On just about every wall of the buildings at my university was a flyer for ACR (Acceptance, Communication, Respect) Homes. At the bottom were cuts with little slips of paper that you could rip off with information on how to apply. Like most students, I had walked by these flyers hundreds of times without stopping to actually read them. Finally, while waiting to get into my lecture hall, I read the familiar flyer and learned that ACR Homes was a company that cared for individuals with special needs. I ripped off a slip, applied, and was scheduled to interview for a position later that week.
Leading up to the interview, I read their mission statement which stated that, “every human life is intrinsically valuable.” To have intrinsic value is to have value solely because of one’s basic nature…the basic nature of life. As I interviewed for the job, the only qualification that I actually had was that I believed that all human life is intrinsically valuable. I didn’t know how to give medications, what to do if someone had a seizure, how to perform CPR, or even how to interact with individuals with special needs. However, they informed me that those things could be easily taught if I believed that all life had intrinsic value. And they were right.
I think it’s easy to say we believe that every human life has intrinsic value, but it is not just that all human life has intrinsic value. It is that every human life is just as valuable as the next. It’s the belief that every brother and sister in Christ is fearfully and wonderfully made in the image and likeness of God…that in God’s eyes, we are all His precious children. God’s unconditional love fully belongs to individuals with special needs.
Unfortunately, the group home that I worked at was shut down due to lack of government funding. However, it was around the same time that my parish priest, Father Perry Kallis, started doing sensory services. These sensory services are held on Saturdays and are intended for individuals with special needs and their families. The services may consist of dimmer lights, absence of microphones, absence of incense, etc. The purpose of these services is to create a calmer and smoother environment for individuals with special needs and their families. Father Perry stated that this is not a substitute to the main liturgy, but rather a liturgy that is special and accommodating. More simply put, sensory services are intended to be the “icing on the cake,” while still participating in the Sunday Liturgy. Like OCF, GOYA, and Little Lambs, the sensory services are there for individuals of a specific demographic within our church community. However, Father Perry recognizes that some individuals with special needs and their families may find it best to only attend these sensory services, which is a beautiful alternative to not being able to attend services at all.
Like many, you may be thinking about what an amazing idea this is. You may also be asking why you have never heard of a sensory service and why more churches don’t do this. Thankfully, Father Perry has done an amazing job of creating this sensory service liturgy for those in Minnesota, and now it is our goal for other churches to be able to do the same. We hope to create a template that can be followed and executed, so that other priests can do their own sensory services and serve the individuals with special needs in their community. After all, if one just believes that all human life has intrinsic value and that all are made in the image and likeness of God, the rest comes easily. We hope that countless individuals with special needs will have this experience of liturgy at their own parishes as well.
-Eva Bruer, YES Intern