By Sandra Brese Rice
Bethesda Lutheran Communities
“I’ve had a breakthrough! I’m so excited!” proclaimed a friend of mine who just began to pastor a congregation in Pennsylvania. He was referring to John, a young man with Down syndrome who attends church regularly with his parents.
John does not like to be touched. My friend was trying desperately to figure out how to do a blessing for him without involving touch, yet personal enough for John to recognize the importance of communion. Each time John was in church, Pastor made sure to approach him, talk to him and make him feel as comfortable as possible. Pastor never gave up, praying for him regularly and specifically. Last week, he broke through the barriers and received a hug from John! God is good!
As we continued the conversation, I began asking questions about John, discovering that he was a teenager. I asked my friend why John wasn’t taking communion and why he wasn’t involved with the confirmation class. He said that his parents said that they didn’t think he was ready for either one. I then asked him whether or not anyone had asked John if he was ready.
Many times people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are not included in basic conversations about their own spiritual life. It is up to us to educate others as well as minister with those we support.
I know that my friend was not purposefully excluding John regarding decisions for his life. Honestly, he had never faced this situation before; it really was a first for him in ministry. He was doing the best he knew how, but, this is why it is so important for us as advocates, teachers, consultants, parents and friends to continually educate those around us and to ask, “Have you asked him yet?
What suggestions would you give a pastor or leader regarding those who are cautious about being touched or approached?
How would you approach parents who need to recognize that their family member is at an age where they should be included in the discussion of their spiritual journey?
Have you ever struggled with a situation like this?
Filed under: BethesdaBlog 2012, Spiritual Life Tagged: | communion, confirmation, congregation, developmental disabilities, disabilities, down syndrome, God, intellectual, minister, Sandra Brese Rice, spiritual