By Teri Van Huss
How does a developmentally disabled person deal with a concept? It’s something they can’t see or feel or interact with. In my experiences with my 19-year-old daughter with Down syndrome, I’ve discovered life is much simpler for her than the rest of us, and that she truly struggles with anything that’s not in her physical sphere. I would like to introduce you to Miss M.E. Van Huss (short for Maria Elizabeth) and give you a glimpse of the kind of magic person she is.
We don’t really know how M.E. perceives God, but we do know how she perceives church and the body of God. She is sensitive to what is present, and she definitely knows where she wants to be. She went to other churches with me as I navigated field education during my diaconal training. Now she comes with me to the parishes I’m assigned to serve as deacon, and every time requests afterward that next Sunday we go back to her home parish in Visalia, California, which she calls “Suzy Ward’s church” (after the priest-in-charge), not St. Paul’s church. She gets herself ready every Sunday and would think it very weird if we didn’t go. Here are her statements about church; they let us know how comfortable she is because she has been heard:
I sing my songs.
I am a crucifer.
I get to tell my stories.
I see my friends.
Her favorite song is the Gloria in excelsis, and she has honed her reading and number skills by following the service in prayer book and hymnal. It takes all her concentration to do that, so she sits while everyone else stands, sits, and kneels through the service. She is an amazing crucifer. What she brings into a congregation is God-with-her, and her joy is clear and evident. May we all learn from her how to “sing our songs.”
The Rev. Deacon Teri Van Huss says: “I am a cradle Episcopalian but didn’t discern my call to the diaconate until Bishop Jerry Lamb told me so, I would have never have guessed the direction things would go in my late 50s. My own ministries center around advocacy for people with disabilities; creating community gardens; and this crazy thing I’ve done for about 15 years, teaching how to clean your house and do laundry without chemicals. I am a self-employed contract bookkeeper, working mostly for local non-profits that work with families, disabilities, child abuse protection, and the environment. This all seems to sort of work together and is incredibly rewarding and interesting.”