A prestigious chapel in Cambridge has been forced to issue a public apology after a nine-year-old child with autism was kicked out of its Father’s Day service.
Paul Rimmer, an American academic who works at Cambridge University, wrote an open letter to the dean of King’s College outlining an incident during the chapel’s Evensong service on Sunday.
In the letter, which he posted to Facebook on Monday, Mr Rimmer said he had decided to take his two children, one of whom has autism, to the service.
He wrote: “I chose to attend Evensong on Trinity Sunday, also Father’s Day, with my two sons, one of whom is autistic. Tristan is nine years old, and is a clever and joyful child, who loves church buildings, services, and choral music.
“He is also non-verbal, and expresses his excitement by calling out and laughing. His expressions are often loud and uncontainable. It is part of who he is, so there is no realistic way for him to be quiet.
“Many autistic people are like Tristan in this way. Right before the Kyrie, one of the ushers informed me that you had instructed him to remove us.
“Tristan’s expressions were apparently interfering with the enjoyment of some of the other visitors.
“The usher seemed embarrassed but insistent as he asked us to leave, though I’m not sure if it was because of my son’s vocalisations, or because of the nature of the directive you had given him.”
He added: “Might I suggest that you place a sign at the front of the chapel, clearly identifying which categories of people are welcome and which are not?
“I can only imagine how terrible it would be if autistic people, others with disabilities, those with mental illnesses, and people with dementia, were all equally welcome to attend Evensong, how this would get in the way of the choir’s performance, how it would distract the choristers, and how upsetting seeing these sorts of people at the chapel would be for the tourists who have come such a long way.
“My son might not be able to talk, but he knows perfectly well what is going on around him. This is not the first time my family has been asked to leave a church on account of his being “too disruptive for other worshipers.”
Mr Rimmer uses the post to link to a page on the Church of England website titled: “Welcoming Disabled People“ which states “one of the key areas in which it wants to increase the welcome and participation of disabled people”.
In response, the dean of King’s College, Revd Dr Stephen Cherry apologised on his blog, saying he was “devastated” by the letter.
He wrote: “I have looked into what happened and now more fully appreciate that there is more that we can do to support and help the staff who are responsible for the welcome that we give those who come to share our services with us.”
The apology was also shared by the King’s College Twitter account.
Hi John, please find here a public apology in respect of this: https://t.co/Fit8VX1VYG— King's College (@Kings_College) June 18, 2019
Dr Cherry added that the instruction to remove Tristan was not given by him and said he has requested a meeting with Mr Rimmer.
The initial Facebook post has since been widely shared, with many displaying despair at the incident.
Mr Rimmer has since updated his original post, saying he may have been wrong that the instruction to leave the chapel came directly from Dr Cherry.
Yahoo News UK has contacted Mr Rimmer and Dr Cherry for comment.