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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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At your service

Recently a young girl named Sidney Worsham was worshiping at St. Stephen Lutheran Church, Wilmington, Del., when she jumped from her seat and began walking around, talking to herself.

While a similar outburst may have caused an awkward pause in worship and a few disapproving stares, Matt Hummel, pastor of St. Stephen, simply continued speaking while a volunteer followed Sidney to make sure she didn't hurt herself.

Sidney's actions weren't unexpected. She is autistic. And while she and her family are welcome to attend any St. Stephen service, Hummel and the congregation developed this worship with the Worshams in mind.

St. Stephen holds a monthly service for families with children with disabilities, something Hummel wishes had been available when he was young. His older brother, who was autistic, was kept at home on Sundays because Hummel's father didn't want his behavior to disrupt worship.

"The truth is, most congregations will welcome anyone," he said. "But it's the parents who are worried about others feeling uncomfortable. Here, they don't have to worry about it."

Hummel was impressed at how quickly the congregation got on board for the extra service. "They were very excited, and I told them not to expect a big turnout at first," he said. "I told them that if we got two or three families the first Sunday, that would be good. And we got three families. My hope is that it will grow steadily as people hear about it."

Hummel has no problem recruiting volunteers to help with the service. "They are there just to help out," he said. "We don't stop the service if anyone gets up or makes noise. There are no uncomfortable pauses. ... After the first service, from the response we got from the families, I knew we were doing the right thing.


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