Pastor is Political: Pastor Halo

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I recently had to file a complaint to the Office of Child & Family Services about the inspection of a summer camp that takes place on our church property. A new summer camp is trying to get  underway and the mandated surprise inspection did not go well. The director had only 2 campers, both autistic, and had been doing great thus far. The ratio of 1 camp director for 2 autistic was definitely helpful and the structure of the program was good too. The inspector, unintentionally I’m sure, triggered one of the children. First by occupying the director for two hours with paperwork & talk, so that the children were bored, but then also by calling out the child’s name when he headed for the door (not a good idea). The child went into the hallway, the director followed, eye on him the entire time. Then the director got written up for unsupervised care, and was forced to send the child home.

As the mother of yet another autistic child, I was so upset, I had heard of no less than 5 different children been completely kicked out of camps, for things that probably could have been mitigated or handled with a behavior plan.

I was also upset as a pastor. I want this to be a welcoming space, I want the camp to make (what’s legally called) “reasonable accommodations” for those children who function differently. As a mother of an autistic child, I might not have called, but as the pastor of the church I felt it to be my obligation. Because its God’s house, and I’m the one with the Pastor Halo.

Half the time I forget I wear what I call the Pastor Halo, which is good, because its hard enough to try to live as a Christ-following Child of God, and I am by no means perfect. Yet, I am fully aware that my ordination carries with it power that otherwise wouldn’t belong to me, and, as it is with every kind of power, that means that to be a pastor is to be political.

The Pastor Halo is the one that makes everyone look at you to pray whenever a prayer seems necessary, from church events to your in-laws Thanksgiving dinner where no one ever prays otherwise. The Pastor Halo is part of why everyone sits a step or two back from you, because you have power over them, because you can hurt or help someone just because you have the title Reverend before your name. My most frustrating experience of the Pastor Halo is when people I authorize give the answers I want to be given, but are treated as nothing because they don’t have the Pastor Halo. My secretary has to deal with that one a lot.

So I made the call, as a pastor and a witness to the office and carefully explained that this behavior was inappropriate for the inspector. I gave them the rundown of events, and am crossing my fingers that autistic families will come back to camp this week.

They called me back right away. And I can’t help but think if I was the Camp Director or a Parent I might not have as much political power, but that I was set there in the right space–as a witness, at the right time–after hearing about the summer of other’s special needs families, and the right experiences–I know all the terms & all as the mother of an autistic child, plus I have the Pastor Halo. I’m uniquely designed to do this, and that in itself is sometimes frightening.

But the truth is there was no way for me to not be political. Disabled rights are political, yet they are also a part of my calling. Making the phone call meant one thing, not calling meant another, but either way how I responded was a part of my being the pastor of the church that housed this camp. Hopefully, when I am being political, I doing it in a way that glorifies God.

Episode 32: Yoke

Image found here


Pastor Katy Stenta is the solo pastor of a bigger-on-the-inside Small Church in Albany New York, and is a co-founder of TrailPraisers Inclusive Worshiping Community. She has 3 boys Franklin (10), Westley (8) and Ashburn (6) and her husband Anthony, a librarian. She loves to read and play with her children.

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Shannon A Thompson

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