Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Church Monster: One Side of the Story

Did you miss yesterday's post?  If you missed it, you might want to click here.  If you did read, welcome back!

So what do you do when you and your child are doing your best and someone treats you like Mr. BlueShirt treated us?

For us, the biggest concern wasn't what we'd do, but what would have happened had be been visitors that day.  I mean real visitors.  As in, looking for help, looking for a church home, looking for hope visitors.  Those glares are the very things that shove hurting hearts that much farther into the darkness.  They are the very things that make the church steps seem like Mt. Everest and the doors fiery and impossible.

And that's just if you make it out of the house.

Because honestly, why should these people leave their homes on a Sunday morning?  They can go to the local grocery store to be glared at, or just about anywhere else where a child is expected to behave.

I must add that I know this church well.  I know that, as I mentioned in "Talking" last week, that for every one of the Mr. BlueShirts out there, there are several folks who aren't only okay with existing with us in the same room, but also reach out to encourage us and Ryan.  

The thing is just that... we knew this place already.  We knew walking in that we're more than welcome.  But what if we didn't?  Let's touch on a few more what ifs that I've either experienced or heard of. 

What happens when you walk to the door of the Sunday School class and are told that your child can't participate?  

What happens when an usher taps you on the shoulder and offers to show you the nursery? 

What happens when you're asked to teach your child's Sunday school class, but you're not called to teach?  

What happens when you're told you must stay in class if your child is going to attend?


Let's look at the worship service first.  Any quiet time is going to be hard for kids like Ryan.  The answer is not shocking, and it's not magical.  It actually might sound a little trite, but please stick with me.  What would Jesus do?  Does Christ really expect people who aren't capable of following said rules to kindly leave the premises?  Would He glare until we got the hint? 

Isn't carrying the gospel of Christ to everyone regardless of race, color, culture, ethnicity, socioeconomic status or any other difference really supposed to be our goal? 

So if a kid behind you is making noise, take a second to take a deep breath.  You have no clue what those people faced to get here.  You have no idea where their hearts are.  Even if the child looks normal and looks old enough to know better, that is not anyone's call but the parents.  Personally, we believe that Ryan must learn now to be quiet, sit still, and take in the message to the best of his ability.  How do you do that?  You practice.  And as far as Ryan's concerned, routine is key to understanding anything. In other words, we can't lock him up in a room until he's old enough to get it.  He needs practice.  We keep him in the service as long as the noise is low-grade.  In other words, when he's about to completely lose it we will remove him from the service to cool down and calm down.  

Really, think about it.  What anyone is saying with a glare is "You are bothering me.  Your behavior is interrupting me and my church experience. Please cut it out or leave."  And in in saying that, we place our importance over another person.  In other words, we're saying that "My experience is more important than your experience, and you should hurry up and conform because you're causing me discomfort."  

I guarantee you that nine out of ten parents, special-needs or typical, are doing their best to keep their child in line.  Even without someone exhibiting a distaste for my boy's behavior I'm honestly concerned about those around me.  I've come close to thinking it would be better for all parties involved if we just stayed home.  Over time, God changed my heart on that.  Ryan needs to be there as much as anyone else.  And I know I need it.  

In a previous church, we had a pastor who would, especially when he noticed me struggling to keep Ryan together in the service, seek me out after the service to tell me to keep my chin up, keep going, and that he thinks I'm doing a great job.  This is with my child half-crawling all over me, and after he started hollering during some pretty quiet times.  

I swear I grew a foot and my shoulders dropped from my ears when I heard that.  The tears I was choking back became tears of relief.  He handed the love of Christ to me in just a few words and just a few seconds.  I've seen it, and I believe, that when an attitude of love and acceptance toward others is not only expected by the pastor but is seen in his character, life, and ministry, that attitude flows to the rest of the church over time.   It is not solely his responsibility, please do not misread that.  We are all to be sharers of the gospel, and we cannot blame our mistakes on that one man.  Please, they have enough to worry with... they are in an odd situation, being sinners yet teaching as they are taught.  But a pastor who is proactive in this manner will bring about change for the better.  

In the same manner, an organized church, no matter how small, can minister to these children!  There is a great and growing need for churches to educate themselves and have a protocol in place for their Sunday school teachers before that child reaches the door.  Notice I said "before".  This cannot be retroactive.  The pain inflicted from a "sorry, your child isn't welcome here" is not easily smoothed over.  A church says that one time to a parent, and that parent will likely not be back.  Please hear me... this is crucial... that is a heart injury that cannot be taken back!  The only way to avoid this is preparedness.  

I truly believe that "let me show you where to go" should be the response, should a child be in the wrong place.  If the child is in the right age group (yes, they should be with their peers) and has a special need, this is where that protocol comes in handy.  This is where teachers need to be ready to ask questions and really listen to the answers.  Part of the protocol should be on-call volunteers throughout the congregation.  

On Ryan's first Sunday at our home church, to be concise, he had a rough time.  Hitting, screaming, yelling, rough time.  You know what?  We didn't find out until after Sunday school!  They handled it.  When the noise echoed through the halls, deacons descended, offering any help they could.  They kept Ryan safe, did their best to help him have the best morning possible, and everyone survived.  No one sought counseling or ended their teaching career over it.  He was, is, and will always be unconditionally welcome.  There is no "special needs ministry" in our not-that-old church.  The budget isn't ginormous. Because when a child is melting down, no amount of money helps.  It's hearts ready to carry the gospel no matter the cost that get the job done.  

 The thing people don't realize is that acceptance doesn't necessarily take that much work, and for true acceptance to take place everyone must be willing to at least extend a smile.  If you do already teach a  Sunday school class and haven't considered what you'd do, it's time.  If a child with autism hasn't walked in your class yet, depending on where you live, there's a 1 in 100 chance one will Sunday.  You can start here and then maybe go here.  You might even go here and give 'em a call (we visit there a lot).  When a child does walk into your room, take a minute to listen to the parents, talk with them about what they can expect and make sure you hear things like "he has to be watched or he'll bolt/wander" and "he's allergic to..." and "please be sure to avoid...".  They're not being paranoid.  They know their kid.  Honestly, anytime anyone blows me off or cuts me off, I know it's going to be the opposite of a good experience.  If the family is coming to the church to stay, or becomes a regular attender, please make sure to schedule a meeting to talk about how you can incorporate their child.  Share and listen alike.  This open communication is key in this child's success in your class.

And dear, precious church-goers, teachers, remember... and really read it, take a minute to let it soak in...

13  And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15  Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. ~Mark 10:13-16

It doesn't say "let the normal, easy to handle ones come to me".  

That protocol I'm talking about?  Most of it is a willing heart and a passion for the gospel.  Those deacons didn't know when they left the house that morning what they'd be doing.  They thought they were going to church.  

They didn't just go to church.  They made it possible for us to do the same. 

Thanks be to God for the willing hearts, and for you making it through another post.  Tomorrow, another side.

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