Running with Geese!


I have done many children’s moments in my day.  I have had wonderful ones and I have had bombs, and many did not go as I expected, but that is now what I expect.  Now many young children barely understand what is being said, or why they are forced up front to talk to the person in the robe.  It is part of the traditional church to bring all the children forward, even before they want to, for the conversation about Jesus.  At my last call, either I or my wife would bring our son AJ forward for the moment often done by a lay person.  Now, young children often need to be encouraged forward and contained, but AJ did not need to be encouraged forward; however, he did need to be held.  AJ has autism, is four years old, and he struggles with sitting still. Honestly, I do as well–I have often said I became a minister so I would not have to sit still in worship.

Now my wife and I are in separate calls–three to be exact–thus Sunday morning we are in separate worship services.  So one of us must take AJ to worship, and I did this past Sunday at my traditional morning service.  The congregation has met AJ, and had observed how difficult it is to keep him attentive in the service and especially the children’s moment, but this was the first time when I would be doing it without my wife there to keep him somewhat contained.  I had a lot of help keeping him in the pew and I knew he would go with the other children during the remainder of the service, but during the Children’s moment I would bring him up with me.  I went forward with him, sat down, and grabbed my prop, which was a Soccer ball that I used to discuss about being prepared by wearing cleats, shin guards, and jerseys, as the scripture was the Pauline armor of God.  It went well, as AJ generally ran around, visited the pianist, took the ball two or three times, and I was able to get him in my lap for prayer.  It worked, mostly because I have learned to not worry about AJ’s behavior, especially where he should be included, like church.

The dialogue sermon went well as did the entire service, and during the sacred coffee fellowship I was greeted by many with positive notes.  Generally I look more for feedback, for I learn more, but then I received a compliment that made my day.  The gentleman said something about how impressed he was with my non-anxious presence with my son as I led worship.  I must admit I had to fight back the tears, for it has become who I have to be all the time and it is not easy, but in worship my non-anxious presence must be doing more than simply protecting me from glares and pity.  My presence demonstrates what inclusivity means at the Table.

Later that Sunday, I did what I do often: I posted the thought to a social media site, and I believe my friend Rev. Manny Santiago summed it up well with his post:

“Maybe what we at church need to do every now and then is to join AJ (or any other kid) and run around instead! Isn’t worship about freedom after all?”

Manny is right!  The day before this service, our family went to Wild Goose Festival West, and among the great speakers and wonderful music, we chased AJ everywhere.  Then AJ and I went to Beer and Hymns, where Mindi would meet up with us there.  AJ was intrigued.  It was the traditional music, but most everyone was up and active like AJ.  He moved in closer, got stuck in the crowd, and an older gentleman helped him over a bench as I watched.  He was out in the middle of the singing.  He stood much of the time watching the guitarist, and even strung the guitar often.  I thanked the guitarist later for letting him participate.  I have never seen AJ saw so calm in worship, so intrigued and engaged.  Manny is right: we do need to join AJ. We need to embrace a freedom from our adult socialization and to honk with the Spirit.

“…Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’” (Matthew 19:14) This passage has greater meaning after this weekend from the festival and church.  Honestly, every day when my son struggles with socialization, he seems to reveal the Spirit for me and many others as well.  I will run around with the Spirit with no care what others think, until I am utterly calm and able to hear the still small voice.

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6 thoughts on “Running with Geese!

  1. JC, thanks for putting worship in a freeing perspective, and thanks to AJ for helping us all see more than we usually see! Glad you got to go to Wild Goose west. Let’s make a lunch date with Mindi, I want to hear more about your Corvallis experience and begin to get acquainted!

  2. I’m friends with Kimberly Kirchmer Dinsdale – I wish I had been able to attend Wild Goose with her this year. My son has autism also, but he is older than AJ. He is eleven now & is actually pretty pissed off at God. He won’t talk to me about it (makes me very sad) but I get it…. he wonders why God made him “different” and is angry about it. Maybe if more people acted as your congregation and the folks at Beer and Hymns (do you really drink beer and sing Holy, Holy, Holy and Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee, etc? I would LOVE that!!)

    Anyway – one of the tasks we as parents of children on the spectrum is to love them as they are and attempt, in some way, to insist the world around them love them, too. I have had great successes in the community. And I pray, one of these days, we will find a church setting that loves him, too.

    My eldest daughter is studying Religion at Smith College with the ultimate career goal of being pastor, so I hope…. so much…. this happens by the time she graduates and gets ordained, etc.

    And finally, I cried along with you for that compliment. I once had a woman in a social service agency say to me, “You are SUCH a good mother!” and I broke down, crying. I don’t even get embarrassed anymore!

    • My biggest fear is that my son does not feel welcome at church even with two parents that are pastors (well that does drive some away who are neurologically typical). This makes me think we may need to make a summer camp for those on the spectrum to explore, just letting the juices run. I believe if we are able to welcome all we need to do just that. Wild Goose was fun and I hope to help them improve the actual child care for those with special needs. There is room for improvement there, but the rest was perfect for AJ and I look forward to another gathering. I hope you find me on twitter @revjcmitchell or fb for I would like to connect more. By the way you should check out other writings of mine on dmergent as many involve AJ but also my wife’s one where she shared AJ singing Potato, Potato, Potato, during Holy Holy Holy. http://dmergent.org/2012/08/22/the-starbucks-welcome/

  3. Thank you, JC! My wife and I are raising two beautiful girls, both on the spectrum. Michaela is higher-functioning autistic and 6 years old and she has good days and “less-good” days when it comes to the children’s moment during worship (although, lately, the good days are outnumbering the “less-good”.) My wife and I have been blessed with a wonderful church family that is understanding of children with special needs. Our ministry leaders know how to help focus Michaela during children’s moments. On days when her focus is just not there, they are really good at gracefully bringing the attention to the children’s moment and not to Michaela’s distraction. As a parent, it’s wonderful to not worry about how Michaela will act and what others will think about her behavior – even if she is having a “less-good” day.

    One thing we have noticed as of late is the number of children with special needs in our congregation. My wife and I (mostly my wife, as I am usually involved with the musical aspect of worship) have been trying to explore how churches can create comfortable and safe spaces within our faith communities for families with special-needs. Kelli had spoken with the leadership of the DisciplesNet online congregation (www.disciplesnet.org) and how well they are positioned to bring the word and worship of God into families homes, thus providing opportunities to be church while in comfortable and safe surroundings for their children. I wonder if this could be a discussion for the wider church.

    Thanks again for the post!

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