Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. (Joel 2:28 NRSV)
Knowing about something and experiencing it, seeing it for yourself, are two entirely different things. Hospitality and welcoming in worship are things we all know about. Hopefully we’ve all experienced both. Sadly, as parents of children with special needs that hospitality is often lacking, so when we truly receive it we know how precious a gift it is.
I recently attended worship at Parables, one of the worship services offered at Wayzata Community Church. I knew about the service. I read about it, watched a video, and talked at length with the founding pastor, Leslie Neugent. KNOWING about Parables and EXPERIENCING Parables were different matters entirely. It was boundary-breaking, joy-filled worship with surprises and the in-breaking of God at every turn. If you live anywhere near Wayzata, MN you must experience this worship for yourself. Even if you don’t live near, it’s worth the trip! I flew all the way from Texas and know without a doubt it will not be my only experience of Parables. If your church could use an infusion of radical hospitality to the special needs community in worship, go to Parables!
What’s so different about this service? It is worship created for and led by people with special needs. I wrote in my blog recently a prayer, “Please God, let something happen in worship today that isn’t printed in the bulletin.” That prayer was answered. Big time! Picture a parade of whoever cares to participate processing down the aisle, singing, shaking tambourines, hand in hand with the pastor. A young man with sensory issues held his hands over his ears even as he marched in joyously, and then decided to go sit on the chancel steps for the rest of the service. A fine plan! It has the best view! And really, why should it matter? During a break in the action a young lady who was late to church gave the pastor a seemingly never-ending hug, marching onto the stage to do so. Again, why should it matter? A young man who was until very recently non-verbal went around the room during the time of greeting saying, “Hello. How are you?” When was the last time you got truly excited about being greeted in worship? It made me cry tears of joy. I was seated by a young man who is learning to say hello by shaking hands. We shook hands about 10 times during worship, including when I got up to talk about my upcoming book for special needs parent support groups. He gave me the cue so I stepped out of the pulpit to shake hands. I can walk and talk at the same time. Why should it matter that he wanted to shake hands right then?
I saw the hands and feet of Jesus at work in the participants. They know each other’s strengths and where they need a little help. A young lady with challenged mobility had several of her peers help her up the steps to the altar to serve Communion. That’s right. Not just to receive, but to serve. A request from the pulpit for a volunteer to lead the Lord’s Prayer received a round of applause as a teen stepped up to lead. When was the last time the Lord’s Prayer brought you to tears? The same was true for a young lady who did a wonderful job reading the scripture of John 4, Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. How often are people with differences celebrated in worship? How often do they get to offer their gifts and let them shine?
There was a purity and innocence to worship. Parents were at ease. They knew their whole family was welcome. No one was shushed. No one was made to sit if they didn’t want to. Noises? Who cares! Again, why should it matter? The sermon challenged me to think about hard things as a special needs parent. Where is the line between advocating for my child’s future and giving over to God and accepting? Yet, simultaneously the message was at a child’s level so there was learning for everyone in the room. It was the most genuine, unscripted, open-hearted worship I’ve experienced in a long time, and I go to church a lot so that is saying something!
I met a church member who retired from teaching a few years ago. “I go to the big service too, but this is really my service. I see God here.” Well, I did too and I want more. I wonder if my husband would agree to move from Texas to Minnesota…
Prayer: Boundary-breaking God, Open our eyes to see those who feel excluded, open our hands to reach out to them, open our hearts to form us to better be your people. Amen.
Photo courtesy of Parables: Red Fish Theology
To learn more about Parables worship, click here:
You can order a “how-to” guide here: