Autism and the Ministry

From the blog, Autistic Me:

Following a panel discussion I was asked if my autistic traits made me a better teacher.

I replied, “No. They are a disadvantage for much of what I teach.”

The mother asking the question was puzzled. I don’t believe I offered the answer she wanted. This led me to ponder the question and the answer further.

I teach a literature-writing course this semester, “The Study of the Essay.” The course is a survey of major essayists and requires students to write personal essays and reflections weekly. The essay is by nature an author’s attempts to persuade readers in a personal way. The essayist is a character in his or her own work.

Like many autistics I’ve met, I read a lot of nonfiction and historical fiction. There are great nonfiction writers, most of whom use the same techniques any novelist or short story author would harness. But, I don’t analyze the style while reading: I’m interested in devouring facts. Literary analysis is not my strength.

If I taught programming — which I’d love to do — my perfectionism and passion for orderly, elegant code might make me a better instructor. If I taught science — which I have done — I could focus on the beauty that is a predictable set of laws and theories. There are many subjects that might suit my inherent personal quirks.

But I teach in an English department. It’s as confounding at times as teaching in an art department. I love English and I love art, but teaching them is a challenge for me.

This blog post has made me think about my own challenges as a pastor and how they connect with being autistic. For a while, I’ve been thinking about what advantages I have being an autistic pastor. I’ve tried to come up with some strengths, but really there aren’t any advantages.

Being a pastor means dealing with people. There’s just no way around that. I’ve had to learn how to interact with folks; learning to listen to them, learning how to make sure they are heard and the like. None of this came easy for me and God knows, I’ve made a lot of mistakes.

So, why am I a pastor. Other than the obvious God-called-me response, it’s that I like the church. I like this gathering of people who come to worship and understand God. I love preaching and taking part in communion and hearing the sermon and all of that.

But liking it doesn’t make it easier.

There are certain jobs that persons with autism are going to thrive in. But this doesn’t mean that every person with autism is going to be a computer programmer. Some of us are going to be in professions that don’t come easy to us, but we are in them because we like it.

Autism doesn’t make me a better pastor; they are just part of who I am as this particular (and peculiar) pastor.


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