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Neurodivergence with Katrina Pekich-Bundy | Everyday Spirituality | connect.faith

by , | Apr 12, 2022 | connect.faith, everyday spirituality

This week on Everyday Spirituality, Debbie spoke with Katrina Pekich-Bundy about inclusive spiritual spaces for neurodivergent folks.


Debbie Bronkema: [00:00:00] Good morning! This is Everyday Spirituality with connect.faith. I’m Debbie Bronkema and I’m here today with the Reverend Katrina Pekich-Bundy. Katrina is the pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Alma, Michigan, and the Associate Protestant Chaplain at Alma College. She’s also a writer. She’s published in several Presbyterian publications and Christian Century, and she recently published a blog entry for connect.faith, which was entitled The House of Prayer for All. So we’re really glad that you’re with us today! I know you’re also a mom and a spouse, and I actually saw you put that first on your bio. So certainly not last.

Katrina Pekich-Bundy: Thank you so much for having me today, I appreciate it! Thank you. Thank you. I’d love for you to just start by telling us a little bit about your story of how you became a pastor. How that journey was in your life. Sure. When I was growing up, [00:01:00] I had full plans of being a professional ballerina. I danced from the time that I was four; did competitive dance, tap, ballet, jazz, all of that fun stuff. And at one point in high school, I had this “aha!” moment of “If I do this forever, it will not be fun anymore.” And the side story is I also was not that good, but I decided that I needed to do something else with my life. And at one point I thought that maybe youth ministry might be a good idea, but hadn’t really explored it enough. So I talked to my pastor at the time (I was raised Presbyterian) and he said, “Go to a good liberal arts college, get a degree, and then if you decide not to become a minister, then you can do anything.” So I ended up at Alma College where I work now as well. I had a degree in [00:02:00] religious studies and a minor in psychology. While I was here, they had the “Discovering Vocations” program, which was funded by the Lilly Foundation. That program really helped shape my faith, helped me to articulate my faith and ask the right questions. “Who am I?” “Who is God?” “What am I called to do?” All of that. And that led me to seminary. I went to Louisville Presbyterian Seminary, and it was there that I realized I was called to congregational ministry of some sort, and specifically, focused on social justice issues.

Debbie Bronkema: Great, great. That sounds like a good journey. Do you still dance? Is it still fun for you?

Katrina Pekich-Bundy: I danced through college and danced a little bit. I did a lot of liturgical dance in seminary and had fabulous professors, especially worship professors, [00:03:00] who encouraged creative worship. Any chance I had, I was dancing in worship and did it a little bit in my first call. I really haven’t done it in a while, but I love to see dance. I like to dance in my car, but not anything on a stage.

Debbie Bronkema: So how does the chaplaincy part fit into your sense of call at this point?

Katrina Pekich-Bundy: I was at my first call for 10 years, which is a long time for a first call. They were a fabulous congregation. I really loved being there, but it was time for something new. It was mid-pandemic and I was looking for something different. I have long felt that the church is changing, has been changing, and I think the pandemic sped it up a little bit. The church has to look different. I don’t have the answer for exactly what that looks like. I think it’s different for each congregation in each community. For [00:04:00] this church that I’m serving right now, they also felt like we need to do something different and that “different” for them was to partner with the college which is just a couple blocks away.

That was something that they worked with the college to say, my position is fulltime. It is here at the church, but it’s also part time working with a team of college chaplains. And it feels like I’m able to give back to the community that really helped shape my spirituality. So I’m grateful to do that.

Debbie Bronkema: Yeah, it sounds like you had a wonderful process while you were there. That’s great. That’s amazing. How fun that you got to kind of come full circle in that way. That’s really special.

Katrina Pekich-Bundy: Yeah.

