Resurrection Lutheran Church members Ingrid Romashko and Heather Palmer individually yearned to find a way to reach those who, due to a family member with sensory sensitivities, may not feel comfortable in church or have stopped going to church. It wasn’t until the two began to talk to one another that they realized their individual dreams were not just those of one, but many.
Palmer said her desires were from her own experiences.
“Our youngest is on the autism spectrum, but is high functioning. During services I would notice he would get up, tap his pencil, walk around, and in talking to others in support groups, a lot of moms said they had stopped going to church because they did not want to be a disruption.”
Romashko works as an occupational therapist and said with her experiences with families and children, she has witnessed many who miss out on day to day activities because of a family member with sensory sensitivities. She also said it does not just affect the child with the sensory sensitivities, but the entire family and that was her push to have a service where families can attend church and the person with special sensory needs has an outlet.
Palmer and Romashko used their experiences and education to explain their desire to Pastor Ben Ingelson, who took to the idea right away.
“In this we hope to offer hospitality and worship intentionally with our neighbors, reduce obstacles for those with sensory processing challenges, develop a sense of community with those who attend our sensory services because they have a commonality and this can provide connections and support. This can also be an entryway to the church,” Ingelson said.
The sensory service at Resurrection Lutheran Church in Channahon occurs at 11:30 a.m. the first Sunday of each month and May 6 was the third time this service was offered to the community.
As families walked into the church, the lights were dimmed and the usage of fluorescent lighting was at a minimum. Instead of a full choir and music through a sound system, church member Nick Botz played acoustic guitar and those in attendance were invited to sing along. Ingelson opened with information about the sensory service to allow everyone to know what was available in case a family member needed a break.
The services include shorter sermons, alternative seating such, as small rocking chairs and bean bag chairs, and a breakout room with couches, a lava lamp, pillows, soft lighting and fidgets.
Communion was offered and Palmer said that was an important piece to her as she feels like she can receive the body and blood just like at a typical service.
“I need church to recharge me for the next week,” Palmer said.
Palmer said she hopes the community will feel welcome to come to these services even if they are not a part of the church because the goal was to be of service to the community which the church serves.
“Come as you are and if your child blurts out, it’s OK. If they need to get up, it’s OK. At our church this would be OK at any time, even during regular services, but people may not feel as comfortable with that, so we want to give this service for them,” Palmer said. “It’s easy when you have a child with special needs to lock yourself in your home and people do miss on church community.”
Romashko said she was proud of how Ingelson and the congregation have stepped up to embrace this service and she hopes those in need can come and worship.
“Pastor Ben gives his time out of the kindness of his heart,” Romashko said. “After we started this, we have heard people in our congregation talk about their family who has someone with sensory issues. We hope this will catch on.”