A college dean in the U.K. has apologized after a dad took to Facebook to share his frustration over how he and his autistic son were treated at church.
On Father’s Day, Paul Rimmer and his two sons, one of whom is nine years old and autistic, attended an Evensong service at King’s College Chapel at the University of Cambridge. Rimmer is a researcher at the university.
In an “apology” letter, which he sent to King’s College dean Rev. Dr. Stephen Cherry, Rimmer wrote that an usher asked his family to leave the service, citing a directive from Cherry.
“Tristan’s expressions were apparently interfering with the enjoyment of some of the other visitors, which was very inconsiderate on our part, because tourists come from all over the world to hear the Evensong,” he wrote.
Rimmer wrote that Tristan “loves church buildings, services, and choral music,” and that he is non-verbal, so he shows his excitement by calling out and laughing.
“As a Christian, I believe that worship is primarily intended to glorify God, and may have misinterpreted your Evensong as an actual worship service, at which my son’s expressions must surely be pleasing to God, the experience of other worshippers being secondary,” he wrote.
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“If only places like King’s College made it clear what kind of spectators were acceptable, my son wouldn’t be subjected to rejection, and the other people there, to his unpalatable presence,” Rimmer wrote. He also copied other college and Church of England officials on the letter.
Rimmer shared in an update on Facebook that Cherry had replied to his letter, saying that he had not asked for the family to leave, but took responsibility for the church’s shortcomings.
“Since hearing of your experience, I have looked into what happened and now more fully appreciate that there is more that we can do to support and help the staff who are responsible for the welcome that we give those who come to share our services with us,” the dean wrote. He also asked to meet Rimmer in person.
When Broadview reached out for a statement, the university said that it was unable to comment at the moment and would be working with the family.
“As a Christian, I believe that worship is primarily intended to glorify God, and may have misinterpreted your Evensong as an actual worship service…”
On Rimmer’s Facebook post, readers shared their stories about loved ones with disabilities being made to feel unwelcome in spaces of worship. “I was called aside and asked not to bring my daughter to future services,” one person wrote. “I was broken… they were rejecting my child and me when I needed them most… Thank you for bringing this to a wider audience.”
However, some did not support the dad’s choice to make the issue public. “The miscommunication could have been cleared up without publicly shaming the priest for something he did not do,” commented one person.
Rimmer updated the post again on Monday, thanking everyone for their stories, support and invites to attend their church. He also said he planned to meet Cherry to continue the discussion offline.
“I hope this letter will help contribute positively to the conversation, not just at Cambridge, but elsewhere too,” he wrote.
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