An Accessible and Meaningful Ash Wednesday

If it is January than Ash Wednesday must be soon! We are preparing our annual interactive Ash Wednesday service that is accessible and meaningful to all people.  That sentence is much easier to type than it is to put into action. Accessible and meaningful to all people…

The congregation of East Rochester United Methodist Church (Upper New York Conference) and their downstairs tenants (a group of people who volunteer at various not-for-profit organizations in the area and who use disability services) are accustomed to celebrating the holidays of the church calendar together.

The process we use to create this annual interactive Ash Wednesday service is simple but time consuming. It requires much time in prayer. I start with reading the lectionary scriptures, available online from Vanderbilt. . Next is a time of pondering and meditating the scriptures, mingled with prayer. The prayer flows around questions:

What do your people need from this season?
What do I need from this season?
How can this diverse community unite in seeking your face and heart for the next 40 days?
How can our senses of touch, taste, hear, smell, and sight be used to prepare our hearts for Lent?

My next step is to visit Pinterest! There are hundreds of interactive faith and prayer stations pinned by myself and other Pinterest users. My Pinterest board for Lent is this link.

Please check back to AbleFaith as I will be sharing my plans and interactive stations for the 2018 service.

Have you used interactive stations for your congregations? What worked? What did not work?

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Righteous Anger (part 2)

Writing yesterday’s post about what happened to a friend at church had its cathartic effect on my soul. Writing the words and mulling them over provided space for prayer. And the prayer has led me to mercy.

I am still angry about the injustice experienced by my friend and his peers. In my quest to be angry but not sin, I need to find a way for the anger to become an expression of love. God’s love is serious and strong, not sentimental and mushy. The Message bible says that “Love always looks for the best.” (1st Corinthians 13:6) My prayers, plus my musings about the nature of God’s love and how to express it in this situation, have taken me to the sage advice of a friend: see the innocence.

I absolutely believe that the pastor, who stopped his sermon to tell my friend that he needed to leave the sanctuary because his soft vocalizations were a distraction, did not intend harm. The pastor was not motivated by meanness. He likely believes that preaching and interpreting the word of God for a congregation is a very serious task and should be handled with utmost respect and decorum. His application of the apostle Paul’s words in 1st Corinthians 14:40, “Let all things be done decently and in order” is that those who are gathered to hear a sermon must be respectful and that equates to silent. He and I disagree on how the words “Let all things be done decently and in order” are to be experienced.

I see the innocence on his part. I understand that he only intended to maintain a ‘decent and orderly’ service. I attended a church with that culture for many years when my children were young. I lost count of the number of times an usher quietly tapped me on the shoulder with an offer to carry the diaper bag for me as it was indicated that the fussy or fidgety child needed to leave the service to not be a distraction. I, and the other parents of restless little ones, understood the church culture. We were not dealt with in an embarrassing way or publicly signaled out as a disruption to an otherwise orderly service.

Very gradually the culture of the church my family attended began to change.  As I sifted through memories in search of why or when the change began I recalled an older woman who had Alzheimer’s disease. She continuously paced at the back of the sanctuary. Inclusion of her may have been the catalyst that led to a change of culture that engaged active, young families in the worship services. The desire to include a woman with a disability and accommodate her unique needs led to open doors for more people in that church 25 years ago. Today that church is a model of inclusive worship.

So, how does this memory and experience guide an expression of love for the pastor who humiliated my friend?  In attitude, I am attempting to be merciful and  see the innocence. In practice I am not sure, yet, beyond continued prayer. That developing wisdom may make a part 3 of Righteous Anger.

Celebrating World Autism Day

I thought about the title of this post for awhile before deciding on “Celebrating World Autism Day.” At first I was going to title this “Honoring World Autism Day”, which would be a correct view of the day, but I decided to use of the word celebrating. Celebrations are happy, joyous gatherings with cake and balloons. Celebrations are a joyous recognition of something wondrous, such as the birthday  of a loved one; so ‘celebrating’ is the correct word.  What are we celebrating joyously with cake and balloons? The joy of sharing the world with wonderful people who have autism.

What is autism? The autism advocacy group Autism Speaks defines it as “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. Wikipedia describes autism as a disorder of neuro development. People who have autism interact with and interpret the world differently than more typical people. People who have autism are complexly different and complexly similar to other people. Today we are celebrating those differences and similarities. Today we are celebrating the lives of the 1 in 68 children who have autism around the globe.

