Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Campus Lutheran in Kearney, Neb. has now held Rejoicing Spirits services since February. Here is something the Rev. John Gosswein, pastor wrote about the experience to share with others. 

It was a perfect worship service. Loud and boisterous as everyone entered, with enthusiastic welcomes and greetings. Some were singing words to the songs, but others were just clapping with glee. The usual greeting at the beginning of the service turned into a parade of welcoming “in the name of Jesus.” 

When the pastor asked for assistants to lead various responses and verses, six individuals jostled their way forward. Lively “amens” punctuated the liturgy, accompanied by applause. Even when the excitement boiled over and the sanctuary became a little noisy, no one said “shh.” 

While some call it a “non-shush” service, it really is Rejoicing Spirits, a worship designed for those bearing intellectual and/or physical disabilities. It’s not meant to be “denominational,” nor to interfere with regular church services. Rather, this worship is an opportunity for them to BE the church, rather than have “church” done for them. 

In fact, many of these participants had been in social settings where their normal behaviors would receive glances, disparaging comments (“They are disruptive to my worship,” “Are they able to get anything out of the worship anyway?”). This is a worship designed to allow a liberation in whatever physical and verbal expression they may have. 

Families do appreciate that their congregations provide accessibility and space for persons with disability, but realize the regular church time cannot usually incorporate the gifts and styles those same individuals can share. Rejoicing Spirits is just such an opportunity to share and to learn. Here, the whole church can have time to experience how Jesus continues to share peace, forgiveness, love and joy in ways beyond “normal” words. While we initially may not be sure of the comprehension level of many attendees, we quickly realize that they, too, need the opportunity to express some level of brokenness, joy, thanksgiving, need for mercy and cries to God. Indeed, we learn how to “do it better” with the whole church!