Church to offer service for those with autism
— St. Mary Anne’s Episcopal Church is opening its doors to families with autism.
Starting Oct. 23 the church will offer a Sensory Service in its parish hall at 315 S. Main Street. Rachelan Griffin, a member of the historic church, said the service would be shorter than a typical Episcopal worship, but no less meaningful.
“It will be lower key and we’ll have a quiet corner with pillows, blankets and ear muffs,” Griffin said. The lights would be lower and music softer.
“We’re providing a place where people can come and worship in a safe environment,” she said. “We’re hoping to get a big turnout. We would love to see the community come out.”
The service will be held the fourth Sunday of each month at 2 p.m., although Griffin said December may be stricken from the schedule because that Sunday happens to fall on Christmas Day.
“We may have a sensorysafe Christmas party,” she said. Griffin is also talking with organizers of North East’s annual Christmas parade.
“We are thinking of a sensory-free zone in front of the church,” she said. That means the bands would not play, no sirens would be sounded or other typical parade behaviors which would unnerve a person with autism.
“It’s a simple thing, but it makes people feel welcome,” she said.
According to Pathfinders for Autism, autism spectrum disorder “is a complex brainbased difference that impacts a person’s communication, sensory processing, social interactions, and behavior.” The disorder presents itself in numerous ways and can be as subtle as a mild learning disability to the more pronounced cases involving repetitive motions, vocalizations and intolerance to touch, smell and sound.
In the Griffin household there is a wide range of behaviors.
“Our older son is social. He thinks dinosaurs should be at every event,” she said of Benjamin, 13. On the other hand, James, 11, is what Griffin calls the classic in autism, with the tics.
“We call them his happy sounds,” she said. James is happiest wherever snacks are served.
Even William, the youngest at 8, is excited about the service.
“He wants to be a helper,” she said.
Griffin said her family has found a home at St. Mary Anne’s.
“We’d been in previous churches where we were asked to leave,” Griffin said. “Not here. This is a very welcoming and inviting church.”
She said during one service in which James was making his happy sounds she feared the worst. Afterward a member of the congregation put her mind at rest.
“She said, “The only person he was bothering is you,” Griffin recalled.
She’s been asked how the church could make it more inviting for her boys. It was an easy leap to a worship service geared toward families with kids like Benjamin and James. While trying to write something to define the service, Griffin was tipped off to ”Rhythms of Grace,” a book about worshipping for families with special needs, written by Linda Snyder and Audrey Scanlan.
The service will be very hands on and include communion with gluten-free, casein-free bread.The fellowship hall is also handicapped accessible, which is another bonus, Griffin said.
A time of fellowship will be offered after each service.
“This is open to all ages but it’s geared toward the younger set,” she said.
Anyone looking for more information can contact Father John Schaeffer, pastor of St. Mary Anne’s at 410-2875522.
“If he can’t answer your question he’ll forward it to me,” she said.
Griffin said this inclusive service speaks of the loving nature of the congregation who have welcomed her family. She wants others to experience it too.
“Come, we love you. Come be with us,” she said.
Rachelan Griffin is hoping for a huge turnout for St. Mary Anne’s first Sensory Service Oct. 23 at 2 p.m. in the fellowship hall.