Autism and Church

Last night three other members of the congregation and I attended a workshop on Autism.  It was done by the Judevine Center on Autism and was a wonderfully helpful evening.  With two children in our congregation with Autism Spectrum Disorder, we are coming to realize the very special needs of children with autism and their parents.  One of our dreams is to develop ways to include and care for children with autism and to provide support and life-giving spiritual community and space for families with children with autism.  The challenge is huge, but I believe that if we take it step by step, we will be able to provide the hospitality of Christ’s community.  And most of all we will come to know God in deeper, more profound ways.

Last week, it took by breath away when a 5 year old little girl with autism who does not speak, slipped her hand into mine for the first time.  It was a holy moment — God’s relationship creating movement in a child’s life and in mine.

In these days as our lectionary readings are in Mark, we have been reading the texts in which Jesus casts out evil spirits, or demons.  I am so very aware that those “evil spirits” or “demons” were thought to be present in such conditions as epilepsy or autism.  In Mark, teaching and healing or casting out evil spirits was all bound up together — a teaching with authority.  Could it have been that as people truly understood the gospel, then healing took on a different meaning?   Those who were cast out, isolated because of their illness or difference could be seen as whole people and  welcomed into the  community.  Maybe then, maybe not  … but most certainly now!

Yes, the child who grows to be able to communicate and socialize more fully is being healed.  But surely it is also the case that we are being healed and made more whole day by day, relationship by relationship, as our community includes every child and every family.  God deepen our understanding and therefore our joy!

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Compton Cares Update

Judi has been taking pictures as demolition and construction are beginning at Compton Heights CC.  And she has created a blog to share the progress with friends near and far who are supporting this important step in our ministry.  I’ve added the blog to my blogroll and hope you will follow our progress … and if nearby, come worship with us.  This is an exciting time for others to join us in this ministry in the city.  The blog is:  http://comptoncaresupdate.blogspot.com

We are excited about this new commitment to be a progressive church presence in the St. Louis city.  It is a gift to build a community in mission and celebration in place.  Upcoming events include: September 16 — Homecoming Sunday with Dinner, and compiling Women’s Prison Kits for each inmate at the Vandalia facility.  These will be distributed through the Festival of Sharing.   That weekend will also be the 3rd Anniversary of “Happy Friday”– our outreach on the street each Friday Morning from 6:45-8:00 AM!!    Saturday, September 29, 4:45 — Our Choir will sing in the celebration for the 10th Anniversary of the Garden District.   Friday, October 5, an evening viewing and discussion of the movie “Amistad”.  This is a part of our Reconciliation Ministry to be an anti-racist, pro-reconciling church.   Sunday, October 7 will be a celebration of Reconciliation and World Communion Sunday.  On Sunday, October 21, we will host an ecumenical Children’s Sabbath Worship at 10:30 AM.   And Sunday night, October 28 will be a Halloween themed Game Night in the Fellowship Hall.

So, while we are under construction, we are fully in ministry!  Please visit the Compton Cares Update blog!

Destruction and Construction

Following my somewhat reflective, “isn’t it wonderful” piece on beginning the work toward accessibility …. We’re now 3 days into the process and — all the afore-said still holding — this is the truth of the moment: I’m sitting in my office and the ‘taking apart’ that comes before the ‘building’ is loud and violent sounding. There is a dust that is in everything and on everything and, at least it feels like, through everything! What was the nursery is filled with a pile of rubble and mangled steel. Old bathrooms and kitchenette have been ripped out — none too soon, if you’ve ever been in them, but nonetheless it is shocking to see.

On the east wall of the now rubbled nursery is a bright fun mural of the Noah’s Ark story. This wall will remain and will become the wall of one of the new restrooms and Noah and the animals will be covered over. (At least they’ll be near water!) For now, Noah, Ms. Noah, and the bright happy looking child-friendly beasts (a pair of each) are overseeing the destruction. It seems such a stark constrast, but, then again, that’s what the story is about in the first place: living through destruction with a promise on the other side. It will seem that the known world is ending. Relationships on the boat get tense, to say the least. And when land comes, what resources will they have to continue this new life? What will it be like? Who will join them? Is there anybody out there?! Ahhhh! The Rainbow! The Promise. I need to relax and keep on trusting…

Toward an Accessible Church

The demolition that precedes construction begins tomorrow at Compton Heights Christian Church!  After years of need and many months of dreaming, planning, revising, and revising again we are beginning.  After wondering if we could take on this project to become accessible (well, more accessible — this is a first step!), we took a step of faith.  We decided that God is in the ministry of this congregation in the city. We are called to be Christ’s Church proclaiming the gospel of reconciliation, peace, and justice in this community.

When we meet people on the street each Friday morning, lives are touched.  When we welcome those with special needs to worship and serve, lives are touched.  When we maintain our commitment to join with Christ in building a community of God’s people across the barriers of race, sexual orientation, and economic means, lives are touched.  When we refuse to allow numbers to define us, and invite God’s people to create a community of  ministry with us, lives are touched.  When this congregation cares for people who are sick, people experience God’s healing love.  We see God in each and every aspect of our life.  We are not perfectly church, but we are perfectly committed to Jesus Christ who calls us to become Church.  We love God and we love God’s people.  We struggle and we get tired along the way.  We are amazed at the gifts of God’s Spirit among us, and we are amazed at God’s ways of surprising us.  We step on each other’s toes at times, and we push each other’s buttons. Community is like that!

Parker Palmer once said that we do not get to choose who is in community with us.  The Church is the community of Christ.  As our recent readings in the Gospel of Luke remind us, the community of Christ includes those we would least expect to name as our brothers and sisters.  The community of Christ includes those who do not completely understand each other, but are brought together in the reconciling love of God.  The community of Christ also includes those who are so alike, that they drive each other crazy.  It is by the amazing grace of God that we are community.

So the demolition and construction begins.  A nursery has been moved to new space and made more welcoming for little ones.  New accessible restrooms will make the church a more welcoming place for all.  A new kitchenette will help us to break bread together on the main level of the church building.  The new  front of the church building will provide both a ramp and steps to an accessible entrance to the narthex and sanctuary.  And a new doorway will lead from the sanctuary to the hallway and restrooms.

We have not been concerned with having a fancy building.  Outreach and care of God’s people has always been more important. Remaining in the city and in this neighborhood has always been more important.  This congregation at one time spent  17 years living in the building of a nearby synagogue.  In recent years, we have shared our space with other congregations, including, for 9 years, the first Ethiopian Orthodox congregation in St. Louis.  We still share this space with two other congregations, our ecumenical urban outreach ministry, Isaiah 58 Ministries, and African Refugee and Immigrant Services, many of whom are Muslim.  Truly this is a  center for ministry in this community.

The work we are doing is only a beginning toward making the building accessible for all these ministries.  We pray that God will continue to lead us and guide us and unite us with others who share the faith and commitment to create an evergrowing and deepening community of faith in this place!

I also pray that, a stewards of all God has given us, we are able to continue to reach out in new ways to serve God and love God’s people, and to pay for the improvements needed.  We have been able to take this step of faith because so many have chosen to step out with us.  Thanks be to God!