SPOTLIGHT: Open and Affirming Means Open to Everyone, Even Those With Special Needs

SPOTLIGHT: Open and Affirming Means Open to Everyone, Even Those With Special Needs

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Brockton Church Holds Monthly Service for “All God’s People” -- including people with special needs and their families.

All God’s People, a program for people with special needs and their families, is a ministry started less than a year ago by Christ Congregational Church, UCC, Brockton.  This inclusive worship service, open to the public, is held the second Sunday of each month at their handicapped-accessible building.  The service begins at noon with lunch, fellowship and a Sunday School craft; then at 12:30 the attendees go to the sanctuary for a 30-minute interactive worship service with music, prayers, a scripture story, and communion. Sign language is also performed.

According to the pastor, the Rev. Patricia Hayes, they practice a “no shushing” rule and the monthly event is designed for anyone for whom a traditional worship service is too long or too quiet.  “It is very participatory -- and short and sweet,” said Rev. Hayes.  “So far we are getting families with children ‘on the spectrum’ and residents from two adult group homes.  It is pretty exciting.”  (Click here to see a video of the congregation singing at one of the services.)

The idea for the service came after the staff and lay leaders visited a Lutheran church in Attleboro that holds a similar service.  “A church member knew our Diversity Study Group had been studying special needs and brought me a flyer for the Lutheran program,” said Rev Hayes.  “We were tired of our special needs families coming for a few weeks in the fall, realizing it was still too stressful to be in the traditional service and program, and giving up for another year.”

The All God’s People service follows the 9:55 service and Sunday School, with lunch being heated and set up during the fellowship hour.  The staff generally leads the second service, although both youth groups have stepped up to create and lead the interactive message. 

A Brockton Enterprise reporter interviewed several families who were appreciative of the inclusive service.  One mother welcomed the fact that her 11-year old son could be himself and not be judged.  Another woman who has a grandson on the autism spectrum, said it is important to her that he is welcomed to a place of worship because “God intends for all people to be welcome in His church.”

“We are a church that intentionally and lovingly welcomes everyone. We are a church where people come from all walks of life, from many nations, and from many experiences of family,” said Hayes.  “This worship service is full of joy, providing a place for children from the congregation, and children and adults from the community.  The singing, the participation, the core message that everyone is valued and loved fill the room – any feeling of ‘this is a lot of work’ dissipates.  You know it is worth it when we call people forward to receive communion saying ‘all are welcome at this table’ and people come with tears in their eyes.” 

The next all-inclusive worship service will be held August 9th.  Rev. Hayes can be reached at the church office at pastor@brocktonucc.org or 508.586.3022.  Visit their Facebook page.

UPDATE: Read a related blog post by Elsa Marshall, the Massachusetts Conference Resource Director and Associate for Christian Faith Formation and Youth Ministry, that looks at resources for churches interested in offering a more inclusive welcome.
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