Last week ABC News had a report about Adam Race, an autistic boy, who was banned from attending Church of St. Joseph in Bertha, Minnesota. Apparently Adam had become so disruptive that the church considered his attendance a threat to others. Rev. Daniel Walz claims that accommodations were made or at least offered to the family. Now, a restraining order has been issued preventing Adam from attending services. The Races insists that no accommodations were offered and that the boy was not dangerous. While I am not personally involved, this incident has really bothered me. I have been processing the situation and formulating my response all week.
There is something about banning a person from church that just does not seem right. A church is supposed to be a place of refuge and worship for all. I have worked with teenagers long enough to know that sometimes it may be necessary, however a court order does seem excessive. I am just not comfortable with the thought of banning someone from church. Well, that is really not the point of this post anyway.
Growing up in a ministers home I have attended church my entire life and there as always been at least one disabled person who attended my church. As I reflected on the Races situation I begin thinking about observations I have made from my own interactions with disabled congregants.
Several years ago we had some friends at the church we were attending whose son was developmentally disabled son. Matthew* enjoyed attending church. It was not uncommon to here Matthew loudly proclaim, “Yeah! God!” or to cheer when our pastor came to the pulpit. When was the last time you saw someone be truly excited when the pastor started preaching? He had a desire to worship God. How many times do you are you really anticipate receiving a word from God?
Theo* is a pre-teen at our church who has Autism. Like Matthew, Theo loves attending church. He approaches worship service with much gusto. Theo loves to sing and makes a joyful noise. While some may consider Theo and Matthew disruptive I do not. Actually, I believe that both boys take a scriptural approach to worship. To them church is about God and not doing the right thing, pleasing others or appearing good. I have thought a lot about my own reasons for attending and what I do during Services. Am I really there to have a meaningful encounter with God or have other things gotten in my way?
A church is or at least should be a community of faith. In all communities diversity can or should enhance and enrich the community. It is only through interacting with those who are different from ourselves that we learn acceptance and hopefully learn to see past the differences to person. It is very easy to see only a person’s disability and not the person inside. For more on my thoughts on labels and disabilities read this.