Have You Asked Him Yet?

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?

6 Responses

  1. In my experience, the more direct we are with the people that I serve, the more likely it is that I will get a direct and honest answer from them. Down Syndrome does not set a person apart, make them less capable of thinking about their life and of expressing their wantss and needs.

    I have found that they have a faith that far exceeds what others may think because it is not cluttered with what others may think or what they are supposed to be doing. Once they are introduced to the Lord they develop a belief that God is with them and loves them and they just want to know more.

    Ask John what he knows about God, ask him what he wants, ask him what he would like to do. He will be honest.

    THis is not mom and dad’s decision to make, it is John’s. Let him decide and then listen to him, teach him, be blessed by him and allow him to be all of who he is as a child of God.

    • I agree Chris…it is John’s faith journey not his parents. How could we involve the parents, since they know John best, so that the journey is a success?

  2. Great article. It seems we see people with disabilities and it reveals our own limitations. Praise the Lord, He has no limitations.

  3. It’s very helpful to be reminded that ALL us like to be included in decisions about our life, especially our spiritual life. Our recent confirmands included 2 young men with dev. disabilities, and they were
    very vocal about their faith.

  4. Knowing that all of us fall short of the glory of God, each of us receives help in our relationship with God, some directly from Him, some through others that guide us on our particular journey. For someone with a developmental or intellectual disability, just because they may not be able to recite the Apostles’ Creed or understand what it means to bear false witness does not mean that they have not been given saving faith by the Holy Spirit. Though the human services industry chides those who compare any adult with a developmental disability to a child, there can be similarities that sometimes come into play, and there is nothing wrong with that. There are plenty of adults who do not have a developmental disability who bear much more comparison to children, and not in a good way.
    In ministry, let us be careful not to elevate adiaphoral practices and rules to the point where they become barriers to entry – we otherwise stray toward Pharisaical hubris and lose sight of what Jesus was telling us about such things during his earthly ministry. At the same time, we as the church must also not water down the message we have been given to “teach all nations.” The pastor in the above story stayed the course, being true to what he felt the Lord was leading him to, while not rejecting the young man or keeping him from anything, and the Holy Spirit worked through this. This is a great example. The pastor did not compromise the Word or teachings of the church, but nonetheless continued his outreach to the young man and his parents.
    In Luke 18:17, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” For all of us – parents, ministers, believers – let us not hinder those, even with a simple faith, even if they cannot enunciate or explain it, in coming into a full relationship with His church, and to partake of all the wonder and mystery that those of us with our supposed higher understanding enjoy and take for granted.

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