Church to of­fer ser­vice for those with autism

Cecil Whig - - & - By JANE BELLMYER


— 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.

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