So the blog entry that you wrote for us was about your sense that worship needs to be more inclusive. Particularly of differently abled [00:05:00] or neurodivergent [people.] I wondered if you could tell us more about your journey and what you’ve discovered because I think a lot of people would like to hear more about how that actually could work. Sure. When I was serving in southern Indiana,

I had a colleague in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. We did a lot of services together. Our foundation congregations were smaller and the theology was pretty similar. So we found different ways to partner in ministry. And at one point, I don’t remember which one of us brought it up, but we talked about youth in the church and kids and how can we involve them more? And also we started to hear some stories in the community from parents of disabled children who were not welcomed in the church, not in our contexts, but within the community. And so they didn’t have home churches and they were looking for [00:06:00] something.

We started hearing these stories like: “The pastor or someone in the congregation asked us to leave because we were being disruptive.” and that broke my heart. The church should be a place where people can be themselves and be welcomed and worship. So my ELCA colleague knew of an organization that’s called Mosaic, and they have a worship service called Rejoicing Spirits. The idea is that these different congregations create worship services that are for people with disabilities.

And he knew of a colleague of his, so we traveled to Pennsylvania and experienced this worship service. It was, I think, a Wednesday night and everybody was invited. It was in their fellowship hall. There was movement, there was music, there was talking and laughter. It was [00:07:00] literally the most joyous worship service I have ever attended, and everybody felt comfortable. It seemed that everyone felt comfortable there. And I thought “This is church.” This is church where people can be themselves and not worry about “Oh, I’m too being too loud” or “I have to act a certain way.” So, the Rejoicing Spirits organization requires a feasibility study so we connected with different organizations in the community, talked with different people to see “Is this something that we could do? And this was all pre-pandemic too. So the world looked a little bit differently then. At the same time that this was happening, my son was diagnosed as autistic and it felt even more of a personal draw that this needed to happen. That we needed a space for people to be able to be themselves and worship [00:08:00] comfortably in church.

Debbie Bronkema: So that’s a journey you were already on. Wow.

Katrina Pekich-Bundy: Yeah.

Debbie Bronkema: And this church again in Pennsylvania, it was a church that had been identified by this “Rejoicing Spirits” as a place where this could happen? Or they developed it? So it was an ELCA church and I don’t know how long they’d been around, but they were a well-established congregation and saw the same need that we did, did the feasibility study, and reached out to organizations and found a large group of disabled people who said, “Yeah, we want to have a service that we can participate in.” I feel like I need to say like, the fine print here is: I wish that Sunday mornings could be that worship service, right? I wish that it wasn’t a separate service. And I think that for some people, they love that separate service, but some people want to be all together. [00:09:00] The struggle, I think is that churches are not known for change. To change traditions, even accommodating space like taking out a pew for a wheelchair or creating a ramp can seem like a really big change in a sanctuary. And so, we thought “We’re going to create a space now.” Also go to those churches, go to those places and say, “We need to make our congregations, our churches more accessible.” But that can take a long period of time and so at the same time, let’s also have this space where everybody is welcome. Oh, I liked the “both/and” that you were working on there. Cause it’s really important for everybody to feel welcomed no matter what the place is, but, you don’t want to wait for that day to be able to meet people where they are. Yeah. That’s wonderful. That’s wonderful. And so then what is the [00:10:00] next piece of the journey?

Katrina Pekich-Bundy: The next piece of the journey? I am still new to this call. I started here in August of last year and I have been working especially with diversity, equity and inclusion on campus. They already have a great program and great advocates on campus. And so I’m jumping in to see “How can I help?” The chapel that I serve at on campus was recently renovated and it is now physically accessible. There’s an elevator. Before, it was not accessible physically. I also think for me, it’s not just fighting for the physical changes to the building. Those are the more obvious, the more visible ones, and the ones that typically the ADA say, “This is our baseline.” Right? To me, that’s sort of the [00:11:00] bare minimum. There are also things to think about like sensory overload: are the lights too bright? Is the sound too loud? Are there other pieces that people who are neuro-typical just take for granted that might overwhelm somebody else? So I try to see those different pieces and listen to disabled voices to have a better idea of what can we be doing better in the church.

Debbie Bronkema: Okay. Great. Great. And as you continue to study this and look at what was out there, did you find more resources that you felt were helpful as you imagined having an inclusive community?

