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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


Thanks for sharing this Mark! I love the idea of a "no-shush" church; what a great picture of being the body of Christ together in worship. 

Yes, it's another taste of the Kingdom. For people who live or are vacationing near Holland Michigan, I encourage you to visit. Worship happens every Sunday at 6 PM at 15468 Riley St, Holland, MI 49424. Worship is outdoors under a big tent all summer, or inside in case of inclement weather. AND . . . first Sunday of each summer month includes a hot dog roast starting at 5:30. 

The Lighthouse in Rock Valley, Iowa, is a second campus of Faith Reformed Church where often around 20% of the worshippers are people with various abilities/disabilities.  Several years ago, as I was leading worship, a person got up and walked out to the restroom, coming within three feet of me.  Not a problem, I was totally okay with that.  But then a few weeks later, as another person was leading worship, a young man who could not speak but would "yip" uncontrollably from time to time, was seated very close to the speaker and was vocalizing quite often.  My thoughts were, "Oh, I wish his caregiver would move him to the back... or take him out..."  And then God spoke to me in as nearly an audible voice as I've ever experienced, "What if that were Nathan? (our son) Wouldn't you want a place for him to come and worship??"   I was convicted.  And the folks at the Lighthouse have always been welcoming to every person coming to worship, no matter "disruptive" they might appear to be.  

Tom, thanks for your comment. The way most services are structured, and the way most sanctuaries are constructed, we send the message that "worship" is what happens up front, even though that's not a Reformed perspective of worship as a dialog between God and his people. As a result, any "inappropriate" sounds by people in the "audience" are "disruptions". I hope that we who are connected to disability in various ways can help all of God's people recognize and celebrate that worship is EVERYONE participating, not just the people up front. 

  I watch a service by the People's Church in Toronto when I can't make it to church, and when I see this service on TV, the congregation is NEVER SINGING but only members of the praise team.  If we use the approach that worship is only what's going on up front, then that is borrowed from another tradition, which I hate, by the way, because those singers put on a performance with tremolos in their voices as if they were giving a paying concert or something.  It turns me off no end.  The sermons are good, but the rest must make ordinary congregation members or even people with more limitations so inadequate.  I would not feel welcome in such a church that doesn't consider its people's input good enough to be broadcast on the air.

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