Sundays are lovely. Mark typically does not work on Sundays (the only day he doesn’t work!), and it’s usually a nice, relaxing, family day. Most of our family begins our day at church. I say “most” because, well, not everybody goes every week. Being an interfaith couple (Mark is Jewish) and having a child with special needs, it’s actually a bit rare to see all five of us at church. My daughter and I are the most regular attendees, but each of us benefits from being a part of the church, regardless of our attendance.
I grew up going to church, here and there, with my aunt; I loved it! Sunday School was so fun, and I loved going to Vacation Bible School. As I got older, and we moved away, it was more difficult to visit that church, and eventually we didn’t go at all. As I continued to grow up, I slowly realized that I didn’t agree with certain beliefs held by some churches, and that made it difficult to find the “right” church. It’s never made sense to me to exclude anyone from being treated as an equal part of society. I don’t care who you are, what you look like, whom you love, what you believe…to me, we’re all the same, and should be treated as such. It shouldn’t even be an issue, but sadly, it is. Because I feel so strongly about this, I felt like I was being disrespectful when I did attend a church service, and eventually I just stopped looking.
Then, when Alex was born, I found myself thrown into the world of advocacy; facing new battles to make sure that someone (my Al) would be given the same rights and opportunities, even though he is different than others. Beyond that, I found myself asking the same question whenever we thought about going somewhere new or trying something different: would we be treated differently because of his Down syndrome? I’d heard stories that indicate that people with disabilities aren’t accepted as equal participants in society, even in places like church, where everyone should be welcome.
But, I’d already learned that not everybody was welcome at church; at least, not at every church. So I didn’t even try to find a place where we might feel welcome on Sundays. Then, one day I was scrolling through Facebook, and suddenly I felt like a church kind of found me. A friend (who is even more passionate about equal rights for all) posted adorable pictures of her kids, at church, on Easter. Those pictures struck me; I immediately thought that if my friend was attending a church, then this church was different. Special. Inclusive. Exactly what I wanted for my family.
After several questions to my friend, many visits to the church website, and months of debating (my husband is Jewish, remember, and we had been coping with the “religion and kids issue” by just not dealing with it), I finally attended church on a dreary March Sunday. I took Addie with me to check it out, and I was immediately welcomed, given a tour, and then someone invited me to sit with her and her friends. Addie enjoyed the children’s program; we both left that day with a warm, fuzzy feeling about our experience. We went back the next week. I took Andrew with me the next time, and finally, took Alex.
I have always been impressed with the church: the music, the messages, the building itself. But, it’s the children’s programs that really blow me away. My kids (all three of them!) perform with the children’s choir and participate in the pageants and VBS. They each attend a children’s worship service; Alex is able to spend his time in a sensory-sensitive program, which is fantastic. Usually, especially in a new setting, I am apprehensive about leaving Alex. Would his Down syndrome throw them for a loop? How will they understand him? Will he be frustrated and act out? But, I have never felt uncertain about leaving Alex so that I could attend service; no matter what he is doing (choir, children’s service, pageant rehearsal), he is treated the exact same way as the other kids. They adapt the programs for him, instead of expecting us to adapt to the program. It’s wonderful. He feels safe and loved, and because of that, he loves going…and everyone he sees while we’re there. And because the kids are so well taken care of, I can relax and enjoy the peacefulness that surrounds the services. I need that, and I am very grateful for it. On the rare weeks that I miss church, I notice myself feeling “off” throughout the week, which I attribute to missing out on my hour of quiet reflection on Sunday morning.
All of us really enjoy attending service; even Mark finds the church to be very welcoming. He joined a small group with me and we’ve developed some great friendships that we otherwise may not have discovered. More importantly, we get a weekly reminder that we are all beloved children of God, no matter what our differences may be. Everyone is the same, and we should love, respect, and celebrate one another. That is exactly the lesson I want my children to grow up learning.
On the Sundays which all five of us attend church, we go out to lunch afterward (with my children, eating out is truly an event!), then it’s on to whatever else we need to accomplish before the weekend is over.
In our chaotic (not to mention exhausting, unruly, and very, very loud…) life, this is truly is a great way to start off each week.