Two and a half years ago, members of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Kutztown identified the need for a worship experience that invites people with intellectual disabilities to participate fully in worship services and provides an opportunity for fellowship. They sought to provide a no-shush, no-judgement service just for them that allows each to embrace the Holy Spirit with opportunities for the praise and support of their families and caregivers.
A team of members researched what was being offered and decided that the Rejoicing Spirits ministry model was a good match. It was suspected that there is an underserved population of people with intellectual disabilities in Eastern Berks County. 43 churches in the area were invited to a meeting to explore it further. Several churches responded favorably and began meeting toward the goal of hosting a monthly worship service for individuals with disabilities, their families, and caregivers. St. Paul’s UCC, Kutztown was selected as the host site, due to its accessibility. The steering committee is blessed to have 5 retired Special Education teachers and a current teacher of the visually impaired leading this endeavor.
Rejoicing Spirits Ministry falls under the umbrella organization MOSAIC, which required that a feasibility study was conducted to determine if there was a need for such services in our area. This required reaching- out to the nine adult service agencies that provide services for people with intellectual disabilities in our community. Six of the agencies responded and provided information about the best days and times for services that would include their clients. They also provided information about the style of worship that would best serve these individuals. They further suggested we offer a sensory room to provide a safe space for a Rejoicer to retreat to in the event that they felt overwhelmed.
MOSAIC has provided materials and mentorship during the approval process to become an official Rejoicing Spirits site. One advantage of this status is that MOSAIC has congregations throughout the United States that could accommodate Rejoicers who have relocated. We had two counseling calls with their director which resulted in their suggestion that we set a date for our first worship service.
Along the journey we learned that there is a church in Emmaus that has been hosting monthly services for more than 14 years. They have been mentors and supporters throughout the process. We have also learned of the Kutztown Buddy program which pairs college students with adults who have cognitive disabilities for the purpose of facilitating socialization. There has been such an outpouring of support from more than seven local congregations that has boosted creative collaboration and volunteerism.
The inaugural worship service was held on Sunday, October 2 which included welcomes from Rev. Kevin McLemore, Associate Conference Minister of the Pennsylvania Southeast Conference of the United Church of Christ and Bishop Christopher deForest. There were at least 9 Rejoicers among the 41 in attendance in this fun and meaningful worship and fellowship event. Join us the first Sunday of each month at 3:00 PM to experience that will touch and inspire you.