Last week, I introduced you to my friend, Carlyle King.
Over the past several months, Carlyle and I have worked together, through phone conversations, email and Facebook, to do some planning; he wanted help in starting an inclusion ministry at his local church. He is uniquely qualified to do this; Carlyle himself is on the autism spectrum.
Our first planning session was via Facebook instant-message. Carlyle shared his ideas for the first Sunday: He planned to attend church wearing a t-shirt that said, “I have autism and I think you’re weird, too.”
Inside, I felt a bit of panic. What if they think he’s being abrasive or flippant or unapproachable?
And God, in His infinite wisdom, probably giggled at that moment, and whispered, “Oh ye of little faith…” under His breath.
I gently posed my concerns to Carlyle, mentioning my penchant for diplomacy.
He replied, “I guess I’m not really sure why (the t-shirt) would be a problem…it’s actually true. From the perspective of someone with autism…(people who are “neurotypical”) are just as confusing to us as we are to them.” He continued, “I’ve tried the gentle approach. This (ministry) is getting started because I started showing people real examples and telling them it is wrong. My friend’s 16 year-old son has been repeatedly bullied at church. We finally told the senior pastor that this is plain wrong and needs to be fixed now.I have more stories, but ultimately, the only thing that has worked for me is being completely blunt.”
And then, Carlyle said something that broke my heart: “Maybe I’m not the right person to do this.”
We continued chatting. Carlyle had very wisely planned for several other friends to stand with him at church as he greeted people and began to talk about inclusion.
He said, “I’m hoping to surround myself with people that will do the talking for me. Like most Aspies, I can be intense, and people are guaranteed to misread me.”
Carlyle and I also decided that it would be helpful to have a handout that people could take home and read. (You can download this handout here: Handout: Autism). With these plans in place, Carlyle was ready to raise awareness about his inclusion ministry that very Sunday.
On Monday, I received this message Carlyle: “Not only did God open the door, but he rolled out the red carpet. Only one person had an issue with my shirt, and her issue really wasn’t my shirt. (She thought I was making fun of autism). After talking to me, she wants me to meet her grandson, who has autism.”
Soon, more exciting things happened in Carlyle’s ministry: “I have a family with a 13 year-old boy with Asperger’s syndrome. His mother is also on the spectrum. They stopped attending church due to how they were treated. She is a friend of mine and I’ve convinced her to fill out those forms you gave me for her son and to meet with the family ministries pastor.
“Also, something very interesting happened yesterday. When we were attending our previous church, there was a young woman studying children’s ministry that I tried to befriend. She didn’t want to have anything to do with me (then). She suddenly friended me on Facebook yesterday and posted on my wall:
“Hi Carlyle I saw you yesterday didn’t get a chance to say hello It was good to see you. Just so you know I think you’re you starting an inclusion ministry is an answer to my prayers.I’ve been praying for more awareness of the diverse needs of people. Especially people with developmental disabilities.”
Several weeks later, Carlyle and I collaborated on a presentation that he gave to all of the adult Sunday School classes in his church. He then sent this message:
“Guess what?vI now have a ministry team including two psychologists, three counselors, two social workers, and a professor that teaches special ed. We have been asked to not only deliver the 15 minute talk you and I put together for Sunday School classes, but to develop in service training for church staff and volunteers.
“I still can’t believe that a team where half the people have more education than I is still looking at me as the leader!”
And I thought to myself…”I can believe it.”
Of all of the messages that Carlyle has sent, this is probably my favorite…
“(This past weekend) we went to a BBQ with some people from my new Sunday School class. They seem to genuinely like me and are eager to learn how they can be good friends for me…
That’s a big deal for me.”
Yes. It IS a big deal for Carlyle…
and a big deal for the Kingdom.
Don’t forget to check out Carlyle’s blog!