ministry1It’s Sunday, June 18, and our whole congregation is gathered in the entryway of the sanctuary with drums, with bright streamers and lights. As we move together toward the altar, our voices cry out:

We are marching in the light of God!

We are marching in the light of God!

In prayer, we stretch out our arms wide and high and low, acknowledging God all around us and never separate from us. We Shout triumphantly to the LORD with Psalm 98, clapping our hands with the rivers, and “roaring” with the sea and everything in it.

It’s a full worship service, lasting just 30 minutes and loaded with the chaos of children climbing around the chancel area. It is chaotic. It is holy. It is inspiring!

Worshipful Chaos!

God requires us to bring all that we are, all our gifts and passions and joys and sorrows, and to praise our maker—the God of heaven and earth. This is our act of worship. All creatures are designed to give this praise!

For some people, church can get in the way of this praise. We are taught that in church we should be quiet, we should:
      read when we are expected to read,
            stand when we are expected to stand,
                   sit when we are expected to sit,
                      listen when we are expected to listen.

Children and those with disabilities who find it hard to sit, or to stand, or to read, or to listen, or to hold quiet, or to stop fidgeting, can find these expectations impossible and stifling. It can even leave people feeling like they’ve failed some kind of worship test.

The result is an incredible sense of unwelcome in the Body of Christ, and before God. A national special needs ministry, Key Ministry, estimates 90 percent of people with disabilities and their families have no regular church affiliation. We are driving away people who already feel isolated and vulnerable—people who need the protection and love of the church.

A new movement

ministry2I am challenged to join a new, disparate movement of churches from Texas, to Minnesota, to Ohio, and Florida—all of whom are re-imagining worship to make creative spaces for authentic praise that welcome every age and ability.

Thanks to Candler, I don’t have to wait on my degree to start testing the waters. Candler believes we learn by doing. That means that when I come to my first appointment as a pastor in The United Methodist Church, I won’t arrive simply with theories and ideas, but also with experience. It also means that my home church gets the chance to try something new and exciting and wonderful!

I have to admit, it was so scary to launch something completely new. There were so many unanswered questions.

Are we really going to tell a bunch of kids they don’t have to sit in their seats and be quiet? How will we accomplish anything? Will there really be authentic worship in this chaos?

But, by opening worship to every gift and ability and disability, our praise rings louder and truer. Longtime members feel it! So does the most fidgety of fidgety three-year-olds! He expounds on our opening prayer at home with his mom. And you would be amazed at the power of a departing blessing delivered with the help of a seven-year-old girl:

You are loved by God, just as you are.
You are created by God, unique.
You are important, with gifts to offer the world.
Now go and love others!

Amen, sister!

Linda gives the background behind the photos: "Part of making worship accessible to all people is finding a way to illustrate the point visually. We are focusing on stories around water for the pilot weeks of this project. A consistent theme makes this possible even for smaller churches. For the opening week, our message focused on the call of the disciples narrative from Luke, where the nets overflow with fish and begin to split. We imagined our selves under God's net: safe, loved, and filled with purpose. God loves us, just as we are. It's our job to go and love others."