Twice a month I have the honor of leading worship for over twenty adults living with a developmental disability and often physical disabilities. I tell God’s stories using Children and Worship materials. The Children and Worship program may have been designed for young children, but it is not childish and it challenges all adults to meet God, listen to God and talk to God.
In the early 90’s, about the same time I was introduced to Children and Worship by Sonja Stewart, my local congregation became the church home for several members of a local group home. Not long after, we began a mid-week program for these adults and many more who learned about our ministry through the Friendship Ministries network. I was working hard to learn stories for children on Sunday mornings, so I adapted the liturgy a little and started telling the same stories from Young Children and Worship, by Sonja Stewart & Jerome Berryman. This Friendship in Faith group still meets in Simcoe, Ontario, and is a joint ministry of Immanuel CRC, Trinity Anglican and St. Paul's Presbyterian.
The response to the stories from both the adults living with a developmental disability and the leaders who came alongside them was a blessing to all. Some of the responses were verbal, some were smiles and nods and some were actively participating in the story.
When I share the Parable of the Good Shepherd and the Lost Sheep and ask reflective questions that begin “I wonder….,” it encourages everyone to really “wonder” and not seek out one correct answer. There isn’t one correct answer.
When I point to the felt pieces lying in a square and say, “I wonder what the sheepfold really is? “ Judy says, “It’s my home.” Bob says, “It’s heaven.”
I point to the sheep and ask, “I wonder how these sheep feel about one another.” Cheryl says, “They like one another most of the time.” When I ask, “I wonder if you have ever been lost?”, many nod their heads up and down and I hear about the time they got lost in the mall or couldn’t find their way home. And then when I ask, “I wonder who the Good Shepherd really is?”, I get an enthusiastic response from several people at once, “It’s Jesus.”
Our worship times include all the parts of typical Sunday morning worship and more. We sing songs of praise enthusiastically. Some sing with voices, some with musical shakers, most with sign language and often with clapping and even dancing! On occasion, we even have a solo. The Bible story is presented with wooden figures and felt figures in the style of Children and Worship. We respond to the story with an appropriate craft or game in small groups and then in the larger group by reading the passage from the Bible. We spend time in open prayer. I begin with, “I wonder what kinds of things we can thank God for today; or if you know anyone who is sick, sad or lonely?” After a few ideas are shared, and I remind Wayne that we are looking for short prayers, we begin and the adults living with a disability participate in the prayer time more than the leaders. Yes, some speak in strange tongues and I don’t understand the prayer, but I am confident that it’s all honoring to God. Of course, like Sunday morning worship, we also have coffee and cookies and time for fellowship before and after our worship. At the end we bless one another by holding hands, swinging a little and singing “God is So Good”, and end with “God Loves Me So.” God does indeed love us and we love one another and are blessed by each other.
I also use Children and Worship stories from time to time in corporate worship and "Messy Church." I wonder if you would like to know more? Please check out the websites below and do not hesitate to email me if you have questions or want additional information.
Linda Shaw (Canadian contact): firstname.lastname@example.org
Carol Jones (U.S. contact): email@example.com
Diane Dykgraaf (CRC contact): firstname.lastname@example.org