MATTHEWS, N.C. -- The mother of 12-year-old Jackson Helms said her son was removed from Elevation Church for being a “distraction” during their Easter service on April 24.
He has cerebral palsy.
She was supposed to meet with the church leaders to discuss what happened, but the pastor canceled the meeting when he heard she had contacted Channel 9.
We spoke with Jackson’s mother, Kelly Helms, today, and she says each day is a little tougher for Jackson than it is for normal children.
“Easter Sunday he got all dressed up, got ready to go, no small feat with a kiddo like him,” she said. But, right after the opening prayer inside Elevation’s sanctuary that Sunday, Helms said Jackson voiced his own kind of “Amen.”
“We were very abruptly escorted out.” Kelly Helms said.
Helms said a volunteer at Elevation took her and Jackson to the lobby to wait out the remainder of the service.
Helms said it was not a good feeling but saw an opportunity to contact the pastor with an offer to start a ministry for special needs children. She says the idea was rejected.
When Eyewitness News went to Elevation Church, an employee told us they focus on worship and not ministries.
But Elevation Church officials emailed Eyewitness News Wednesday night after our story aired. In a statement, a spokeswoman said "Everything we do is about ministry. We focus specifically on our worship and children’s ministries – and we partner with many other ministries in Charlotte."
The church statement continued to say "...this young man and his family were not removed from our church. They were escorted to a nearby section of our church where they watched the service in its entirety.".
Earlier Wednesday, the church issued a statement that said, “It is our goal at Elevation to offer a distraction free environment for all our guests. We look forward to resolving any misunderstanding that has occurred.”
Even though the pastor canceled the meeting with Kelly Helms, he called the Mecklenburg County ARC, an advocacy group for the disabled, and asked for special needs training for his staff.
When Channel 9 told Helms, she said this was the answer to her prayers.
I suppose that as a reader, you have to decide what the story is here. Because it seems to me that there are a few things at work.
Is this a story about the loneliness and isolation of parenting a child with special needs? That's the first thing that jumped out at me. I thought of this family, looking for spiritual refuge and instead finding a kind of judgment and rejection. I wonder about this mother, if she wondered why God would reject her and her son. I think the feeling that God has abandoned your child and your family occurs to just about every special needs parent at some point.
Is this a story about yet another failure of Christian values put to the test? How would the members of this church answer their bumper stickers? "What would Jesus do?" Is Jackson Helms a child of God? Does he have the same value in the eyes of God as a child with full control of his body and the ability to express himself "appropriately"?
Is this a story about overzealous disability parents making unreasonable demands of the world around them? Should the rest of the congregation be forced to endure the distraction of a child with CP in their midst, making a noise that they are unaccustomed to? There are a lot of people in the comments to that story that say exactly that.
"It seems to me that the Helms need to be the ones to get some sensitivity training on the rights of others (non-handicapped). A disability does not trump the rights of the rest of us, sorry. [...] I haven't said anything negative about the disabled child. I also have compassion for him and hope, as his Dad noted, that Divine Intervention will cure his condition. The problem is with his Mom and her lack of understanding that his disability does not give her special privileges over the rest of us."
"Why do you think that you have a "right" to inflict your kid or your dog or your parrot or whatever on other folks?"
"A "special needs child" is really no more different that a newborn baby. Constant need 24/7 noisy when in needs etc etc."
"If it was a crying baby, old man farting, or some redneck lighting up a smoke you all wouldn't mind kicking them out. Just because a child has special needs and is a bit of a distraction does not give him or her the right to make others peoples time at church uncomfortable."
"He was treated no different than anyone else who makes noise during service."
But of course, he IS different. He has cerebral palsy. And that difference isn't cultural or religious, and it's not one that he asked for. Most of all, it doesn't change his value as a human being, or his need for spiritual enrichment. For me and for my family, church is not the place where that's going to happen; a story like this just re-enforces that conviction on our part. But for Jackson and his family, the Elevation Church was the house of worship where they sought that experience. The church failed them, and it failed Jackson Helms because of his disability.
Jackson was removed from the service after making a noise. A single sound. But the sound he made was a "non-typical" noise, and that noise was deemed inappropriate for a house of God. If you consider the story carefully, you'll see how that's what it boils down to.
You can decide what this story is about, but I can tell you what it's NOT about. It's not about someone being disrespectful or distracting. It's about a mother making other people uncomfortable with the mere presence of her disabled son.
The fact that it happened at all is terribly sad. The fact that it happened in a church? You decide what that feels like to you. I find it unsurprising. But that's me.