Worship With Everyone in Mind: St. John in Jersey City

May 13, 2014

Worship is a central part of the Christian life, where people of faith gather, hear the Word and are fed. This can take many forms and have a variety of different labels, and Rejoicing Spirits at St. John in Ocean City is a very different form.  This is worship designed to support and enrich those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their families, friends and communities.

Rejoicing Spirits worship service is held on the 2nd Sunday of each month at 2pm.  “‘2nd Sunday at 2’ gets repeated plenty so everyone will remember, especially since this isn’t weekly,” says Pastor Mark  Bruesehoff.  And it is full of rejoicing!  Worship is held in the gym because it is the easiest space for those with mobility issues to reach.  As you enter, pick up your bulletin and your rhythm instrument, and get ready to use it.  The order of service is printed and projected, and is coupled with colorful pictures and reminders.  Though you may pick out a chair to sit, don’t expect to be in it often. Since it was Palm Sunday, our procession of psalms marched around the room in joy of Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem. Singing is usually paired with movement and dancing, with a conga line snaking its way through the room as “We Are Marching In The Light of God” is sung.  The scripture readings for the day were read once by a young person named Katie Muller, and then again using video from Augsburg Fortress’ Holy Moly Series. There is a brief reflection after the reading, which contains an invitation for all gathered there to write their names on paper and place them on a large wooden cross.  Prayer requests are asked for, and lifted up. Offering is gathered, this time for the Autism Network.  People gather from many generations and with different abilities for this multi sensory worship, which has one very important rule: NO SHUSHING! “We have a strict no shushing policy,” said Glen Stewart, one of the members of St. John’s who was instrumental in bringing this program here. All are welcome to be, participate and worship as a rejoicing spirit, no matter what that looks like.

Interestingly, when the congregation began thinking about this worship, it wasn’t due to a need

within their congregation.  Instead they saw a need in Ocean City for families who don’t feel comfortable with more traditional  worship styles or who had been actively discouraged from their own communities of faith.  After much research and visits, they decided to be a site for Rejoicing Spirits, a program began by Susan Crawford, a member of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Lionville, PA in 2003.   The foundation of the ministry is rooted in 1-Corinthians 12:25, “So that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.” The main Rejoicing Spirits is housed at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Exton, PA, and there are 28 congregations across 11 states acting as host sites (Check them out at www.rejoicingspirits.org)

Beginning in November 2012 at St. John, this worship service brought people from many different faith backgrounds, some of whom have never felt comfortable in a church before. Even in the beginning, this worship was described as a safe place, an opportunity for those with disabilities as well as their families, who can also feel distant from their community of faith. Through this worship, St. John Lutheran Church points to the diversity that we lift up as a core value in the New Jersey Synod.  On this Palm Sunday, with ranging in age from toddlers to senior citizens, all cried Hosanna, and were rejoicing spirits in this worship.

For more information on Rejoicing Spirits, contact St. John Lutheran in Ocean City (office@stjohnlutheranoc.org, 609-399-0798), or check out their website: http://www.stjohnlutheranoc.org/rejoicingspirits.html

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