Finding a Church I can call home with my autism by Karen Binns
Written on 29th Oct 2015 by Sylvia Lowery
Karen wrote an article a while back where she shared her difficulties in finding a Church that she felt at home. Here Karen talks about her new Church and why she feels welcome and accepted. You can read about Karen’s experience here.
I have finally found a church that I am happy with and meets my needs. This has had a massive positive impact on my life. The people of are friendly, open, honest, considerate. I am always approached us with positivity, and a smile. They allowed me time to settle in. From the start I explained I was on the Autistic Spectrum which I think is important, giving them a chance to try and be understanding.
The biggest struggle for me was Communion, everyone would go up to the front and queue up, I couldn’t walk out in front of everyone, it was different to how I had previously experienced and I couldn’t cope with that. It made me sad and frustrated with myself. I was comfortable enough to text someone explaining, they mentioned it to (the wife of the vicar) Sally and she worked with me to support me, she asked if she came with me and held my hand would that help, I was up for trying it. When it was time for Communion Sally made a beeline for me and took me by the hand, I felt truly blessed that she wanted to help and I did not feel forced or awkward, no – one batted an eyelid and I did it, this was massive for me, I now go up without her, she showed me I could do it and I can!
There are many issues that can affect a person with Autism, if you take the time to listen and be patient to what that persons needs and are willing to try to make adjustments to help that is a big first step and makes us feel valued and cared about. Be accepting, we are different and that doesn’t have to be a terrible thing, focus on solutions not problems. If you are willing to make adjustments to meet a person’s needs it is likely to be the difference between whether they can manage coming to church or not. Think of it as putting in ramps for a wheel chair user. Negativity and judgements need to go out the window, only God should judge. Instead be understanding, Autism is not a choice. Don’t straight away begin to pray for a cure, I have experienced this before, however I am happy to be Autistic, a lot of us are. I feel this is how God made me and my unique view of the World can be beautiful. A person with Autism’s strengths can be used and valued within the church. Churches should let us shine in whichever we can, should we want to. Don’t assume we don’t want to get involved, ask us, invite us to be part of events. Check to see if we could be supported more, if uncomfortable with verbal communication offer other means of contact, be it text, social media, email or something else.
If there are other situations that cause me distress in the future I know they would do their best to meet my needs, a hugely important feeling to have. I am valued and encouraged and always met with genuine warmth.
Sally recently prayed thanking God for me and Craig, she said we can reach and support people they can’t due to our knowledge and passion for Autism. Accepting a person with Autism is also showing other members of the congregation and children alike that God loves everyone and we should all be accepting and supporting of each other. God is a God of love. Treat people with Autism as you would anyone else, we don’t want to feel neglected or ostracised.
I remember growing up and going to church with my family, my Mum always dressed up for church and complained that I didn’t. She was very disappointed in me for this. I was always adamant I wasn’t going to dress up smart or posh. I needed to be comfy in order to pay attention and feel ok. With Autism sensory issues with clothes can be most uncomfortable, sensory issues with different things often impact on a person with Autism. Certain materials hurt me, tights hurt my toes where the seam was, they always felt like my legs were on twisted the elastic dug into my tummy, the material of them touching my legs was so gross it made me feel sick. I would try and explain but she did not understand. I could never get my head around if God would welcome anyone to church why wouldn’t he welcome me in comfy clothes. When I first walked into St Helens Church I noticed there were people in jeans, people with loads of ear rings, people with tattoos, and yes there were those dressed in their best clothes but they were no more thought of than anyone else. I didn’t feel out of place with my blue hair! The service didn’t get boring, after 15 or so minutes with one thing another person would come up to do another bit and so on, which stops my mind from wondering.
I can now worship and follow God in an environment I feel happy, relaxed and supported with. We go to church as a family and that’s something I have been missing, my wonderful husband became a Christian a few weeks ago! It is a wonderful feeling to be amongst other Christians too! Through this church, and recommended by Sally we have started attending a house group which is fantastic and we are putting ourselves forward for volunteering opportunities! Occasionally I attend a group called Refresh which is like a house group for women held at church, my next-door neighbour, Rachel, runs it (no coincidence I am sure, I refer to this as a God incidence that next door lives a really great Christian family!) I actually struggle with this group though, most of the women bring their beautiful toddlers to the group, which I get totally distracted by (nobody’s fault). Food is laid out and everyone tucks in, where as I have a phobia of eating in front of people, I explained all this to Rachel via text, I was never made to feel like a freak though for standing out, it’s clear I am uncomfortable when the kids are playing loudly and when people eat but everyone makes me feel fine and not like an oddball. I struggle to socialize with each of them where as they are all good at socializing, I know I stand out as being socially awkward however I am not disliked for this and people are patient with me and haven’t given up on talking to me. Rachel is understanding when I text her to say I am too anxious to make it. And she more than anyone has heard all mine and my daughters Autistic meltdowns and struggles through the walls, yet she is always nice to me!
Our success at finally belonging to a church family is down to the wonderful Vicar Rupert and Sally who God works through so marvellously, they clearly follow his guidance in running St Helens Church in Sandal, Wakefield. I feel excited every Sunday at the thought of going to Church, that’s a first for me!
AND, Sally who is runs a local community centre has just offered us the centre as a new venue for our Autism Youth Group Fusion meaning we can run the youth group twice a week in different areas and reach twice as many people who will benefit from it! AMEN!!!
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