What are we, as people of faith celebrating? All people are amazing gifts from God to each other. Today we are celebrating the wonderful gifts that people who have autism bring to the world. We are celebrating the opportunity that we have to journey through life with people who have autism, their families and their caregivers. We are celebrating the joy of sharing our faith with people who interpret the world differently. We are celebrating God at work across the entire spectrum of humanity.

Tea for Two

I love a good cup of coffee. I also enjoy a nice cup of tea. I drink coffee on the go. I drink tea on the slow. The best tea is made slowly. To be its best tea requires waiting for the pot of water to come to a boil then cool for a minute before pouring it over the tea ball of loose tea. it does not come from a microwave and a paper tea bag. This is solely my observation. I do not know if there is any actual evidence to back up my observation about the process that produces the best cup of tea for me. You see, it is about the process: the few minutes spent waiting for the water to heat, the gathering of the loose tea into the tea ball, the fragrance that is released as the tea and hot water meld, the colors and textures of the used tea leaves, and, finally, the shining swirl as a honey dipper releases its spun gold into the tea.  Yes, it is the process and it makes me slow down. My life is usuallly lived at a fast pace and I need to build elements into it that force me to slow down. The slowing down gives me time to see the beauty of the snow balancing on the clothes line, to deeply listen to a favorite song, to remember Aunt Clare and how she used to bring her own tea bag when she walked acorss the yard for a visit because we only drank coffee in my childhood home.  I value these few minutes to slow down each afternoon.  I seek them out and feel out of sorts if I get too busy for them.

I have friends who I live life at full speed with. I cherish them. But I have one  friend who makes me slow down. Spending time with her is good for my soul. She leans in as I share my stories and her lovely brown eyes invite me to tell her more. She smiles when I tell too many stories about how wonderful my grandchildren are. She will not let me take myself too seriously and will clasp her hands to her face and turn away if it seems that I am starting to do so. She is honest with me and I am refreshed by being with her. We communicate heart to heart.

Like a slow cup of tea, our friendship is never rushed. You see, my dear friend and I do not communicate in traditional ways. She does not talk. She does not use sign language or picture symbols. She relies on my investment of time to get to know her heart and how she expresses herself. She makes eye contact, she smiles, she pulls away, she reaches out to touch me, she sighs heavily, she cries. She communicates with trust. She is a gift. 

Holding the trust of another person is a sacred thing.

 

Where Hospitality Begins

We think you will find this personal story shared by our guest blogger Marketta Gregory inspiring and thought provoking. Marketta shares her gentle and insightful words at http://simplyfaithful.com/ .

“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us…” – Romans 12:6When my mama talks about her third pregnancy, she always says that she knew something wasn’t quite right. “It’s nothing,” my daddy would say — right up until the doctor saw that I was blue and fading fast.
Mama had been right. The umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck and arm, and I was choking.
As my parents tell it, the doctor never said a word or asked their opinions, he just reacted as a man sworn to save lives. He got me out as fast as he could, knowing that he might be causing nerve damage in my neck and arm.
Later, he would tell my parents that my arm might not ever grow or move on its own. “But, I figured you wanted her alive,” he told them.
So, my parents took me home to my two older sisters and they waited and watched. Two months and three weeks later, I moved my right arm. I could move my wrist and wiggle my fingers, according to my baby book. By six months, I was crawling — not on all fours like most kids, but I could sit and scoot with my left arm. It was progress.
Eventually my arm did grow, although it’s still a little shorter than the left. I can lift my right arm almost to my chin but my wrist seems to always be bent under a bit, something that has forever bothered me in photos.
One of my earliest memories is of having my picture taken in front of a wagon wheel that was almost as big as I was. The photographer had me rest my right arm on top of the wheel and then tried to flatten out my wrist. Within a second, it had bounced back into its U shape. She tried again. It bounced back.
The older I got, the more sensitive I became to being different — and the more determined I became to fit in. Of course, that’s hard to do when you play trombone and have to use your foot to reach seventh position or when you have to swallow your pride and ask a classmate to sharpen your pencil because the sharpener is mounted too high on the wall. Still, I managed, and I even learned a little in the process.
Ironically though, I never knew what my birth injury was called until my late 20s, when pain in my arm made me seek out a specialist in Erb’s palsy. While I was waiting for that appointment I wrestled with my arm in a new way. What if there was something that could be done now to help my arm?
Would I change it if I could? At almost 30, would I re-teach myself to tie my shoes? Would I discover that I’m not left-handed after all?
No, I decided.
I wouldn’t.
I had my arm to thank for my entire world view — a set of values that helps me empathize with others; a set of values that says there are many ways other than the “normal” way. I was fine the way God had made me. And isn’t that where hospitality begins?
We begin by knowing we are welcomed by God and then the welcome grows.

