Archive for the ‘the church’ Category

The Church Universal   Leave a comment

When I took a tour of diverse churches recently, I was blessed in ways I did not expect.

I didn’t set out to complete this outing, but when my home church renovated the sanctuary and the chemical odors coming off the new carpet and chairs were enough to flatten me, I decided on the spot that now would be a good time to worship with friends.  I’d promised I’d attend with them someday, and now was the time.

So, over the course of four Sundays, which I figured would be enough to let the fumes dissipate, I went with friends or family to an Eastern Orthodox service, a Catholic mass, a Lutheran service and a United Methodist one.  I thought it would be fun, for lack of a better word, to enjoy the liturgy, the music and the beauty of the churches, as well as giving my body a break.

But I also got these outcomes.

I learned to trust that the smallest of prayers is heard.

And I learned that we are not alone.

Yes, it was really neat to worship in other buildings, to let the beauty of the art in the Orthodox Church and the smell of the incense speak peace to my heart.  It was wonderful to see the carving in the Catholic cathedral and to study the stained glass in the Methodist church.  And the candles everywhere, reminding me of the light of the world!  The liturgy in all four, but especially the Lutheran church, made me feel that I had approached God and met with him, and that I had fully participated in that meeting.

And that was good.

But what struck me were the prayers for specific needs, specific people, specific outcomes, especially at the Orthodox church.  They prayed at length for leaders of the church and the world.  And I thought, these aren’t in vain.  People are praying for these people all over the world, every single Sunday, and probably more often.  God hears every single one and he upholds life all over the universe.  The faithful prayers of his people are an essential part of his goodness and his plan.

And the prayers and the refrains after prayer were much more similar in these churches than they were dissimilar.  Everywhere it was, “Lord, hear our prayer.”  To think.  All around the planet as we, spinning, make our daily journey, people are praying as the light touches them.  We are united in faith, in hope, in baptism.  One church; we’re not alone.

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Posted October 6, 2018 by swanatbagend in reflections, the church

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How Churches can Welcome Those on the Autism Spectrum   Leave a comment

This blog was published on The Mighty last week and I’m sharing it here as well.

 

Here is how churches can welcome those on the autism spectrum.

1. Provide training about autism for church leadership and volunteers.

Include information about autism: what it is and what challenges people on the autism spectrum face when socializing in large (and small) gatherings. Let the staff, small group leaders, and Sunday school teachers know that a person with autism may not look different, but they may act differently than a typical person. This training could be during a Sunday school hour or a half hour session as a component of a larger training. The key thing to convey is no matter how different someone on the autism spectrum may seem to be or how unexpected some of their behaviors may be, love and respect for the individual with autism and an acceptance of that person is what matters most. With an increasing number of children and adults who are diagnosed on the spectrum, chances are they will be visiting your churches. It makes complete sense for the church to be prepared to welcome them.

2. Be the one who initiates.

Individuals within the church need to initiate and develop relationships with person on the autism spectrum. They also need to understand that to fully include someone with autism may require accommodations. Don’t assume individuals with autism will blaze their own trails into the church as a whole, a Bible study or small group. You will need to be the one to make the effort (as you would with any new visitor to your church). Some people with autism may have a hard time remembering names and faces, especially in a large group setting, which might be overwhelming, such as a chaotic church vestibule. When you see the person at church, greet him or her, and don’t be offended if it takes a while for him to remember your name. Don’t be offended if people on the spectrum seem stiff and unsure; they might be doing their best to cope with sensory overload and trying not to have a meltdown.

3. Focus on authentic relationships.

Once the initial contact has been established on Sunday morning, focus on authentic friendships with the person with ASD. Follow up with by checking in and asking about some detail that may have been shared during a previous visit. Many people on the spectrum have special interests and may love to talk about those — make time to listen. Whether your follow up is next week at the next meeting, whether it is Sunday morning, whether it is by phone or text in a few weeks, it doesn’t matter. Just be faithful to follow up.

4. Invest time in cultivating friendships.

Do something practical to show your interest and care. After a few meetings, invite the person to join you for a dinner in your home or a get-together outside of church. If a specific need has been mentioned that you could possibly help with, offer that help. If such an invitation seems to make your friend uncomfortable, keep focusing on building an authentic relationship until the trust is established to spend time hanging out outside of church.

When people feel included in a group, they tend to feel more comfortable — it is no different for people on the autism spectrum. All people should feel they belong in their church family. The church will only benefit from the gifts of those on the autism spectrum. They have gifts and talents to share, wisdom and insights to offer.

Honestly, it only takes one person to begin the transformation of your church into a place of welcome for those who are different. You can start this by providing awareness training and creating an ongoing plan for the church and its members to be hospitable and accepting.

Posted May 22, 2018 by swanatbagend in autism, the church

Suffer The Little Children: Part IV in my Autism series, Updated   Leave a comment

So today I’m writing about experiences that people on the autism spectrum have had at churches around the United States.  Some people were children, one an adult when I talked with them about what it was like to attend church or youth group.

