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By Rev. Chris Brouillard-Coyle

Encountering people who are different can be intimidating.

We may fear we don’t have anything in common. Their life experiences may be unfamiliar. We may not know what we can say or do or how we should act or communicate with such people. When faced with such unknowing, we might be tempted to simply avoid the situation. This can leave people feeling isolated. It can also limit our own experiences of the wonder and gifts of God’s Beloved Creation.

Down Syndrome is a condition in which a person is born with an extra chromosome. This extra chromosome impacts how the brain and body develop, which can create mental and physical challenges for the person.

 Individuals with Down Syndrome typically develop at a slower pace and have limited intellectual capacities. Among the symptoms of this condition are facial features which tend to make those with Down Syndrome stand out. People with Down Syndrome can be viewed as being different. So, how do we respond?

Years ago, St. Paul’s, Essex, had a visitor with Down Syndrome named John. His complex situation meant that he was always accompanied by a worker from Community Living. Wanting to be welcoming, the congregation happily passed the peace with this visitor.

There is something about the facial features of those with Down Syndrome that transform a simple smile into something truly magical. John lit up the space in ways that encouraged the congregation to express a desire to see him again.

He quickly became a part of the Church family. Every time we passed the peace, every member of the congregation would go to John in the hopes of seeing that smile. To get a smile from John, could transform even the gloomiest days.

Then, we found out he has a particular fondness for Shine Jesus Shine. He loved to watch the congregation clap and dance to the song. Even the most traditional would participate, watching to see his expression and the light that emanated from him as he also clapped, danced, and sang in his own way. John was treasured for all the ways he participated in the community.

Sadly, we lost John in 2020. We played Shine Jesus Shine at his funeral and remember him every time we have sung it since. To us, it is Shine Johnny Shine. His legacy, what he taught us about love and inclusion continues to influence the ways we embody our faith. That fear that is typically associated with those who are different has melted away because we have gotten a glimpse of the profound gifts that come with each of God’s Beloved Children. We are truly happy to welcome and include those from Community Living in whatever ways make sense for these precious individuals!

Psalm 139:13-14 says: “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.”

The words remind us that God has made us. God has made every person. The differences are beautiful. We are blessed when we find ways to embrace the gifts of each Beloved Child, fearfully and wonderfully made by God.

March 21 is World Down Syndrome Day. One of the ways we can acknowledge the gifts of those with Down Syndrome on that day is by wearing brightly coloured, mismatched socks. What would it look like if churches throughout the diocese flooded social media with colourful socks in celebration of those fearfully and wonderfully made by God who have Down Syndrome? What else can we do to value and appreciate the gifts of these Beloved Children?

St. Paul’s will be donating to Community Living in memory of our friend. We challenge the churches of the diocese to celebrate the light of those with Down Syndrome in a special way this month and beyond.

Rev. Chris Brouillard-Coyle is a co-chair of SEJH and a co-chair of Justice League of Huron.