Is church the only way of expressing a person’s faith?
Many Christians find comfort in the structure of a church service. They know what to expect, enjoy the opportunity to meet with God, to sing, learn and meet with friends over a cup of tea and a biscuit.
But what if you don’t enjoy or fit into a church structure? Does this restrict you from being able to be a Christian?
â— There are those who find sitting silently for 30 to 45 minutes (depending on the enthusiasm of your preacher) simply impossible.
â— There are those who find following along with hymns or new songs difficult.
â— There are those who find Bible stories difficult to process or identify with.
Maybe all churchgoers would find themselves agreeing with one or more of these statements at some point.
Who said that worship had to be in tune? That prayer has to be silent? That sitting and listening to a speaker was the best way to learn?
I’m not saying that this is wrong. Rather, I’m suggesting that an alternative should be available for those who cannot access the mainstream style or who fancy making an occasional change to the routine.
This is what lay behind the Open Praise Project, a small project set up in 2010.
Aimed at people with learning disabilities, but open to everyone, the Open Praise Project runs a monthly group at Holland Road Baptist Church in Brighton in the United Kingdom.
We meet at the center of the church space, where Sunday services take place, as we believe that God delights in our worship just as much as he does on a regular Sunday.
Our aim is to make a joyful noise and inform those with learning disabilities about Christianity in a way that they can both understand and engage with.
Our sessions involve all of the “usual” things that you would expect from church. There is singing (of sorts), praying (of sorts), and learning of the Bible, all through sensory, creative and active ways.
We bring bubbles, tambourines, giant-sized Bible stories and flapjacks, and we spend time together in God’s house, sharing and growing together.
The best thing about this fellowship is that those who come as volunteers quickly realize that the session is as appropriate for them as it would be for anybody else.
The release of one’s inhibitions through activities, such as the “funky chicken” (it takes some explaining), allows you to leave your “worldly” self and take a step toward learning and thinking about God in a simpler way, childlike almost.
As Jesus said in Matthew 18:3, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
But this style of worship doesn’t have to be a sideline to the mainstream Christian service; it can be a key part of it.
Imagine your Sunday morning service pausing for a few moments to do a “wave.” Think of the symbolism – the wave, pouring over everybody, like the Holy Spirit filling the room. Awesome.
My point is that my idea of God is one who loves and wants to connect with everybody, of any ability, regardless of whether they know all the lyrics to a song.
It would be great to see more examples of accepting and involving that in the core of church life.
Katie Love has worked in social care and the charity sector for more than 10 years. She now works for a Brighton charity as a project manager focusing on promoting choice and control for disabled people. A version of this column first appeared on The Baptist Times website and is used with permission.