There was a general sense that other people just didn’t know how to interact, so sometimes families with people with ASDs (autism spectrum disorders) were just left alone, and did not have any overtly negative experiences.  One respondent told me that her son had a very positive experience at the church they were currently attending.  People were accepting of differences, and the congregation was friendly.  At this church, the pastor had a grandchild on the spectrum, which she said made him more understanding and inclusive.  At two other mega-churches they attended before the family found this small Southern Baptist church, their son was directed to the special needs department, which he did not need as a high functioning individual.  This lack of understanding of his actual situation seemed patronizing to him and he would not go back to that church.

Another mother, Shelly, met personally with people in leadership roles in three different churches to explain her child’s situation.  Her older teen-aged son is a talented musician who wanted to get involved by playing in the worship team.  They agreed to include him in the band.  However, when some difficulties arose in getting all the musicians in sync, instead of spending the additional time it might have taken to help him get up to speed with the band, the leader decided this young man on the spectrum was too much trouble, and he was asked to leave.  Shelly also found out later that the pastor had said unkind things about her son during a church leader’s meeting.

In a different situation, as she moved up from the middle school group, Kimberly’s daughter Julie found the high school scene to be focused on socializing and the teens who were leading the worship music.  The environment was supportive of the musical talent of these kids, leading them to rise to the top in what quickly became a popularity contest, and girls and guys who had previously been Julie’s friends in the middle school group began to ignore her.

When Kimberly met with the youth group leader to explain about Asperger’s, he wanted to assign another girl to be her friend, but Kimberly said Julie would see right through that.  She suggested instead that he create more structure for the group meetings, as she knew there were other introverted teens who were having a hard time with the long periods of unsupervised small talk and general chaos.  His response was that the majority liked the arrangement as it was, and as the group was growing quickly, Julie would just have to get used to the way things were.  Due to all the factors that were making youth group overwhelming for Julie, Kimberly decided to let her stop attending.  Then she was criticized by other parents in the church for not requiring her daughter to attend.  The family eventually left this church for one that was much smaller, where they are happy.

Most of these situations while hurtful, were not overtly dangerous.  Unfortunately, having autism apparently does put you in literal danger.  Marie left her three-year-old in the church nursery.  He was found walking along the road outside the church by people who happened by and brought him back in.  The reason?  The male nursery worker let him leave the room because he had “had enough.”  I’m not sure what behaviors a three-year-old could exhibit that would justify “releasing him into the wild” to fend for himself.

Marie also had a younger son knocked down and kicked in the head during another church’s children’s program.  No adults intervened, and when she let the leadership know, they didn’t take any action.  In both of these cases, nobody was concerned, let alone apologetic.  I’d like to provided more commentary, but on this one, I’m speechless.

The church seems to have a hard time with anybody being different.  I think this problem extends far beyond the world of ASDs.  No room is left for people to be different and for people to be loved as they are.  If you don’t raise your hands occasionally during the songs, get into the music and smile at everyone, and if you aren’t comfortable holding hands during group prayer, you are criticized as being un-Christian.  Yes, a pastor actually told the congregation from the pulpit that if you did not join hands with others, you were un-Christian.  There’s a very small grain of truth to that–but it doesn’t take into account other realities.  It dismisses the challenges those with ASDs face every day.

If a person has extreme social anxiety or a physical condition which would prevent her from holding hands during a group prayer time, this would probably be understood.  The same consideration should always be extended to any person who is worshiping in a congregation.  Consider that for people on the spectrum, sensory input or a change in routine can be overwhelming, and these challenges can be something as simple as your talking to her while she is worshiping, or asking her to move out of her accustomed spot.  These are concerns that neurotypical people often are not aware of.  But now you know–large group gatherings can be a literal minefield for other minds.

Your feelings may get hurt by what you think is odd behavior, but the focus should be honoring the needs and feelings of the other person.  Your ideas about what is socially acceptable behavior may be upset, but what is important is that members of the body of faith experience the grace and peace the church exists to share.

Love the person as he is and where he is.  Continue to acknowledge the person even when you don’t seem to be getting a response; smile when you see him; ask how he is.  Over time, your consistent love and kindness will be rewarded.  There are many valid reasons why a person may not be either able or willing to do exactly as the majority of the church body is doing during worship.  These reasons should not keep a person from being loved, valued and included.

 

 

Posted April 18, 2018 by swanatbagend in autism, the church

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I Feel for Crocodile Dundee   1 comment

Don’t let the church ever be New York City for Crocodile Dundee.  Remember the scene where, newly imported from Australia, he’s walking the sidewalk saying “G’day, mate” to every person he passes?  If anyone looks at him, it’s in the sense of wondering if he’s grown another head.  Where did he come from?

Contemporary culture seems to demand that we remain in our own little space, in our own yard, on our own block.  This is the exact opposite of what the church should be.  Even a big church.

There’s enough of that going around already.  There’s enough of us pretending we don’t see our neighbors when we are outside in the yard.  There’s enough of us staring intently at our phones in waiting rooms and restaurants.  There’s enough of us walking past people we know as if we are busily on our way to a much more important destination.

