It is sung that Jesus loves the little children. The following will underline how one of these children falls outside the images this beloved song generates. For one thing, he is 71 on the outside and no longer small. Inside, he remains forever 8 mentally. Deeper still, he is faithful beyond his years. And we’ll add a bit about the soul of an artist.
Johnny Standfield, is by turns shy and overt. Tonight, he is wearing sunglasses and a black cowboy hat as he sits in the pastor’s study at his church. He’s here every week for a meeting of “the brotherhood” men’s group, but before that he draws profiles of passers-by and church members for tips. This 71-year-old man carefully explains that he has “the mind of a child,” though no young boy ever sketched as he does.
Johnny is very open about his raison d’être, his purpose, and his faith.
“Jesus is a wonderful person who has saved me and been with me a long time,” Johnny said. “He has pulled me through bad times like cancer.”
He smiles broadly as the Rev. James C. Carrington, Jr., his pastor, enters the room. The pastor is carrying a portrait that Johnny did of him. Members said that this drawing looks like a younger version of the reverend since the artist had no way to add gray to Carrington’s beard and hairline, creating his likeness only with a solo black pen.
“I brought those with similar needs coming in here by the dozens,” the pastor said. “I believe the church should accept them all and train them since God helped everybody, including the homeless. Sometimes they may distract during services, but the church needs to have an open door to allow folks to come in just as they are since they need Christ just like we do.”
Carrington also allowed that having the handicapped here was beneficial for his able-bodied members.
“Johnny is cheerful and loves to watch cartoons and play with his cars, other toys and stuffed animals,” Patricia Jackson, his caregiver, said.” “He draws whenever he can get the supplies which can be expensive.”
Jacqueline Alexander, the social worker who helps Johnny, said that he would like to extend his artistry beyond the quick pen and ink profiles he does now to work in watercolors and oils. Donations of either would be welcomed at the Willing Workers Baptist Church, 801 29th St. N., in Texas City.
There are few academic studies on the reception of the disabled by houses of faith, but a good deal of informal complaints in social media that many congregations are less than open to them than the handicapped community would wish.
For those congregations who do reach out though, the rewards are there. In “Religion and Disability: The Experiences of Families of Children with Special Needs,” researcher Elizabeth E. O’Hanlon wrote, “Families reported that participation in religious activities and support from clergy and members were important. Moreover, families were highly satisfied with these activities and support. As predicted, a significant relationship was found between frequency of attendance, amount of support, and satisfaction with activities and support.”
As for Johnny, he said that the brotherhood at Willing Workers has welcomed him with open arms. And his pastor has even relented so far on the no hats rule in services so that Johnny can retain his signature black cowboy hat with him at church.
Next week in Our Faith: Lutherans on Luther, 500 years after the fact.