Enough Room for Everyone

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At a previous congregation where I served as co-pastor, there was always an unplugged mic on a stand up front next to the piano in our worship space. It was there for a gentleman who loved to worship, but had limited speech. Some Sundays, he felt inspired to sing with the praise band, but the steps up to the stage were often too hard for him to traverse, so his spot was down below. He might bring his guitar or waive a flag or he might just stand while the band led worship. That spot always reminded the congregation that we are all welcome and invited to give praise to God in our own way. There was enough room for everyone.

When I picture that mic stand, I am reminded of Jesus’ intentional endeavor to enfold the least, the last, the lost, and the little. It may seem like that spot was only significant to our special friend, but if I am honest, that mic stand meant a lot to me as well. I have at one time or another experienced feeling little, lost, least important and last. Probably most of us have.  It’s why Jesus came.  

The beauty of that mic stand and the basket of flags nearby was that it blessed more than just a few people. When the congregation made space for this differently abled man, they also became aware of others who had particular worship needs. For visual worshipers, art appeared on the surrounding walls. For kinesthetic worshipers, space for movement was made available. But here is what was most beautiful, the accommodations did not only impact the ones who needed them most. Accommodations for children blessed adults. Art for visual learners ushered auditory learners into a new experience. When we advocate and address the needs of those we might label as the little (think children) or lost (picture a seeking friend),or least likely to understand (envision many who stand on the fringe of things), most everyone else in the community is blessed as well.

I just finished a great book: Accessible Gospel, Inclusive Worship, by Barbara J. Newman. While it’s main audience may be folks who work with and advocate for people with disabilities within our congregations, the faith formation themes will benefit all members of a worshiping community. Furthermore, while it is particularly focused on creating a welcoming corporate worship environment, the themes of inclusivity can apply to all ministry areas of any given church. It really is a must read for anyone who wants to create a welcoming community for all those who feel like they live on the fringe of the Body.  

This coming September there will be 2 opportunities to explore the far reaching impact of inclusive worship on faith formation culture in the local church.  

  1. In Grand Rapids, the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship will be hosting an event on September 13.  
  2. In my neighbourhood, we are inviting people in Southern Ontario to The Accessible Gospel:  Connecting Universal Worship Design Principles with all Church Ministries. This event will take place on Saturday, September 17, 2016 at Immanuel CRC, Brampton, ON. Those in attendance will have the opportunity to examine significant ways that inclusive worship and various ministry streams interface, inform, and support each other.  In particular we will explore:
  • Implementing Universal Worship Design
  • Reclaiming a Missional Parish Model
  • Strengthening I-GEN Church Culture
  • Promoting Integrative Children’s Ministry
  • Igniting Pervasive Prayer Ministry

Join the conversation!  Those who are interested in the Ontario event are invited to contact Lesli van Milligen at [email protected]. Click here to find out more about the Grand Rapids event.

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Thanks Leslie! Great thoughts. Here's one for you: I'm beginning to wonder if "accommodations" is even the right word. (And it's one that I use often, so this is something I'm wondering about and I invite you to wonder with me.) "Accommodations" implies that you, whoever the "you" is, are special, and so we'll do something special for you to be a part of us. We don't call stairs an "accommodation", even though there are some people in church who could move from one floor to another using nothing but a rope. Nor do we consider electric lights or toilets or microphones and speakers to be "accommodations". Here's another book to consider, Turning Barriers into Bridges: The Inclusive Use of Information and Communication Technology for Churches in America, Britain, and Canada by John Jay Frank.  In that book he argues that what some of us think of as "accommodations" are actually just ways for people to participate. So in the case of the man you describe, the unplugged mic is not an accommodation for the man who would use it sometimes, it's an opportunity for the whole congregation to be more the community that God calls your congregation to be. So I wonder, if we don't use the word "accommodation", what would be a better word? 

Thanks for your feedback, Mark.  I hear what  you are saying and I will have to give this some thought.  Words matter.   I do resonate with the idea of opportunity for the whole congregation to grow in its understanding of what it means to be community.