My family of four – me, my husband, our two sons (then 8 and 5) – is spread out across a pew, waiting for worship to begin. I flip through the pile of papers tucked inside the bulletin, skimming the announcements, while our youngest removes the rubber rings in the communion cup holders on the back of the pew in front of us, then rolls them across the floor, until they’re well out of reach. My husband shifts uncomfortably in his spot – partly because of the shirt he chose to wear, partly because he’s anticipating not liking the service – after all, why wait and see if he might feel differently this time? (sigh) Our oldest quietly reads the bulletin over my shoulder.
“Will there be community this morning?” he asks me.
Spend much time with our oldest son and you’ll learn not to take his seemingly out of place phraseology at face value. His spot on the Autism spectrum makes some of his word choices different than you might expect … until you learn to expect them.
My eyes dart from his face to the part of the bulletin he’s focused on. It’s not hard to figure out what he’s asking. He sees the familiar liturgy for our church’s monthly celebration of Communion – or “community,” in his mind.
“I love your word choice,” I say to him as I pat his leg. He gets enough correcting from me the rest of the week and, truthfully, I do love his calling it “community.”
It’s a question I’m tempted to turn and ask my husband, who still looks as if he’s in fight or flight mode. “Will there be community this morning, honey?” Because I know that’s what he’s seeking – in church, in friendships, in life – but which he’s convinced himself (and almost convinced me) he can’t find in a “traditional church.”
I could ask it of our youngest son, too, but it would really be a question for me, because our youngest longs to create community wherever he goes. Alas, he’s bound by my low tolerance level for attracting attention – something he does just entering a room, let alone when he’s uncorked. He dances during hymns (but only in the 3-foot by 3-foot space I draw for him on the floor beside our pew). He raises his hand during prayer concerns (but only if he tells me what he plans to say before blurting it out to the entire congregation). He runs across the chancel area, darting under the Communion table, then back up again to explore the burning candles all around him (well, that one he did without any input from me and I pray every time we go to church that he never does it again!)
For our oldest, I reply “Yes, we’re celebrating Communion this morning.” Then I spend the rest of the service thinking how, if we let ourselves, we’ll can also celebrate community. The people who notice (and tell us they notice) when we’re not at church. The woman who our boys look for every time we “pass the peace” (and nearly knock others over in order to get to her before they have to sit down again). The friend who sits behind us because she says she loves worshiping near our wriggling children (and I believe she means that). Even the “white hairs” all around us, who clearly yearn to make us part of their community (even as they resist becoming part of “ours”).
“I love when we have community,” our oldest says again, “except when it doesn’t taste good.”
Yeah, I’m gonna need another blog post to unpack that one.