The Christian Church is far from perfect.
I, and my family, are so lucky to have found in St Anne’s a small branch that is growing, thriving, outward-focused, community-centred, accepting, caring and inclusive. We are fortunate that Benjamin, although ‘complex,’ is not ‘challenging.’ Yet I am confident that, even if he were noisy, disruptive, violent, or anxious, our church community would do everything in their power to welcome us; that they would see this as a shared problem to solve, not a personal problem to ignore.
This isn’t always the case. It’s not easy being a SEND parent, and the Church can be a great support – but it can also be a challenge or even a hindrance. I’ve been asked this week to share an anonymous post written by a fellow SEND parent and a fellow Christian (if I am honest, a more committed Christian than I, who lives and breathes the Spirit in her life and in her writing). I am both saddened and excited to share this post.
Saddened that not everyone is treated they way we have been – with gentleness and compassion.
Excited that through sharing these words I may be able to help encourage and promote change in the church and elsewhere. Every group – perhaps especially every church – can always do more to avoid becoming complacent, cliquey, and to foster inclusion for all members, especially those who no longer show their face or raise their voice.
“My faith means everything to me. Church has always been a huge part of my life but now I wonder if I should continue going.
I went faithfully every week before I had children. When my daughter was born I continued to take her from the first Sunday she was born. She remained with me in the service until she was toddling and then she attended the crèche where I took turns helping out.
Everything was going well until it came time for her to leave crèche and start going to Sunday school instead. I went with her for the first few weeks but she really wasn’t enjoying it and I reasoned with myself she was perhaps still too young or just struggling with the change.
I spoke to the person who was running the crèche and they agreed my daughter could stay in crèche a few months longer. We tried again but she still hated Sunday school so I would bring toys with me and keep her in the service with me. In the beginning it wasn’t too bad. She would look at books, play with her happyland figures or sit on my knee for a cuddle.
Then she started getting bored and disturbing the service so I would stay in for the worship and slip out to the foyer with her and her brother for the rest of the service. If I am deeply honest I hated it. I hated the fact I was no longer included or could listen to the sermon. I was upset my children did not like Sunday school and that all of a sudden I seemed invisible.
I have had church in the foyer for six years now. My daughter is now 9 and still hates Sunday school. But something has changed: not only does she hate Sunday school she now hates church completely.
At 5 she was diagnosed with autism. I used to be able to stay in the service for the worship but now that stresses my daughter so much she screams. The music is so loud, the church is so busy and the lights are so bright. I rarely manage through the first song before I find myself back out in the foyer with my children because my daughter is crying and screaming.
I loved church for years but now my daughter hates it and I am heartbroken.
My eyes have been open to things I never noticed before. It seems churches want children who will take part in nativity plays, sing choruses with actions at Easter and fully engage in summer holiday clubs. They want children who can fit in with the programme, who require no additional support and who respect the volunteers. They want the children who run enthusiastically into the hall when it is time to go and bring out lovely crafts to show their parents when the sermon is finished.
What about the children having church in the foyer like mine? Children who find church difficult, who find social situations a huge challenge, who get overwhelmed by noise and crowds and change.
The very mention of going to church now makes my daughter anxious. She recently told me she doesn’t feel welcome there at all.
That broke my heart.
No amount of toys or technology or books can convince my daughter to come to church with me any more. Bribery has lost its appeal now and I fear I am damaging her spirit by forcing her to come against her will.
Yet my faith means everything to me still and I want to be in church.
I am broken hearted that church is not the place of love and acceptance to my child with autism that it should be.
Until that changes I have to put her first. So from now on I won’t be at the place I love on a Sunday anymore.
My daughter will be happy. I am heartbroken.”