Saturday, August 16, 2008

Pastors welcome members with autism, Asperger's

In light of the Adam Race case, in which a teen with autism was barred from a Catholic Church in Minnesota, the media are covering other ministers and priests who take a different approach to parishioners who may have autism or Asperger's.

The Portland Oregonian reports on clergy there (pictured left) who try to welcome people with all kinds of disabilities into their flocks.

The Rev. John Beck, pastor of St. Timothy Lutheran Church in Southeast Portland, says his weekly congregation of about 85 includes five to 10 physically and mentally challenged people, including some from neighborhood group homes.

"Sometimes, we need to make accommodations so they can be part of the community," he says. At a recent service, a woman walked to the front of the church and took the microphone. "She can't talk well and she stumbles, but she thanked everyone for praying for her brother," Beck says. Sometimes he must remind her not to put her fingers in the common Communion cup.

Two members with Asperger's syndrome are greeters before services, Beck says.

The presence of people with disabilities or those suffering from illness is a blessing to St. Timothy's congregation, he adds. "All together, we are the body of Christ."

Arthur Zuckerman, senior rabbi at Congregation Shaarie Torah in Northwest
Portland, says he helped a teen with autism prepare for his bar mitzvah at a San
Diego synagogue.

And the Religion News Service reports on the Damascus Road Community Church in Maryland that created "The Haven,", which provides a calm, structured atmosphere for its members with developmental disabilities such as autism, Asperger's syndrome or other conditions that may make sitting through a typical church service difficult or impossible.

Created about 10 years ago by parents with special-needs kids, it's just one example of how religious institutions are trying to welcome families - who otherwise might stay home - into a faith setting that works for them and their children.

"It's better than everything else in my life," said Alec Carlson, 15, who has Asperger's and joined 10 other people on a multicolored mat during the Scripture lesson.