Last December, Emily Colson, daughter of the late Chuck Colson, took her son Max to the movie theater. Max, a 23-year-old man with autism, doesn’t always stay quiet during movies, but Colson was optimistic.
As soon as the movie started, Max began shouting. A woman rudely urged Emily to make her son shut up. Another warned that he would call the manager. As Emily reluctantly led her son out of the theater, the audience erupted in applause.
Emily went home and composed a blog post about the experience. Many were sympathetic. Others weren’t. But what surprised Emily the most was the way her church, North River Community Church (Pembroke, Mass.), responded. The church rented a local theater so Max and a few friends could have a special viewing of a movie. Somebody else arranged for a limo to pick up Max and his friends. And more than 500 people from the church and community showed up to watch the latest Muppets movie with Max.
“It was the most fun anybody ever had at the movies,” Emily said. “Nobody came in expecting a perfect experience. Nobody was thinking about themselves. Everybody was thinking about how they could make the experience great for somebody else.”
Emily says she is thankful for a church that has wrapped its arms around her son. It wasn’t easy to find. In fact, she and Max took a five-year hiatus from church because they didn’t feel like they fit in. Things have been different since they came back to church, with members taking Max under their wing and helping him feel a part of things.
“I think … we get a little scared,” Colson explains. “Honestly, this is complicated stuff. It’s not easy, and we’re uncomfortable with brokenness. We can hide it when it’s on the inside. When you see it on the outside, it makes a lot of people uncomfortable. And then we tend to isolate individuals who desperately need community. When we break through that fear we’re able to say, ‘I’m scared, but I’m still going forward because God calls us to love one another.’”
This is the message that Colson will share Nov. 7-8 at “The Accessible Kingdom Disability Ministry Conference,” a joint effort between MNA Special Needs Ministries and Joni and Friends Jackson. The conference, which will take place at Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Ala., will be geared toward pastors, children’s ministry leaders, special-needs ministry leaders, deacons, and people with disabilities and their families.
To learn more or to find how you can register for the conference, visit www.accessiblekingdom.org.