It's Easier Than You Think!
by Daniel D. Maurer, Clergy Stuff Creative Content Director
Autism Spectrum Disorder is called a "spectrum" for a reason. The plain truth is it is difficult to create any sort of program or take steps to craft an outreach that meets everyone's needs. There is no "one size fits all" methodology to embrace which will provide a foolproof approach to ministry for everyone.
I mention autism specifically, because our family is directly impacted by our son's exceptional requirements to fit into a society that still doesn't fully understand or accept the way he perceives the world. The fact of the matter is there are many exceptional people who are also God's children with widely varying issues.
However, the good news is that leaders and congregations can take one, simple step to begin the conversation to make change a reality. In my other incarnation as a recovery writer, I often dive deeply into the process of personal transformation. It's never easy, but generally speaking, real transformation always begins with very simple, tenuous steps, and sometimes with just one, intentional first step!
The First, Easy Action You Can Make, Right Now
I'll get right to the point. What is the one, simple action your faith community can begin with?
>> Listen <<
Yeah. It's just that easy. Talk with us and listen to our experience! More concretely, see how God's Exceptional People have something to offer, rather than hinder what you're doing or serve as a "special group" for "outreach."
Let me give you an example.
Just this past Sunday, our congregation in Saint Paul, Minnesota had planned a children's peace march. Our son, Josh, didn't want to participate in the march itself. Between services, however, our pastor needed to set out the peace signs the children would be carrying. My son and I were sitting in the narthex and saw that our pastor was going to be doing the work himself.
Immediately, the pastor asked Joshua to help carry out the signs with him. Josh said, "Sure!"
It was one, simple way for Josh to feel needed. And it was all because of a simple question: "Can you help me?"
Often listening to families and people with special needs goes beyond the occasional plea for help. I think what's most important for leaders to comprehend is that parents of exceptional children sometimes don't know the best way to proceed with their child's faith development any more than anyone else. Your faith community's ministry works best when the lines of communication are opened. Unfortunately, the opening of those lines usually takes church leaders' initiative, because many families with exceptional kids often don't feel comfortable (or have the courage) to begin that conversation.
The super thing about listening where people are coming from, though, is that faith leaders can begin to understand what works and what doesn't.
One of the great advantages of using the Narrative Lectionary is that the narrative arc of this resource tries to get at the overarching "Big Story" within scripture. Your congregation's Exceptional People fit into that Big Story in probably many more ways than you realize.
But you can't know that until you start to listen.
What ways is your congregation hearing—and really listening—to the needs of people on the autism spectrum? With ADHD? With mental illness? With dementia or Alzheimer's? Or even people in recovery from addiction or depression?
We'll continue this conversation. Clergy Stuff is dedicated to producing worship planning and other congregational resources to begin to hear what ALL our members need to make their faith real and relevant in today's world.
Please comment below and feel free to contact Dan if you would like to write for this blog to share your experience—listening needs to go both ways and we'd love to hear from you.