Monday, December 22, 2008

Special Needs, Special Rules

First posted in MennoDiscuss in response to a discussion on the question: "Should we have lower expectations of obedience for those with special needs?"

Now I'm going to throw a wrench in the whole works.

My congregation is perhaps 75% mentally ill. I don't know what that says about me as a pastor, but I do know that we are a lot more flexible than other churches. For instance, I allow people to talk back to be during the sermon. This is partly because the folks get interested enough that they can't help but respond. So that's okay. But, at the same time, no matter how mentally ill someone is, I don't allow the conversation to be a free-for-all, where people are talking over each other.

Nor do I allow arguments. However, should there be an argument, I hold the more mature (read: mentally capable) brother to be responsible to back down. If they persist in the argument, then I ask the more mature brother to leave, even if they didn't begin the argument.

The church is also for the homeless, who are uncomfortable with a church where people dress well, because they can't match it. So the rule is casual dress in our church. Thus, if someone shows up in a tie, I politely ask him to take it off for the sake of the brothers.

The church runs well, although considerably different than one's run of the mill congregation. But since we are a congregation of the homeless and mentally ill, it SHOULD run different. And I will say that while the middle class isn't very comfortable in our church, for the homeless and mentally ill, they are able to develop community and call it home.

Thus, I guess, I create a different context for those unable to follow the rules, and then make everyone follow the new rules.

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