Encouragement as Hospitality

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. Thessalonians 5:11 ESV

There is a neat tradition at Heritage Christian Services. For over 15 years, the individuals at all of the day habilitation programs in the Buffalo, New York area set adise a day to intentionally go out and encourage someone in their neighborhood or faith community. This day of encouraging is in addition to routine volunteering that they do on a weekly basis in the community with Meal on Wheels, food shelters, animal shelters and much more.

One year each person made a care basket for their faith community leader with yummy cookies, music and gifts. The individuals at their work places boarded their vans and traveled to each of their faith communities. When they reached someone’s church or synagogue the person rang the door and handed the basket to their pastor, priest or rabbi. They shared with them how much their faith community leader had encouraged their faith and thanked him or her as they handed them a beautiful basket. One Pastor almost cried and said he had a difficult week and how much this act of kindness made his day!
Another pastor said she saw her friend walking up to the door of the church and felt like sunshine was coming her way. She had just lost her dog the day before.

There is nothing like surprising someone on an ordinary day and letting them know how much they mean to you.

This group of individuals were able to bring hospitality to the very people that share it with them every week and it was a delight!

After their day of encouraging the people from each day program got together with each other to tell their stories, share a meal, dance, sing and have a devotion of thankfulness together.

Contributed by Diane Sturmer, Spiritual Life Coordinator, Heritage Christian Services, Inc.

Hospitality to Strangers

Will Rogers, iconic American film actor from the 1950s said, “A stranger is a friend I have not met yet.” This stranger who is a potential friend could be the person passed on the sidewalk, the man or woman standing next to you at the bus stop, the new family that moved in down the road or the person seated in a wheelchair behind you at church. The basics of initiating a relationship include a smile, making eye contact and giving a greeting.

Let’s do some imaginary role-playing. Imagine that it is Monday morning and you are standing at the bus stop when a stranger stands beside you. Politeness requires a greeting. Hellos are exchanged, the bus comes and the day continues. Tuesday morning comes at the same bus stop. The stranger is again waiting for the same bus. Hellos are again exchanged, perhaps with a non-committal comment about the weather. Wednesday and Thursday the same greetings are exchanged. The Friday greeting includes a comment about the upcoming weekend. When the second Monday of the two people at the bus stop arrives the greeting is more natural and eye contact is established. What is happening? A relationship is developing. It may never be more than two people greeting each other at a shared bus stop, but it has the potential to grow into a connection, then an acquaintance relationship and possibly a full blown friendship.

Now let us imagine that the ‘stranger who is not yet your friend’ is the person who is sitting in a wheelchair behind you at church. Imagine that the pastor/priest says it is time to exchange a sign of peace or to greet those around you. You turn around to exchange a handshake with the person behind you and see that she is seated in a wheelchair. What do you do? In the matter of a split second your mind races around: It would be rude to ignore her; it looks like her right hand is pulled up next to her shoulder so how do I shake her hand; should I speak loudly to be sure she can hear me? Remember, she is just another person, just like the stranger from the bus stop. Start with a smile. If she cannot extend her right hand wait a brief second to see if she extends her left hand and if she does than follow suit. If she does not reach out to you than you can still make eye contact, smile and exchange a greeting of peace with her. Now imagine that the service is ended and she is still sitting behind you. How would you interact with her if she was not sitting in a wheelchair but was just a stranger behind you in church? Smile, make a comment about the weather or the sermon, exchange a handshake or hug and then go home for lunch. That is how you should interact with the stranger sitting in a wheelchair. To create a more comfortable environment for her you should sit down next to her or face back-wards from a seated position in your seat. This places both of you on the same eye level. Introduce yourself. It is very appropriate that part of the after church conversation includes asking the stranger how you should exchange the sign of peace with her next week if she sits behind you again. If she has a friend or family member with her it is polite to include them in the conversation as well, but remember that they are two distinct persons so do not address the friend and exclude the person in the wheelchair. Unless the person in the wheelchair shares with you that she has a hearing loss and needs you to speak loudly you should not speak loudly or exaggeraterate your enunciations. The need to utilize a wheelchair for mobility does not mean that a person has other disabilities such as deafness or intellectual disabilities. A relationship is developing. It may never be more than two people greeting each other at church, but it has the potential to grow into a connection, then an acquaintance and possibly a full blown friendship.

Hebrews 13:1-2 “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertangels agels unawares.”

Written by Lida Merrill, Director of Spiritual Life, Heritage Christian Services, Inc.