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This article is part of our Spring 2020 Breaking Barriers. This installment focuses on people living with visual impairments. This article was written by Erica Van Harten who attends Hope CRC in Port Perry, ON. If you'd like to read more stories from this issue, please subscribe to Breaking Barriers.

I was struck by encephalitis when I was nine months old. After some time at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, I went home with an undetermined amount of brain damage. My parents were told I had probably lost my sight, but the rest was “wait and see.”

When I was ten years old, my parents enrolled me in flute lessons. My father had been a church organist, and music was a big part of our lives. Due to my short-term memory loss, reading music was too difficult, and I learned to play by ear. I played what I heard and quickly memorized melodies.

Playing the flute became my gift and my voice in church. Years ago, I used a Braille Psalter Hymnal. As churches began using songs from multiple sources, it became onerous to put into Braille all the new material. 

One Sunday when I was away visiting family, I didn’t take my Braille Psalter Hymnal—four very large volumes! My aunt suggested I bring my flute to participate in worship by playing instead of singing. I was nervous and unsure if that would be appropriate. My aunt assured me my flute playing would be welcome, and it was.

Now, even though I could sing along with many of the familiar songs, I prefer to play the flute. Sometimes I play at the front of the church, but mostly I’m in the pew. I often get comments from those sitting nearby—always words of wonder and encouragement. Parents often explain to their little ones about the “lady with the flute”, and it has become a way of breaking through the barrier of “different”.

I have spoken at the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act training session at our church, explaining how to approach and assist a person with a visual disability. I participate in a Life Group and enjoy the interaction with others. In these ways, I hope my blindness can be accepted as a normal part of our church family.


Wonderful post! I also play flute as worship and I wish I could play by ear.  You have a special gift!  I'm glad that you share've inspired me to play my flute today :)

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