I’ve had a lot of great feedback and response to the start of this blog. Many people have said “thank you, we need this conversation desperately!” Some people have shared ministries they’ve participated in long ago that sought to form autistic children in the faith. Some people have reached out to tell me about the amazing programs and ministries at their churches like special services for autistic kids, respite care to give parents of autistic children a break, etc.
It has been amazing and life giving to hear the stories and see people reach out because of this blog. As we continue to unfold this conversation, more of these stories will come to light and we will celebrate what the Body of Christ is doing well.
The conversations have provided an opportunity to make two important distinctions about the vision we’re laying out here at Team Quirky Catholic.
The first is that we’re talking about more than a program or special needs ministry.
Don’t get me wrong; inclusion HAS to include programs and ministries for autistic individuals and their families like the monthly respite program at a local mega church or my own parish’s monthly Sacramental Prep class for kids with special needs.
Inclusion is MORE than just programs or ministries, though – inclusion is a cultural shift of the entire community.
Inclusion is a process through which the autism community is no longer a “them”, but part of the “us”. It involves knowledge, attitude, and practical skills. Inclusion is a parish-wide reality that moves from welcoming to belonging, to integration of all groups within the parish. Because it’s parish-wide, it means that inclusion touches upon all three aspects of parish life: liturgy, formation, and community – not just one or two of them. There WILL be posts in the future about how to this process works and how we can make strides in the areas of knowledge, attitude, skills, etc.
The second distinction is that inclusion is not just for a handful of churches in an area; it’s for EVERY church.
Theologically, scripturally, missionally, it is the responsibility of every church community because it is the responsibility of every member of the Body of Christ to be inclusive of every other member of the Body of Christ with special regard to individuals who are marginalized and/or vulnerable. This includes individuals with special needs, cultural and ethnic minorities, the elderly, the unborn, the poor, etc. No one should have to abandon their faith, their theology, their rituals, or their community because some or any members of the Body of Christ are unwilling to recognize the dignity of people with special needs or put in the effort to integrate those needs into the community.
So be prepared for some awesome tools in the coming months related to programs and ministries for the autism community, but let’s always keep in mind the bigger picture of whole-parish inclusion.
Do you know of a church that is doing a great job with more than just programs when it comes to autism and inclusion? Let me know in the comments.