Ash Wednesday Tears

I shed some tears today during the Ash Wednesday service at a local church. These were not tears of repentance for sin (although I could shed tears concerning my sins). These were tears of joy for community.

Almost three years ago the congregation at East Rochester United Methodist Church (New York State), dived off the deep end to become an inclusive congregation. They put mission ahead of margin and invited a local human services organization (Heritage Christian Services) to share their building. The organization serves, among others, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The East Rochester church opened their doors to become a day habilitation site for a handful of people who volunteer in the community and use disability services.

Since the doors opened the two groups have sought to become one community. They built bridges of communication, accepted diversity, overcame stereotypes and asked deep questions. The church people invited their new tenants to join their midweek Bible study and potluck luncheons. The new tenants invited the church people to volunteer with them as they made bread for communion and sorted clothing donations for charity. They celebrate holidays together, and (as Methodists are prone to doing) they often share a dish-to-pass meal. There have been some bumps along the way, but they believe that the relationships are worth the effort to overcome the bumps.

The pastor at East Rochester UMC has been diligent about including me in worship planning for the holiday services and events that include both groups of people. When we began our planning of an Ash Wednesday service I made the suggestion that we create a service that would be universally accessible and participated in by all of the attendees. Pastor Todd Goddard did not have to think twice about working together to create a non-traditional service for this traditional Christian observance of the beginning of the Lent season.

The service began with a prayer in unison and the singing of “Have Thine Own Way Lord.” After the song we introduced the four interactive stations that we created in the sanctuary and narthex.  The four stations ran simultaneously and the worshippers had as much time as they needed to prayerfully participate in each station. Rocks represent disciplines to commit to practicing; strips of cloth serve as reminders of the work that Christ did for each of us; woven ribbons express love for God and neighbor; and, ashes represent God’s love for us with the ancient words, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

Here is where my Ash Wednesday tears happened. I watched as these two formerly separate groups of people worshiped as one. They assisted each other, prayed together and loved as one. Where there had been fear their was love. Where there had been distance there was acceptance. Names were spoken. Hugs were given. Ashes were received.

One devout man stood in the center of the sanctuary, gazed heavenward and repeated, “I love you God, praise you God” as the other worshippers silently bowed their heads at the simplicity of his expression of love.

Our Lenten discipline- community.  Being the beloved community.

Amen.

Ash Wednesday rocks and water station
River rocks and drift wood, made smooth by constant washing

 

Come Unto Me, A Reflection

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” Matt 11:28
What a wonderful spirit of hospitality Jesus offers to each of us. Jesus’s words let each of us realize how important it is to have a place that presents us with an opportunity to feel welcomed, loved, safe, peaceful and at rest from the cares of everyday life.
This is exactly how I feel when I spend time with the people that I support at Heritage Christian Services. There are lots of “Hello,” and “Glad to see you.” Hugs, hand shakes and offers of a seat also abound. Everyone extends hospitality to me: “Come join us.” “Are you staying for lunch?” “When can you come to dinner?” “When can we go out together?” “What’s new with you?” “Let me tell you about my day.” “Will you pray for me?” “May I pray for you?”
Yes, hospitality is truly a part of the environment here at HCS and I am so grateful to be a recipient of it on a daily basis.
Contributed by Gilda Goings Spiritual Life Coordinator

Faith, Hope and Inclusion

Faith, Hope and Inclusion: Believing Together is the thought provoking name of an event that Heritage Christian Services sponsored through funding from New York State’s Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD).

When we started to plan this community building educational outreach to local clergy and caregivers we struggled with what to call it. We did not want to use the word disabled, or any of its derivatives, in the title because we believe that relationships and community are outside of the confines of disability or impairment. As our planning team talked about the word inclusion one of the ideals of inclusion that we kept returning to is that included people are honored, valued  and loved people. Faith Hope and Inclusion grew from the New Testament words: Now abides these three things- faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.

Faith. No one is excluded from having faith. People with disabilities have the capacity to express deep faith: faith in God, faith in God’s unconditional acceptance, faith in their ability to contribute and make a difference, faith to belong in a community of believers.

Hope. Hope is deeper than an optimistic outlook; it is the belief that the God of love is present and at work in creation. Hope steers the human heart. Hope gets us up and out of bed in the morning. No person is excluded from having hope.

Inclusion. Belonging… being seen as part of all, every, everyone, everybody and the world. An included person is valued and is missed when she or he is not there. An included person is a loved person.

Believing Together.  By definition a community is more than one person united by a common belief, interest or activity. A faith community is united by a common spiritual or belief system.  It is expected that the members of a community work together to strengthen their community; relationship and respect, including and encouraging, differences and dignity flourish in healthy communities. When people with disabilities are included in communities of people who are believing together the community is strengthened.

Faith, Hope and Inclusion: Believing Together. Together we will learn who, what, when, where, why and how to include people with disabilities and those who love them in our communities of faith and beyond.