(10/08/12--I am including some updates, as two years have passed since I originally wrote the post.)
About 90% of families with special needs children are thought to be unchurched. (10/08/12--I have tried to track down the source of this oft-cited statistic and have never found it. Nonetheless, I strongly believe that the percentage of families who attend church with their special needs children is much lower than the percentage of families who attend church and have no special needs children.)
Of the 10% who do go to church, I have to wonder how many are getting their needs, and their children's needs, met. Unfortunately, I ask this out of my personal experience.
Our first unpleasant experience in church came shortly after adopting Vera. I had chosen to put her in a Sunday school class with Anna, who is 10 months younger. I was a helper in the class already, Vera obviously didn't know English, and a preschool class with mom seemed like a better idea than a kindergarten class alone. The situation was ideal and Vera enjoyed her time in church.
A couple of weeks prior to promotion Sunday, however, I received a letter in the mail from the long-time kindergarten Sunday school teacher, outlining the rules for her class. I am not exaggerating when I say that she expected total and complete quiet and obedience from her kindergarteners and those who could not comply would not be welcome. Further, acts of disobedience would result in the entire class being penalized by virtue of beans being removed from the class jar, the filling of which (due to good behavior) would result in a class party.
I was gutted. How on earth could Vera live up to those standards? I knew good and well that if she needed to go to the bathroom, ask a question, make a comment, she would do it exactly when it crossed her mind. Thank God! A child in an orphanage often doesn't do those things because their initiative has been taken away from them. Over the months she had been home she had found her voice. We were still training her to use it appropriately, however, and we certainly weren't there yet. Still aren't, sometimes!
I tried to talk to the teacher and was completely rebuffed. Eventually, the children's minister got wind of what was happening and was outraged on our behalf, not to mention on the behalf of all the other kids in the class! Shortly after this happened we left that church (not really because of that, although it didn't help).
The next church we visited was even worse, if possible. It was very small and the impression we received from day 1 was that children were to be extremely well-behaved because those are the only type of children welcome in a true Christian family. On one of our first visits, we were sitting on the next to back row (the only place we felt safe, frankly) and the person on the back row told John to get Vera under control because she was distracting his perfect children. Vera, for reference, was sitting next to John and stroking his hair. Not speaking, not turning around, just playing with his hair.
Vera's teachers, a childless couple, also did not want her in their class. They tried to act like they did, but these people (and the whole church) were quite serious about the children learning every possible fact before they turned 12 and Vera was not doing that and sometimes even required extra help that took away from the smart kids. I'm not kidding. Learning was everything in this church. Putting into practice what they were learning was not even an afterthought. I've never seen anything like it. Not once did anyone (one sweet family was a wonderful exception) think that they were supposed to minister to the least of these. I can't begin to say how many church services I spent walking Vera and Emma around the outside of the church because they were showing signs of restlessness after an hour-long sermon which would have made a wonderful seminary class because the only application ever offered was to study more.
We've had mixed results at our current church. There are actually many children with special needs that attend the church, and the church has both a severely handicapped class and a Special Friends ministry that finds helpers for those children who need them. Nonetheless, within the last year I took Ella to her class where she promptly sat on the floor and refused to color with the other children. Her teachers looked at me and said, "What are we supposed to do with her?" Not even kidding. Gee, I don't know, how about bend down to her level, speak kindly to her and see what happens. (10/08/12--other than that, Ella has been beautifully accepted by the teachers and children, two of whom have personally shouldered the responsibility for Ella's inclusion in the Sunday school. The sweetness of those two girls humbles me greatly.)
I've gone to pick up Emma from her class and watched her say goodbye to every girl in her all-girls class and watched every girl completely ignore her. Not one said goodbye. Not one teacher acted like they should have said goodbye. I guess rude is completely okay if the object of your rudeness is a sweet girl with Down syndrome. (10/08/12--Song and Anna tell me that the situation has completely reversed in middle school. Emma greets and is greeted by everyone. I should have known that her fetching and friendly personality would win out.)
Can you imagine why 90% of families with special needs children are unchurched? Can you imagine the bravery it takes to even show up some weeks? Honestly, when we have a sick child on Sundays we often have our Downsie girls stay home, too, just to reduce the stress of the parent who is taking the well children to church. The stress isn't from taking them to church; they are usually well-behaved. The problem is just not knowing if they will be accepted or even treated kindly.
My hope, my big, pie-in-the-sky hope, is that Christians would remember that we all have eternal souls. We all need a Savior. Our Savior did not just come for those who can beautifully explain the doctrines of grace, who can eloquently express their hope in a risen Savior, who can expound on the doctrine of the Trinity. He came for Vera, Emma and Ella.
I Corinthians 1:26:31~~Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."
Luke 14:12-24~~Then Jesus said to his host, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."