The Chapel of Christ our Hope was conceived in the 90's. At that time, there was a gap of service for persons with autism on the moderate to severe spectrum. With much prayer, discussion and research, the St Andrew’s Autism Centre was built with a Chapel in 2010. This Chapel was to be the heart of the centre, providing chaplaincy support for the staff, volunteers and families of the centre.
There were also plans to have an autism-friendly church service for families in need. A call was given for help and a core group of members from various churches responded. They gathered once a week for nine months to learn and listen to parents with special needs and professionals. The preparatory stage included brainstorming sessions on order, structure, roles, processes and liturgy. The first Sunday Service began on Easter Sunday on 8th April 2012. Revd David Teo was appointed to pastor the work.
Revd David Teo and his wife, Betty.
A vision and direction was eventually crafted together. CCH will be a church for people of all abilities, to love, grow and serve together in the life of Christ. Our name, Chapel of Christ our Hope and our theme song, In Christ Alone, emphasises the centrality of Christ in our mission as a church.
As a church for "people of all abilities", we recognise that all individuals have abilities and disabilities. People with autism have abilities. Neurotypical people have disabilities. It is not a case of the more able reaching out to the less able. In Christ we are equal. Our neurotypical members in CCH can testify to this truth, that they learn so much from the families with autism.
Another principle is the ability to accept and love one another. In many churches with ministry to families with autism, a separate service is conducted for them. For us, we are all in the same Service up to the point of the sermon. After that, people with autism have their own program called Rainbow of Hope (ROH) and neurotypical children have their children’s ministry or Sunday school. At the end of the service, we have lunch together every week.
During the main service, there can be behaviours normally deemed as distracting or disruptive in most churches. In CCH, everyone accepts these as part and parcel of being one in the family of Christ. Our visitors often comment positively on this, as they see that it is love in action. In some ways, it is not just the neurotypical who have to adjust to those with autism, it is also true the other way round. People with autism are misunderstood and meltdowns can be because things are not communicated to them in a way that they can understand.
Another principle is the need for integration and community. People from families with autism serve in the church committee and teach Sunday school. Those with autism take part in scripture reading during services. Two cell groups are mobile in nature. This is to cater for families where it is difficult to travel to another venue for cell meeting. The cell members are the ones to travel to various homes to conduct cell meetings. This builds a sense of community. We have very active WhatsApp groups involving many different segments of the congregation.
Finally, we aim to strengthen unity amidst diversity. Not only are there different and unique needs between those with and without autism, there are also different ages groups ranging from young children to seniors older than 70. In addition, although the church plant is Anglican, we also have active members and leaders who came to CCH from diverse church backgrounds.
One of the successes of CCH is that our model demonstrates the love of Christ. At a deeper level, CCH demonstrates the need for the Body of Christ to be more united in the midst of its diversity. The Church of Jesus Christ must be willing to embrace all who belong to Christ, regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic status, educational level and cognitive and other abilities.