Welcoming challenging members

In the wake of controversy over the Bertha, Minn. church that kicked out a 13-year old boy with autism, the Oregonian did a very interesting story about how Portland area churches addressed the problem of “challenging members”:

During weekday Mass at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Parish, also known as Burnside’s Downtown Chapel, two dozen people stand, kneel, make the sign of the cross and receive Communion.

But one homeless man, who struggles with mental illness, sits when others stand. He crosses himself over and over and over again. His voice is heard above the rest of the congregations as they speak their lines. He dashes from his seat in the last pew to be first in line for the Eucharist.

The Rev. Ron Raab, associate pastor, offers a softly spoken homily on forgiveness. Then, as he leaves the chapel, he bumps fists with the homeless man. The two have become friends.

“He teaches me every day how to be honest,” Raab says. “He prays for a shave or a shower. He prays out of his real life, not his pretend life like everybody else does.”

. . .

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.

Was it challenging? Yes. “But there was not a dry eye in the sanctuary when he finished,” Zukerman says. “It’s easy to chase someone away, but how else would a child receive a Jewish education” if clergy and congregations couldn’t be flexible?

Read it all here.

Hat tip to Chuck Currie.

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