Part 1 of a 3-part blog series. Letters from former Christians who have left the church because they did not receive support or inclusion as a member of a marginalized community. As LSS Justice Ministries, we do not share these to inspire shame or blame, rather as a rare opportunity to learn from communities and perspectives that are rarely willing to share their truth with us. Our hope is that these letters will inspire creative conversations about how to grow in our expression of Christ’s wide welcome. This blog comes from the perspective of an Autistic person.

Dear Christians,

One thing I have always admired about you is the sense of community. When I was a young parent not attending church, I missed that my kid didn’t have friends to play with outside of school.

But then I remembered how few friends I had at church, and why I decided that (church) life wasn’t good enough for my child.

I remember the potlucks where there was nothing I was willing to eat and well-meaning people pinched my face and told me I was too skinny and I should eat until I ran away and hid. I was hungry. But there were too many people and scents like their perfume were too strong and nothing looked familiar or tasty and all I wanted was to go home and eat a ham and cheese sandwich. Lightly toasted.

And if there had been a game or a puzzle or something specific to DO to occupy my hands and be seen being part of the community without having to make small talk or get my cheeks pinched, I would have done that. Sometimes, I brought my book with me, but reading by myself at a church event was frowned upon. It wasn’t polite for me to sit there ignoring everyone. 

But I wouldn’t have. If there had been a group of kids I could have read to or performed for, I would have been the best little starlet ever. I’ve usually been great at playing pretend. Not every Autistic person likes kids. Some aren’t picky about food. 

But few people from church wanted to listen to a child in the first place, much less listen as I went on about the current special interest I could speak at length about. There were a few patient older people who listened. Those people were everything to me, and when they died during my teenage years, I was nearly inconsolable. Because I knew what was coming.

I knew I’d be leaving the church without their presence to make it tolerable. I knew I wouldn’t stay in a place where I didn’t feel wanted. I knew that when my only purpose was performative, it was time for me to give the gift of my absence. 

But now I’m called to write to you, to share this crumb of my story with you. I hope in sharing not that you will reach out to me — I’m doing well. Those of us who found the strength to leave usually don’t intend to come back. But if I could ask a favor of you?  Find someone on the fringe in your church and give them a reason to stay. Start with your ears.

With Kindness,

Wandering, Not Lost