On Inclusion and Belonging -
By Brenne Schario, Executive Director
I don’t remember the last time we went to church together as a family. It must have been more than a decade.
Church is the vehicle that unites and binds us to Christ. These beautiful lyrics by John Talbot sum it up perfectly:
“One bread, one body, one Lord of all….
We are one body in this one Lord.”
The family, of whatever size, is the fundamental building block of any faith community. When I was growing up, my family went to mass together, as did most other families in our parish (at least until the teenagers got driver licenses and started going solo to Saturday night service). It was there, that community was made visible and concrete, especially on holidays, which put us in our most charitable and festive moods. Weekly church was a stabilizing and grounding tradition that I looked forward to passing down when I started my own family halfway around the world from where I grew up.
My husband and I found ourselves blessed with three beautiful boys. Our family was off to a great start. But as with so many of the plans we lay out for ourselves, going to church as a family was not a given. Our youngest son, Joshua, while gifted with lightness of spirit and a bent for music, also had aphasia and autism. This made it difficult for him to understand what was going on at church or sit still and participate in services.
So many times, we went to church only to find ourselves leaving early because Joshua would uncontrollably sound off in his own world, oblivious to the disturbance this created for those around him. This is a familiar scenario to any parent of a toddler. Toddlers outgrow this. Joshua did not. We became so self-conscious, that we could no longer celebrate mass together.
To spare ourselves the discomfort and embarrassment of Joshua’s acting out, my husband and I found ourselves going to church separately in shifts while the other stayed home with Josh. Some months, we withdrew altogether. Not only was my son not included in a faith community, the rest of my family was not fully joined either as long as we were participating in church piecemeal. This went on for years.
But recently, we decided to try going to church as a family again. Our church in Redmond has a marvelous gospel choir that seems a perfect match with Joshua’s love of R&B – if there was a mass in the world that he could sit through, this had to be it.
Maybe it was the music, or maybe he had just finally aged out of his squirrelishness, but we not only got through the whole service without incident but found ourselves feeling a part of the community again.
Okay so every now and then, his obsessive compulsion would rear its unwelcome head and Josh would make sure — like a hawk — that the occasional errant pencil at the back of the pew is right back in its holder. Every single one of them. He would reach over to the pew in front if he spots an offending pencil there. This would naturally startle the people sitting in those pews. Some would ignore him. Some would smile. Some would raise that one judgmental eyebrow. In time, people got to know him and the kids would even make sure the little pencils in their pews were in their holders too!
Being included and belonging is so much a basic and fundamental human need. Bridge Disability Ministries’ spiritual connections ministry seeks to make sure our friends with disabilities become vibrant and valued participants in a faith community. We believe an accessible heart is a community that sees first a member of the Body of Christ and then an individual with a disability.
And let’s not forget their families and caregivers either – they can find themselves marginalized as well.
Join us on June 9th for Building Bridges Luncheon benefiting our spiritual connections ministry of inclusion and belonging. Hear candid stories and inspiring insights that will challenge our assumptions and promote understanding.
Today is Sunday. Joshua went to mass with us. He even went to communion with his hands across his chest to get a blessing.
My heart smiles.