One time as I led a Christmas Eve worship service I
read, “A voice cries out in the wilderness…” only to be interrupted by a
child who excitedly cried out, “Mama! Mama, mama, mama!” I paused and
smiled, then resumed my reading. It was a sacred moment that has stayed
with me. Sometimes the holy is a little disruptive with unexpected
Leslie Neugent, founding pastor for the Parables Worship Ministry
at Wayzata Community Church in Wayzata, Minnesota, says that her
ministry’s genesis came from a similar experience during worship. Leslie
was listening to a sermon when a child with disabilities began to sing,
“Jesus Loves Me.” The child’s father quickly got up and wheeled the
boy’s chair out of the sanctuary so he wouldn’t disturb those listening
to the sermon. Leslie thought, “The holiest thing that happened in this
hour just got hustled out the door. I wonder how we could lift up those
moments and celebrate them instead?” And so began her work to create a
worship service that was more open to all – accommodating the needs and
celebrating the gifts everyone.
As a pastor of a congregation that includes people with
disabilities, I wonder how we are making room for the holy in our
worship service. Are we creating a welcoming space for wiggly, excited,
or over-tired children and their parents? Are we accessible for those
who use wheelchairs? Do we fully include those who have intellectual
disabilities – are non-readers or low-readers able to participate? Have
we created a sensory-friendly space for autistic friends? Are we mindful
of those who are struggling with illness, depression, or grief? Can I
roll with the unexpected when it happens?
Christmas can be a time when we want everything to go perfectly and
may feel disappointment at disrupted plans. Perhaps we can embrace the
unexpected by fully receiving one another and the gifts we each bring.
An interruption might be a holy moment. Maybe the unexpected thing is
what God had in mind to stir us from our complacency. God often uses
inconvenient ways of entering our lives. Jesus comes to us at Christmas
in the glorious messiness of being human. He calls us to drop what we
thought we were supposed to be doing and honor him. We honor Jesus
through loving God and loving one another – celebrating each person as a
unique and precious gift.
Prayer: Thank you, God, for entering into our messy human life in
the form of a vulnerable infant. Help us to welcome you fully by
welcoming others in your name. For it is in embracing the holy and
surprising event of Jesus’ birth into this broken world that we find our
hope, our love, our joy, and our peace. Amen.
Jeanne Davies serves as planting pastor for a new inclusive congregation, Parables Community, in Lombard, Illinois. She also serves as Program Resources Coordinator for Anabaptist Disabilities Network.