Are Our Needs So “Special” that We Can’t Participate in Corporate Worship?
For years our family merely watched church online thanks to the wonder of live streaming. We were unable to join in a corporate worship setting due to the sensory difficulties in worship we typically experienced. I, in my early thirties, suffered with chronic Lyme disease which has affected my entire nervous system, vestibular system and caused great fatigue to both my mind and body. My husband suffers from migraines while our kids both have AD/HD and some sensory processing difficulties. We have all been treated for Lyme disease and co-infections, which helped alleviate some of these sensitivities to noise, commotion, and stimulation, but some remain as a part of us, always.
After watching church for years we had a couple of weeks when we were feeling a little better and felt compelled to try attending the 6,000-member church that we had watched through their video-streaming online. We appreciate the excellence of preaching, and the passion with which we have seen the church minister. We assumed a church of that size with such a ministry would have options in which we could find a place to participate. Unfortunately, our experience told a different story.
We entered and found the guest-services desk where we were greeted politely and from there directed up hallways and passages to where the kids belonged. To register them we were left with a volunteer at a computer who asked questions and typed while we answered and waited. At the tail end of the questions, as we put our driver’s licenses away and service was beginning, the volunteer asked if we had any special needs. I looked at my two kids and my husband, and simply shrugged. The kids told me they thought they could handle the kids’ service without sound blockers or special accommodation. I didn’t want to explain aloud about their ankle-foot orthoses, their AD/HD, the low muscle tone and propensity for restroom emergencies or accidents (given the short amount of time we’d be there) or their dietary restrictions (not allergies). So, we simply said “no” and sent the kids in.
My husband helped me back to the worship center, where we pushed through the booming sound waves pouring out of the room, to a seat. I could not sit still. My body was bombarded with the cannons of sound. I was in tears. I hobbled out, clinging to the side-rail for fear of losing my balance completely. I made it to the quiet of a hallway and sought refuge in a bathroom to gather my thoughts where I could be alone.
I was ready to try again, and listened for the music to die down, as I looked around for signs, symbols, people that might indicate information or assistance for people with difficulties, differences or disabilities. I saw none. I returned to my seat to find it was time for the Lord’s Supper. I had passed a small table on my way in, on which was a large bowl of prepackaged Communion elements. I cannot have gluten or wheat and saw no sign that there was an option in which I could partake of the Lord’s Supper. It struck me that I was dis-abled from having communion with my Savior at that moment. Tears came with sobs.
When the service was nearly over (and music once again loud) I could not sit any longer. We left, and my husband went to find the kids as I sat to gather myself again. They were frazzled by the noise, and a long time of sitting where they had to pay attention in order to not kick the person sitting in front of them (on a bleacher-type seating arrangement) for a long time while “someone talked” they said. “About what?” I asked. “I don’t know” they both replied, as they could not focus on the speaker and the not kicking at the same time. The loud music was unpleasant, and the activity time was not until the very end, which was unrelated to the speaker’s message. My son told me, “It looked really cool. But it wasn’t”. Sadly, we will not return to that church. My question at that point was this: are our needs so “special” that we cannot participate?
Questions For You…
What could have been done differently that would have welcomed a family like mine (a family with sensory difficulties in worship), in corporate worship, in children’s ministry, and in community (even online)? I work with CLC (Christian Learning Center) Network. CLC Network equips congregations and schools to glorify God through purposeful, innovative inclusion of persons with varied abilities. Please visit our site for some ideas on how you might avoid such stories in your church, Check out the Roles page, where you can find out how each role in the church can help widen the welcome, and better include persons with varied abilities.
Church Services Coordinator and Consultant,