A Love for Jesus that Transcends Words

A Love for Jesus that Transcends Words

By Sophie Smal, Communications Coordinator

Applying the Episcopal Church’s motto that all are welcome, the Rev. Sarah Quinney, priest-in-charge at St. James, Lincoln, is seeing how implementing the Special Needs Ministry at St. James is changing lives, not only for those with special needs, but for their loved ones as well.

As a mother of a 14-year-old with autism, Jessica Frick started attending special needs services because it provided an opportunity to worship with her son, Dylan. Due to Dylan’s limited communication skills and loud behaviors, the Fricks are unable to attend regular church services.

Quinney met first Dylan and his family through her music therapy practice for kids with special needs and has known them for nine years. Naturally, when she started her special needs ministry, she invited the Dylan and his mom to St. James. Jessica’s two older sons attend St. Augustine’s in Rocklin, and Quinney proudly holds the title of being their godmother.

During St. James’ special needs Easter service last year, Dylan attended for the first time, and initially, “he wouldn’t come inside the church. He kept walking around outside and looking in,” Quinney said.

“Then, as I was singing and playing my guitar with the kids, all of a sudden, I look up and he’s right there in the circle with us. He was totally engaged and stayed with us for the rest of the time,” Quinney said.

When Dylan attended the special needs Christmas service held later that year, he didn’t have any problem going inside the church.

“Dylan is always excited to go to the special needs services, and he sings, dances, and socializes with the other children – you can tell he feels loved there,” Jessica said. “Overall, my experience at St. James has been exceptional, and I’ve always felt loved and accepted there. It’s wonderful to be able to take my son to a social situation where his loud behavior is not frowned upon.”

Once Dylan was comfortable with attending services, another rite of passage became imaginable: baptism. “For as long as I’ve known them, it’s been Jessica’s dream to baptize Dylan,” Quinney said.

In December, the dream finally became a reality when Quinney was able to arrange a special service for Dylan’s baptism. Quinney had to overcome the challenge of keeping Dylan engaged and present in the process, and figured that the best way to make Dylan comfortable would be to do the baptism in a small service.

“Yes, it’s ideal to have all the church members present when you’re baptizing a new member so we’re all there to support them in their life, but for a kid like Dylan, he’d be way too overwhelmed by the presence of all the people he doesn’t know very well,” Quinney shared.

So, Quinney decided to hold the baptism after the normal Christmas morning service at St. James. Dylan’s entire family showed up for his baptism, and a few parishioners stuck around to help, totaling around 20 people. Dylan’s older sister also made the decision to get baptized, and the plan was for her to be baptized first, so Dylan could observe and be less inclined to be feel anxious about his baptism.

“I had gone over the service with the family before and we decided to shorten some aspects of it so we could keep his attention. I didn’t want to drone on and on with the language where he might disengage,” Quinney said.

“We had no idea how this was going to happen, and we didn’t practice it with him. We just talked to him and told him we going to baptize him and asked if that was okay… He nodded, and so we did our best to explain why we were doing it,” Quinney said. “We told him, ‘You’re so special and God loves you so much, and we want you to have this experience where God can wrap you in a giant hug.’ He loves hugs, so he was really excited.”

As everyone gathered around the font, Dylan was jumping up and down and being loud, but as soon as his older brother started on the prayers, “we look over and Dylan is kneeling at the altar with his hands clasped. He’s never been to church, so he’s never seen that, except maybe on TV. He’s smiling and looking forward at the altar and smiling, looking back at us and smiling, and being really quiet,” Quinney said.

Quinney said the prayers and blessed the water, and she made sure to be dramatic about pouring the water, which got Dylan’s attention. Then she baptized his sister, and when it came time to baptize Dylan “he walked over, smiling, bent his head and let me do it,” Quinney said.

“I thought he was only going to stand the water this one time, and that I’d only be able to say ‘In the name of the Father,’ and make the rest really quick, before I lost him or he became uncomfortable with the water on his head. But he let me do it three times, and stood there, completely calm.”

After the anointing and the words, “You are marked as Christ’s own forever,” “Everyone started crying, and he was so peaceful and happy. We were all so completely speechless, and couldn’t believe how it happened, especially because it’s something he’s never seen before in his life and he was totally engaged in it,” Quinney said.

“It gets frustrating when people say you shouldn’t do these things until people can understand what’s happening. But we’ll never quite understand what people with autism are experiencing because they don’t communicate in the same ways we do.

“We have to enter their world and learn how they communicate. But to withhold something just because you’re not sure someone understands what is happening can take away from a really meaningful, powerful moment in their life. Apparently, he knew something we didn’t that day.”


3 comments (Add your own)

1. Stephanie wrote:
Beautiful!

Tue, February 20, 2018 @ 5:52 PM

2. She Webb wrote:
Rev. Sarah - Thank you for your dedication to the special needs community!

Tue, February 20, 2018 @ 8:10 PM

3. Laura wrote:
Such a piece of good news for everyone to hear! Thank you for this ministry.

Thu, February 22, 2018 @ 1:58 PM

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