All too often we hear stories about autistic people being kicked out of public spaces for being too loud, or too strange, or too active. It’s frustrating and infuriating that they are made to feel unwelcome for being different.
This story at least has a happy ending.
Paul Rimmer and his family attended an evening service at King’s College Chapel in Cambridge, England, on Father’s Day. The service that Sunday evening was Evensong, which is a mostly sung-through service.
Rimmer teaches astrophysics at the University of Cambridge, and his son, Tristan, loves going to church services at the chapel.
“Tristan is nine years old, and is a clever and joyful child, who loves church buildings, services, and choral music,” Rimmer says. “He is also non-verbal, and expresses his excitement by calling out and laughing. His expressions are often loud and uncontainable. It is part of who he is, so there is no realistic way for him to be quiet. Many autistic people are like Tristan in this way.”
The Rimmers only got partway through the service, however. An usher approached the family and said that the reverend had asked him to tell the family to leave, because Tristan was disrupting the other parishioners.
The usher seemed “embarrassed but insistent,” and soon enough the Rimmers gathered up their things and left.
But Rimmer was furious. He immediately penned a letter to Reverend Dr. Stephen Cherry, who is dean of the college as well, and “apologized” for his son’s behavior. The letter was sarcastic in parts and serious in others, but the point was clear: his son was made to feel unwelcome and that was not acceptable behavior from the church.
“Might I suggest that you place a sign at the front of the chapel, clearly identifying which categories of people are welcome and which are not?” he wrote.
Rimmer forwarded the letter to other members of the college and also posted it on Facebook, where it received thousands of shares, reactions, and comments.
“My son might not be able to talk, but he knows perfectly well what is going on around him,” he wrote. “He isn’t even ten years old and he knows that he is unwelcome.”
Rimmer said it wasn’t the first time his family had been asked to leave church for being too disruptive, but that it was the first time a member of the clergy had asked them to leave.
Turns out, Cherry hadn’t asked them to leave. He didn’t even know about the incident until Rimmer’s letter.
Cherry responded that same day, posting a public apology on his blog. In addition to apologizing, he asked to meet with Rimmer privately so he could gain some insight into how the church could “do better.”
“I should perhaps say for the record that I did not, in fact, give any instruction to the effect that your son should be asked to leave the Chapel on Sunday,” the reverend said. “Nonetheless as Dean I do take responsibility for the whole life of the Chapel and in that regard I express my unreserved apology and intention that we will do better in the future.”
Rimmer immediately updated his Facebook post with the news of the apology, and then updated it again to thank everyone for their support.
According to CNN, the two did meet and had a positive conversation.
Rimmer posted on Facebook about the meeting as well, though he was brief.
“Last evening, Rev Stephen Cherry and I met and had a good conversation. My family was invited back to the church in the coming weeks, and Stephen and I will continue our conversation about how King’s College Chapel can be a more welcoming place for everyone.”
We’re glad that the church’s response was so swift, and hopefully situations like this won’t happen again.
C. Dixon likes to read, sing, eat, drink, write, and other verbs. She enjoys cavorting around the country to visit loved ones and experience new places, but especially likes to be at home with her husband, son, and dog.