I’m sure part of this perspective is just me.  I love talking to people, and I enjoy people.  So, this morning when I was in the greeting card section at the store, I actually liked it when a friendly looking woman asked me if I knew what a pug looked like.  “Is this one?” she asked, holding up a card with a funny looking little dog on it.

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“Shoot, I’m trying to find a card for someone who loves pugs….what about this one?”

“I don’t think that’s one either,” I said, “but I don’t know what it is.  I know I’d know a pug if I saw one.”

We went back and forth laughing at the dog cards and our general lack of knowledge of dog breeds.  I loved that some woman in the greeting cards actually initiated a conversation with me.  It was fun.

So, keeping that in mind, it may be my idea of what interactions would be normal are a bit skewed.

However, I am also certain that our culture’s definition of “normal human interaction” has gotten a bit skewed lately.

So imagine Crocodile Dundee, especially in a big church.  Don’t walk past him.

Gospel Elitism   Leave a comment

I’ll just say up front that the title of this blog is deliberately contradictory.

Gospel and elitism do not go together, but maybe I got your attention.

Take Jesus.  He spent most of his time on earth with earthy people.  He did not hang out with the mighty, wealthy, non-odiferous and powerful.  Humble would be more like it.  He did not cast out people because they weren’t cool enough or good enough or holy enough.

In fact, his harshest words (that I can find) are directed toward those who looked pretty good on the outside.  He called them whitewashed tombs.

Two women I know: one of them went to a Christian school for several years when she was a child.  The other had Christian roommates when she went to college.

One was teased and tormented by girls at her school, until her parents eventually found out about it.

The other was ostracized by her roommates, and made to feel that she was less holy because she wasn’t doing the Christian things they were doing.  She wasn’t living her life the way they thought Christian people are supposed to live.  I really don’t know what it was she wasn’t doing–Bible study? small groups?  going to a certain church?  having daily devotions that other people could see?  praying before meals in the cafeteria?

Another woman I know was at a homeschooling field trip when the person next to her initiated conversation by asking where she went to church. The woman replied that she was a member of a different faith.  The person who’d asked about church immediately turned her back on the woman and started conversing with someone else.

There is an open invitation to the table to sit down with Jesus, but, are people going to want to sit down with the ones who are already there?

If we ask them to come join us–will they have any desire to do so if we are hypocritical, self-absorbed, judgmental, and cruel?

Posted November 3, 2016 by swanatbagend in the church

Why I Generally Don’t Miss a Sunday   Leave a comment

There is almost always something I need to hear in the liturgy, in the readings, in the music, or in the sermon.  I can’t deny this.

There are days when I don’t want to get out of bed, or just don’t feel up to the process of eating, dressing and hurrying everyone out the door to get to church on time.

But I have found even on those days, that, when I follow through on my basic rule of thumb which is “Go anyway,” I hear just what I need to move me past the obstacle that made me debate the need to go in the first place.

I’d be a fool not to go.

Posted September 1, 2016 by swanatbagend in the church

What I Miss about a Small Church   2 comments

For most of my adult life, I have been a member of small churches.  During the last five years, we ended up making an unprecedented shift to both a different denomination than the one we’d been part of for twenty-five years, and to a church much larger than any we had attended before.  It didn’t start out large as it was a church plant, but it rapidly grew to several hundred and went on up from there.  It’s now at about 700.  To me that is huge.

I didn’t expect to be a member of a church that big, of course.  Starting from a small group one doesn’t know what to expect.  It just kind of took off.

Now that I’ve experienced both, there are some differences I’ve noted.

In a small church, there are always financial challenges, of course.  If the pastor says he will eat beans if he has to, you know two things.  One he’s an amazing man, but two, you have a financial problem.

If there are personality conflicts that cause big problems, they are front and center in a small church.

It is hard to find people to fill all the roles that need to be filled.  There are only so many adults who can be elected deacon or elder.

One of the main difficulties with a small church body is it can be quite problematic to get the needed momentum to pass the boundary of awkward into do-able.  People who want to just blend in are not going to be comfortable attending a church where they stand out.  Many people who are looking for a church may have expectations about size, programming, dynamics and so forth.

The good point of a large church are that there are lots of people.

There are people to volunteer in the nursery, there are people coming in who are interested in serving, although, honestly, in big churches as well there can be problems with motivating people to serve.  Big churches can have financial problems, too, but I think it is less likely, barring some disaster in leadership, which thankfully I have not experienced.

Big churches are more likely to have vibrant children’s and youth programs, as those can more easily be funded and fueled, and there are more kids there to keep the momentum going.

But I’ll tell you what I miss.

I miss being in a body small enough that I know everyone.  That takes a small body, as in 50-100 strong.

In that setting, there are few enough people that over enough fellowship dinners, service days, and nursery work, you get to know people well.  It creates an intimacy that is often missing in the general culture.

A small church united in a common cause is a force to be reckoned with.  When someone has a problem, it is noted, and people draw in around the sufferer to help.

Over time, devotion of that sort creates a very strong bond.  Family would not be too strong of a word.

That’s what I miss.

Posted July 21, 2016 by swanatbagend in the church

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