“Who would like to lead us in some Christmas carols?” John, our pastor, stood up front with the microphone, trying to marshal everyone’s attention. It was Christmas Eve, and excitement filled the air.
“Joel’s a really good singer,” Amy called out.
Joel grinned and walked toward the front of the church.
“You want to lead us, Joel?” John asked.
Joel’s grin widened as he grabbed the microphone.
My husband, Wally, strode forward and stood beside our youngest son, who has autism. “How ’bout We Wish You a Merry Christmas?” he asked, knowing this is one of Joel’s favorites.
Joel smiled his agreement. Wally started the song and Joel joined in, singing the words softly into the microphone, a bit off tune, but sweetly and clearly. When he finished, everyone burst into applause. Someone in the back cried out, “Encore! Silent Night!”
This time, Joel led the congregation with confidence, his voice cracking a bit on the high parts. I sat, glued to my chair, my head filled not only with the sound of Joel’s amplified voice, but with a chorus of angels singing Alleluia!
I continue to rejoice as I watch this church extend grace and love to each and every person who walks through the door. Janet*, who has an emotional disability, regularly bursts into spontaneous prayer at the end of worship, taking us all to the throne room. Quite often Brian*, who has Down syndrome, strides to the front of the church to ask for prayer for people he knows and loves. Dan*, who is blind, plays the drums in the worship band. His service dog lies next to the drums, his tail keeping the beat.
This church does not have a formal inclusion program. It simply lives inclusion.
Each and every person who comes through the door is accepted for who she is—her gifts are celebrated. If he needs accommodations to be successful in worship, we figure out a way to make it work. If she needs a ride to church, someone picks her up. If he can’t eat pizza because of food allergies, we order gluten-free. I believe this is the way God wants it to be.
Last year I received the very best Christmas gift of all, at church, on Christmas Eve. This present didn’t come gift-wrapped in foil under a shining tree, but in a small, poorly lit storefront church. The Body of Christ, where so many parts of the Body are so often missing, had just been re-membered. And heaven itself rejoiced.
Merry Christmas from our home to yours!