PERSPECTIVES: The Path of Spiritual Advocacy

By Teresa Heard

The church has always been a haven for my husband and me since we were children. It has been a place where I felt I was a part of something spiritually and socially. My mother was an advocate to find me a spiritual home.

So, now as a parent, this was a journey I never thought would be as hard and wrought with so many barriers. 

For my son Derek, who has developmental disabilities, church has not been a place that we have seen as a safe haven. It historically has been a place of glares, whispers and criticisms. It is the “hush” sound that others shout when he makes a noise. It is the stares we receive when we come into service late because the music playing is too loud for him. It is the tapping on our shoulders to have our child escorted out because other people are complaining about him laughing out loud periodically. It is the place we leave exhausted and tired because we struggle through the sermon trying not to scream out at everyone ourselves.

It eventually became the place we stopped taking our child to. It is hard enough to just get him ready for church in the morning, much less suffer the judgment we felt once we got there. So, we began to take turns going to church so that my son did not have to endure the ridicule. But, as my son has gotten older and we started having more children, my concern for his spirituality grew.

Why can’t my son have a relationship with God in a church? Is there not a place for him as well? We finally came to a crossroad in our lives several years ago – that taking turns going to church and my son attending church occasionally was not an option for us. He was older and asking so many questions about who he was and who God was. So, we began the journey again to find a church for all of us.

As I looked around for a church to call our spiritual home, I began to slowly understand that the advocacy I was doing for my son in other arenas of his life would have to apply to spiritual advocacy as well.

Now with my son approaching 17, he attends church services at a local church. He does not get the glares anymore and he sits relatively quiet at church. I still have the question in my mind of how much does he understand and is he getting what he needs spiritually out of it?

I realize that I will have to create a path for my son in church, rather than wait and hope for a change to come. It is overwhelming at times to think of it, but I have kept the single thought in my mind – to feed the masses, a few fish and bread is all that is necessary.

Teresa Heard is a parent advocate and member of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities.

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