I had the opportunity this past week to meet up with some old friends in England.
For the sake of discretion, I will change the name of the particular person I am thinking about today. His name is Philip but I’ll use the pseudonym ‘Phil’ to hide his identity.
Phil is autistic. He has Aspergers Syndrome (AS) to be exact.
Phil is also a functioning member of society – and I am very proud of him for functioning so well in society.
It doesn’t take long with Phil to see and experience the effects of his AS – it manifests itself in his social interaction making it very hard for him to understand and learn what is appropriate and inappropriate in any form of social setting, even just one on one conversation.
Phil tries VERY hard though and has come further than most people would ever have thought possible. He should be very proud of himself.
For the majority of the three hours I was able to spend with Phil, we talked about church and I was very saddened to discover that Phil has learned two things about the churches he has tried attending:
To be truly accepted, you need to be at least 30 years old, have a mortgage and a 5-figure salary and preferably be married.
If you are a 20-something young man with any form of mental illness, you just won’t fit in and in the long run will be either sidelined or forced out.
Phil tries hard to understand the faith, he really does. I am amazed at how deep his understanding of theological things is – and how closely what God is teahing him mirrors what He is also showing me.
What he needs though is someone to guide him in his spiritual walk – someone like a pastor for instance.
Now, I cannot truly comment on what the churches Phil has tried attending have done, I haven’t spoken to any of them, but I can say this: They have left Phil feeling like they don’t have the time for him, that maybe he should come back when he’s ‘normal’.
In my opinion this is a tragedy.
The church should be the one place that Phil can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is loved, accepted and wanted.
YES, Phil is hard work and can be very frustrating at times and YES he’s not typical of the general population that the church is trying to reach. However, the general population simply will not start taking the church seriously until it actually starts showing that this love and acceptance stuff that it talks about is more than just words, it’s an attitude of heart, a lifestyle that they are ready and willing to live. The world will not believe that the church is anything more than just an institution until it sees that the Phil’s of this world are fully accepted and cared for by those who claim to be Christ-followers.
We cannot pick and choose which people we want to reach out to, to accept, to love, to integrate into our fellowships, to dedicate time to – it’s all or nothing. Either we love unconditionally or we’re just a social club for people of like mind and circumstances.
I want to be part of a church not a social club.
How about you?