What is a worship “disruption”? If someone is really excited about worship and cries out during the service, is he or she disrupting the service or participating in the service?
This past Sunday, I had the privilege of worshiping at The Gathering, a church plant supported by the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America. The Gathering has had public worship for nearly two years. This service was special because it involved the commissioning of the pastor, Eric Peterson, and because it included a public profession of faith, several re-affirmations of faith, and the baptism of two adults. What a wonderful celebration with well over 200 people praising God together!
The service was noisy. Besides vigorous singing of hymns and worship songs, two times a man loudly vocalized like a siren with his voice rising and falling, and most of the service he paced through the aisles of the sanctuary humming (not a song but humming a single note like an electrical transformer). Many others likewise vocalized their joy at various decibel levels. Pastor Eric described worship at the Gathering as “no-shush.” This perspective reflects one of the core values of the church: Freedom of Expression. “We celebrate all internal and external expressions of worship including traditional and non-traditional sounds and movements.”
Most of the worshipers at the Gathering are people without disabilities, but most of those expressing “non-traditional sounds and movements” were those among us with various developmental disabilities. And it was a beautiful celebration of the wonderful diversity of God’s people giving praise to him.
When I have opportunity to worship at the Gathering, it reminds me again that worship is not, nor has it ever been, solely what is happening “up front.” Elsewhere, I have written about leading worship at the group home where my daughter lives, “Worship is not just what is happening “up front”; worship is the sacred time a group of people set aside and dedicate to God. Conceived that way, the vocalizing of residents during worship is not “disruption” but participation! Love includes honoring another’s participation in worship.”
My daughter Nicole, who also has developmental disabilities, loved it all! As we witnessed the two baptisms during the service, I wondered about the stories of these two young men, both of whom have developmental disabilities. In both cases, their parents made profession or reaffirmation of faith. What kept them from involvement at church in the past? What is it about the Gathering that brought them into fellowship? Who are we excluding from worship because we don’t want any “disruptions”?
For another father's perspective, see What I Would Look For in an Autism-Friendly Church.