Our priest recently had knee surgery. Obviously, it renders him unable to serve the Liturgy, so instead of doing the Typica for roughly a month (that’s a series of prayers with no communion at the end, for the non-Orthodox folk among us), it was blessed by our Bishop that a spirit of extended community should be encouraged. We have a heaping handful of Orthodox churches in the area, and for me–I’d only ever visited two of them.
Lots of kids from these parishes go to camp together, and many of our parishioners of our parents’ generation know each other from their EOC days. So, it makes sense for us to attend to these relationships.
Will listed three or four that we should visit, and I agreed. But when it came right down to the getting up early, the immediacy of having to consider William’s possible meltdowns, and Sammy’s lovely new habit of screeching like a mauled pterodactyl every time he notices the place he gets his milk, I was pretty much like…nope.
But we did it. A solid 30 minutes late, which relegated us to the dreaded back-three-rows where kids can’t see, but we did it. We dragged our sorry, arguing, whiny, pterodactyl-screeching butts an hour away to what was probably a church full of strangers.
And I’m really, really glad we did.
One thing that softened it right away was that another family from our home parish was there, too, and they happen to be some dear friends of ours (William has two favorite people at church, and Mrs. Tina is one of them). But even if we didn’t have them to sit with at coffee hour, it was still worth it.
I was a bit whiny myself for about half the service, but here’s what I eventually came to.
- William was able to sing along, even if he chose not to, because the tunes were about 90% recognizable.
- Nora got to see that other people worship like we do, too. Lots of them, actually.
- Nora made a room full of friends.
- Both my older kids noticed differences, but after a while, realized those differences were insignificant (but interesting).
- I had the kids stand on the chairs so they could see. I think we annoyed some people around us, but I felt good about what that communicated to my kids: it’s important that you see what’s happening–your participation is just as worthy as any adult’s.
- If our kids should decide to go to college in the Indianapolis area, they will have a reference point. They may be more likely to attend on their own if they don’t have to experience the discomfort of going back, week after week, to a church where they don’t know anyone.
Another handful of great moments:
- Catching up with one of our former subdeacons and his wife, who moved to Indy a couple years ago
- Chatting with the parents of a girl Nora has decided is her new best friend. They were just as excited as we were about our daughters’ new bond.
- A service dog that lay dutifully at a blind parishioner’s feet during Liturgy. The kids *loved* that.
- Realizing that this parish, too, practices the tradition of touching the edge of the priest’s vestments as he passes in procession with the holy gifts, and seeing how excited William was to recognize the practice and participate.
- Seeing another pair of friends we have GOT to grab dinner with sometime soon.
- Watching Nora’s attitude change from “I hate this” to “THIS IS SO COOL THIS IS THE COOLEST THING THAT WAS EVER COOL AND I LOVE ALL THE FRIENDS OMG SO MANY FRIENDS.”
But I think the most important thing to point out here, on my autism blog, is that this was incredibly beneficial for William.
When someone has autism, it makes it difficult for that person to generalize facts (e.g. I don’t just say “hi” and make eye contact for my parents–that’s how I greet everyone). The way to combat this challenge, in my experience, has always been to provide as many opportunities as possible for him to see where the rule applies. Hopefully, with a pack of experiences to draw from, he starts seeing a pattern emerge.
So, why not church?
Orthodoxy is not just our parish in our little Indiana town.
It’s the four churches in Indy I’m thinking of right now, too. Like St. George’s, which is huge and elegant and beautiful:
It’s the Greek church I was married in, which does half its service in Greek.
It’s this lovely, warm little mission parish near Rolla, MO.
It’s this Ethiopian church, drumming on Pascha. Which might be my favorite.
William was pretty into that video.
All over our country, all over the world, the Liturgy is celebrated, and everywhere it’s the same, and everywhere it’s different. That’s a good thing for our kids to experience.
If you have the opportunity, I encourage you to take your kids on a visit or two. For whatever trouble it is, it’s worth it.