When a mom came up to me after worship with tears in her eyes, my first reaction was, “Oh no! What happened?” Far too often I hear stories of worship failures for kids with special needs, but this was different. We were at Rhythms of Grace, a worship service for families with special needs. I expected that day to be a big success for everyone and I was not disappointed.
“My son just took Communion for the first time! I never felt I could take him before, but he did it. I’m so proud of him!”
Wow! The tangible presence of God’s grace in the elements of bread and wine with no barriers or road blocks. What a gift!
Celebrating First Communion
Rhythms of Grace is an inclusive service that is the shared vision of Lisa Puccio, Coordinator for Special Needs Worship and Rector Jimmy Grace. The two launched the service in November of 2010 at Christ Cathedral Episcopal Church with the vision that it would move among four churches on alternating Sundays. As partner churches left over time, the service was simply held monthly. With a vision for a weekly service in one location, when Rector Jimmy Grace was appointed to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in The Heights in Houston, that vision became a reality. With a strategic mission grant from the archdiocese and enthusiastic support by the local congregation, Lisa made the move to St. Andrew’s as well and the Rhythms of Grace launched weekly on February 1, 2015.
I enjoyed attending on a Sunday afternoon with parents and children from a support group that I lead. Numbers vary from ten up into the forties, with a strong volunteer base to help direct the energy of participants. As worship began with music and story time, one boy got up and pounded on the stair rail. Another felt overwhelmed and moved to the back of the room wearing his ear defenders to reduce sensory input, another got the giggles and scooted in spiraling circles in the middle of the floor among the other worshipers. No one was bothered by behavior. No one was shushed. We’d all been there. There was space for all of that energy without sideways glances. How refreshing!
The service flowed from our time gathered in a circle on the floor to a variety of activity stations set up around the room. Painting, coloring, sorting were among several activities that children could choose, selecting activities that matched their strengths and interests. Each activity tied to the scripture lesson of the day. At the end of the time of exploration we gathered again for music and Communion. Watching Rev. Jimmy Grace go around to each family one by one and offer Communion was a visible reminder that God’s grace is freely given and open to all. We do nothing to earn it, but rather we simply need to accept it.
Rhythms of Grace is well-named, matching the worship style to the rhythms of the lives of the participants, all the while celebrating God’s unconditional love for all people. While a few participants are members of St. Andrew’s, this unique style of worship has brought in many people from outside the congregation. It has created an outreach opportunity for what is the most basic of gifts a congregation has to offer, a place to belong while experience God’s unconditional love in connection with others.
If you would like to learn more about this unique service, visit their website here and get in touch with Lisa Puccio for more information.
Gracious God, thank you for the vision of Lisa and Rev. Grace for offering this unique worship opportunity. Continue to guide their vision for opening the church to families with unique circumstances so that all can be part of a nurturing and supporting community. Thank you for surprising gift of a first Communion that was uniquely times to your rhythm of grace. I pray that all families looking to know you and be part of a faith community find a home as full of blessing as St. Andrew’s. Amen