was that my friend from The Chosen Ministry expressed it in a few short moments. Her actions demonstrated acceptance, inclusion and celebration. She turned my night around in a few moments, making me feel not just like I belonged in the gathering, but that I was important and would have been missed had I not been there. I felt like a celebrity when I walked through the door…just because I had shown up!
What if our faith communities where like that for every person, especially those who are affected by disability? What if, when we came through the door, we were celebrated for just who we are? The labels of Autism, Down syndrome, Bipolar Disorder, Cerebral Palsy or whatever would be irrelevant. That is the goal of Faith Inclusion Network and, I believe, of all of our partners around the country working toward faith inclusion. That all can belong to a faith community and be accepted, included and celebrated just because we showed up. Imagine the possibilities!

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Karen and Samantha working on a craft at The Chosen Ministry Norfolk