I’ve been to plenty of perfectly choreographed worship services. Every syllable of the liturgy was flawlessly executed. Every note sung by the choir was glorious. Every word of the sermon was inspired. The Spirit was present.
I’ve been to even more worship services that some would call imperfect – or even sloppy. There was the time someone forgot to fill the baptism font. (And one of the ushers recruited a child to come forward with the family carrying a pitcher for me to use. “I’m the water bearer,” she whispered to me. And the role of “water bearer” was born in that church.) There was the time a deacon’s scarf caught fire on Pentecost. (And as she tore it off her neck, the pastor leaped up and stomped out the flames to great applause by the congregation.) There was the time the five year old was reading the Psalm of the day and she couldn’t pronounce her “R”s. (And it was lovely.) There was the time an elder who’d been recently diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia started playing with the hair of the first time visitor sitting in front of him. (And after the elder’s wife explained what was going on, the visitor smiled and said, “No worries.”) The Spirit was present at each of these moments as well.
Yesterday in Cambridge, England Dr. Paul Brandon Rimmer wrote a “letter of apology” to the Dean of King’s College regarding the “disruption” by his 9 year old son during the Evensong service on Father’s Day. Apparently young Tristan is a non-verbal person with autism, and yet he expresses delight by making joyful noises when he is happy. He was happy during Evensong.
An usher invited Dr. Rimmer and his family to leave because Tristan was being disruptive. This happened in a church that welcomes all – even “the disabled” – according to their communications.
What exactly was being disrupted Sunday night?
- Was it a performance much like a concert or a play?
- Was it a worship service with the expectation that everything (even the joyful noise of a young worshiper who cannot speak) is for the glory of God?
[Dr. Rimmer notes that he and his family thought that Evensong was a worship service, but apparently they were mistaken.]
This unfortunate episode in the King’s College Chapel reminds us that we need to ask ourselves in every church-related activity:
Why are we doing what we are doing in church?
- To perform?
- To check off a list of “things churches do” whether we truly want to/need to do them or not?
- To make the church matriarchs/patriarchs happy?
- To compete with the church down the street?
- To glorify God and enjoy God forever?
Thank you for this Jan. We have a 29 year old daughter who has global developmental delays who vocalizes when she is happy especially during the singing or playing of music. I always think of this as her way of singing and praising God. I can’t help but think that God is smiling down at her during these times. I am thankful that we have a church that welcomes her.
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The Dean has responded and it’s worth checking out…
Thanks for sharing there was an apology. Here is the link for that.
I often think if God wanted that kind of perfection, we would not have been invited to the party. Someday someone will figure out there IS a difference between excellence and perfection.
thank you for this, Jan. It’s a keeper.
Decades ago, in a Baptist church we attended, a family had an autistic son. Although he could verbalize (he talked about Christmas, nonstop, in the Sunday School class I taught), he was often very quiet during worship services. However, sometimes, when he too was very happy, he would stand up, in the middle of the sermon, and start singing. We all just turned and listened. His parents were often embarrassed, but the congregants thought of it as part of the service.
That young man died at a young age due to digestive problem common to autistic people, but to this day his family remembers how well loved their son was.
I suspect heaven will be raucous! What I would have given for happy noises when at church with my son… instead of the caterwauling and biting and so on. When the behavior is truly unseemly, parents and their beloved children will leave without being asked.
Dear people that are okay with this sort of behavior,
Please tell us parents that this is the case.
I removed my child with ASD from the church sanctuary just last week. He’s verbal, high functioning, smart, and able to follow directions most of the time. But he loves music. He’s quite brilliant when it comes to it, actually, despite being hard of hearing, he appears to have perfect pitch. And he has a type of synethesia that allows him to see colors with each note he hears. So he finds his favorite color/note, and matches it. Singing loudly with the congregation, and sustaining the note long after the last notes of the organ have faded.
That’s when we remove him. And that’s usually the point in the story when I cry a nice long sustained cry, and pray that somehow, against all odds, my child might find a way to belong.
There have been many Sundays where I wonder if it’s even worth going to church, knowing that I’ll spend most of the time sitting in the hallway holding my child — because he doesn’t belong within the sanctuary walls. Or, if I’m being truly honest, we leave because I feel judged as a parent when I’m in the sanctuary with him. When he was younger, we’d receive smiles of sympathy when he’d have an outburst. People understood, he can’t help it, we’ve all been there. Now he’s old enough for it to be no longer cute. There aren’t smiles, there are instead stares of shock. I feel utterly other. Excuse me, church, while we go to the corner and hide. We will stay there until we are invited back in and told that we are okay, just as we are.
Please don’t go and hide. Stay. Meet the looks. I hope you have friends in the church who can explain to others who might be visiting that this young man is one of the family and his responses are loved.
We now have a new baby in the church. She loves to “sing” and gets very excited when her father is in the pulpit serving as liturgist. We are her family and love her cheering and singing. We would never want her to leave.
Alas, once the child is older, it is no longer cute and loved. It becomes disruptive and unruly and parents become to blame for not training up the child in the way they should go.
I am almost 40 years old and I have Autism. Been diagnosed since age 17. I am high functioning. In my church, I have tried to educate the church about Autism. However, some in my church refuse to learn and remain ignorant of what Autism is. I feel that church should be a welcoming place for all believers no matter if they have a disability or not. It makes me sad when someone with a disability is shunned or turned away from a church. Church should be loving and caring. It should be a place that all are welcome. I am glad to read that things in this situation will be resolved so that all believers can worship at this church. All churches need to take a look at how they treat people with disabilities. They need to have policies in place that allow those with disabilities to worship along with other believers.