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Including acolytes with special needs

Including acolytes with special needs

Many Episcopal parishes are trying to be more intentional about including people with special needs into the full life of the congregation. One parish in the Diocese of Atlanta began by working out how to include a child who is blind and wheelchair bound. That decision has led to a broadening of the acolyte corp in the congregation which now includes a number of people with a range of challenges.

An article by Nan Ross from the Diocese of Atlanta describes how it all began:

“About three years ago, Betsy Jones, who serves as acolyte master at St. Aidan’s, Milton, approached Rector Rob Wood with a question. She already was used to the demanding role in which she supervises 65 acolytes who serve liturgically at the Alpharetta-area church on Cogburn Road. What’s one more challenge? “Do you think it would be possible for Victor to join the acolyte corps?” she asked Wood.

Acolytes at St. Aidan’s usually spend their first year as serving as torch bearers, observing what the more experienced acolytes are asked to do: carry the cross, banners and alms basins, assist at the altar, and other tasks. Victor’s four sisters already were on the team.

“Rob sat quietly, thinking it over,” recalled Jones. “Then he said, ‘Sure,’ and with a twinkle in his eye added, ‘But he can’t carry a torch!’””

More of the story here.

Read the whole story. If you had any worries about young people in the Church or about the Episcopal Church’s ability to communicate the faith to the next generations… you won’t anymore. Keep a tissue handy.


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Thanks for posting this — great story, great parish! I think this is an area of ministry that many parishes (mine included) need to be more aware of. It’s too easy to fall into the trap of “We don’t need to anything to promote access and inclusion here, b/c we don’t have any people with disabilities.” The question is, “Why don’t we have any people with disabilities? Is it because we don’t have a ministry of access and inclusion?”

Also, because this is a place where we understand the power of words, “confined to a wheelchair,” (also wheelchair-bound) is inaccurate and to some offensive. The wheelchair is a tool that the person employs to go places and do things. It would be like describing someone as “confined to their car” (although here in the Washington area, it sometimes feels that way . . .). “Uses a wheelchair” is preferred.


Marny Helfrich

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