Kathy Dickson has served ADNet as a volunteer Field Associate since 2010. She is Director of Vocational Discernment and Community Engagement at Methodist Theological School in Ohio and attends First Mennonite Church, Bluffton, Ohio.
Photography was something that his dad, William Wood, enjoyed, and Doug decided to try it, too. At first, the camera had a flash that was disturbing to a worship service, but after a new camera was purchased and a default setting for no flash was in place, Doug began taking pictures regularly at worship and at church events.
Emerging from this use of Doug’s gifts to capture the community life of the church was a role as unofficial congregational photographer. Recently, for example, he attended an annual church retreat where he captured moments from the weekend that were shared in such places as the church website, newsletter, Facebook page and Twitter account.
Photo by Douglas Wood
According to Doug’s father, church is an important part of Doug’s life. “Like many people with autism, Doug likes a routine -- knowing what will happen next. Any time the church doors are open, he wants to be there. He is always disappointed when we cancel because of snow,” he says.
While there is no official inclusion network or special program in place for Doug’s acceptance into the life of the church, he is an active part of the congregation in ways that fit him. In addition to photography, Doug’s involvement with the church includes offering special music, something he does together with his father, who plays the piano and also sings, but “the mic is on Doug.” After one such offering, a church member posted a picture of the duo with the sentiment, “My favorite special music, every time it happens.”
Photo by Douglas Wood
Doug’s father says they believe that sometimes “no program is the best program.” As a family, they keep Doug on the “friendly edge.” To them, this means that Doug goes to congregational activities, where both Doug and congregational members can get to know one another. But, for things like the annual Apple Butter boil, where the congregation has six kettles of boiling apple butter, Doug might be on the periphery, taking pictures but not engaged in activities that could cause a safety concern. They figure this out as a family and congregation as they go along.
Doug’s younger brother, Stuart, or “Stu,” accompanied Doug through Sunday school all the way through, before graduating and leaving for Brethren Voluntary Service and college. After that, a special-needs Sunday School class began, taught by Doug’s parents. In a small congregation, sometimes only Doug and a parent attend, when another class member needed to stop coming to church after moving into nursing care.
In worship, the congregation is familiar with unusual and repetitive behaviors from Doug but also looks forward to his consistent questions about how their work is going and to his contributions to community life.
Doug’s inclusion in the congregation has been a natural thing. He has been with the congregation since he was two, and they have watched him grow and mature. “Church is one place where Doug will be accepted and affirmed by people of very different ages and situations in life, from the small children to the retirees,” Bill Wood adds.
In 2003, Doug went to his pastor and told him that he wanted to be baptized. The pastor and congregation immediately affirmed his desire and his understanding of baptism. So, in the cold waters of the Beaver Creek in the Shenandoah Valley, Doug was baptized with a few other youth choosing to be baptized that day, in the presence and company of their fellow congregants and believers.
Doug’s role in the community both contributes and testifies to the congregation’s identity and mission. The church’s website states, “Jesus brought a message of life, love, and hope. But he offered much more than inspiring words: He understood that people’s spiritual needs also include day-to-day human ones — food, health, rest, comfort, friendship, and unconditional acceptance…Because we believe his message, we at Beaver Creek Church seek to do the same.”