Katrina Pekich-Bundy: Yeah. There are so many great resources out there. I think some of them I included on the blog. I know that the Presbyterian website has a variety of [00:12:00] things. I’m thinking specifically, like there are social stories that give pictures that go along with a service. So if you have a bulletin, somebody who does really well with pictures can see a “praying hands” when it’s time to pray. And they know when they see those praying hands, this is a time of prayer. There are also ways of doing more interactive worship, which I love. I love interactive worship. I feel like that is good for everyone. I’ve done a lot of worship services that are kind of like stations and people can get up and move around and pray or read scripture. Or if we’re talking about the earth, there’s a pot of soil and you just dig your hands in and engage all of the senses. That is really helpful for disabled people to be able to engage in whatever way they are comfortable. I’ve also found that neuro-typical people are really excited about that too. I’ve had parents who came up to me and [00:13:00] said, “This is a way that I can engage with my kids in worship.” “We’re not sitting, listening.” “We’re doing together and talking about our faith and engaging in a new way.” So this is really “whole picture” Everyone. How can we all engage our entire bodies, our whole beings. Not just our mind, not just our heart, but our whole being.

Debbie Bronkema: That’s beautiful. It sounds wonderful. So how does your writing fit into this? Do you write liturgy or is writing a totally separate spiritual practice for you?

Katrina Pekich-Bundy: I think that sometimes it intersects. It doesn’t always; it did in this case. I was grateful that it did. I think that I would like to do more of that. This probably isn’t considered writing, but I do love writing social stories. Because I think we, especially in the time of COVID, we all need [00:14:00] those social cues, right?We all are relearning how to be social. It is a need for everyone. Some just need it visually versus listening. They are just different ways that we all learn. So it doesn’t happen together as much as I would like it to,

but I have written some liturgy. I really love taking resources from people who are disabled, who have that experience.

And because they know better than I do. And I want to lift those voices up and

make more space.

Debbie Bronkema: That’s wonderful. That’s wonderful. So how do you get spiritually filled up with all these roles? I can imagine that could be a challenge.

Katrina Pekich-Bundy: Right? Uh, yeah. So writing is a way that I express my spirituality

and even though I don’t dance, I’m a runner. So that is like my way of getting outside and experiencing God in nature [00:15:00] and also sort of getting those endorphins outright. And just silence. I am an introvert. I love silence. To be able to sit quietly in a room. Oh, that’s fabulous.

Debbie Bronkema: That’s amazing. So is there anything else you’d like to share with our audience today?

Katrina Pekich-Bundy: I just hope that people will explore this a little bit more. That there are so many resources out there through the Institute for Theology and Disability. They typically have had conferences,

COVID has backed that up a little bit, but they have resources on their website. And there are different webinars that talk about different ways that you can accommodate within a worship service. So if creating a second worship service is not for everyone and it looks [00:16:00] different for every congregation and every community, but there are little ways that we can just shift a little bit and try to be more inclusive and just start thinking outside of what is typical, what is “normal.” Because I don’t think… What we say is “normal” is not really normal. It’s what a bunch of people decided was normal, right?

Debbie Bronkema: Totally. If we haven’t learned that through COVID, I don’t know when we will.

Katrina Pekich-Bundy: Right, exactly. It’s time to say “No more normal.” And let’s all just embrace the diversity.

Debbie Bronkema: Exactly. Exactly. Well, I was really excited to get to hear more about your story. Reading your blog really made me think that you were somebody I wanted to talk to. I’m just really glad that we got a chance to hear more of your story. Reading it really made me want to think more about what it meant to include everybody. I’m excited to know more about what you’re doing along the [00:17:00] way.

If people want to learn more about you, where can they go?

Katrina Pekich-Bundy: I serve First Presbyterian Church of Alma and the website is firstpres.net I’m also on Facebook and I blog on WordPress at CairnLivingStones.wordpress.com which I also believe is on the blog.

Debbie Bronkema: Well, thank you so much for being with us today. It’s been great having you. And if people want to share what they’ve heard today, please feel free to share it with your friends. You can find Everyday Spirituality in all the places your podcasts live. Thanks again.