The sweet sound of quiet singing backed by acoustic guitar lilted throughout the brick building.
Hardly a seat was open in the semicircle of pews at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Spokane. Saturday was special for a group of second-graders at the church - it was the day of their confirmation and first Communion.
The kids had studied since January, making sure they understood the significance of the sacraments. Everyone was smiling.
Especially the family of 8-year-old Gregory Terhaar, who was born with Down syndrome. Gregory had to work a little harder, maybe, than the other kids to prepare for what was about to happen. But with a little help from his parents, he made it.
Years ago, he might not have.
“The church, for a long time, didn’t let people with disabilities participate fully,” said his mother, Mary Terhaar.
At Sacred Heart, parents attend religious education classes with their children. They make sure the youngsters understand the significance of Sunday School messages. And these days, kids aren’t expected to memorize statements of belief word for word.
After a while, the singing and the message ended. “I’d like the candidates to please stand,” said William Skylstad, bishop of the Spokane Catholic Diocese.
Mary Terhaar nudged Gregory. He stood for all to see, gold buttons flashing bright against a dark jacket.
Gregory and his aunt worked their way up the aisle toward the bishop. One by one, the bishop laid hands on the children.
Gregory bowed his head. “Gregory, be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit,” Skylstad said. Gregory looked up, and Skylstad embraced his tiny hand.
Then the children helped prepare the altar for the Communion they would now share for the first time.
After it was over, Mary Terhaar was relieved. She was worried about herself, not Gregory. “There’s many parts of the service I thought I was gonna cry,” she said, steadying herself a little.
Children confirmed Saturday had made a felt collage with their parents, representing what Communion meant. Many had common themes: grapes, crosses, wheat. Gregory’s had something else - a candle with entwined orange-and-yellow pipe cleaners stuck to it.
Joe Terhaar, Gregory’s father, said the candle represents the Holy Spirit, the pipe cleaners were a double helix of DNA. It meant the Holy Spirit brought them a child with Down syndrome, and they would cherish him.
Gregory was a little squirmy after the service. “All his good behavior’s used up,” Mary Terhaar said.
“Sometimes, the experience is more important than the words,” Skylstad said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo