Feeling the spirit

By Stacey Hewitt Orobona | | No Comments »

Two years ago, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Hudson gave the developmentally disabled a new reason to rejoice.

“We launched our first Rejoicing Spirits service in February 2010. We had about 50 in attendance and probably six persons who were developmentally disabled, along with their parents or caregivers,” says Nora Faul, a parishioner and also the coordinator.

Faul spearheaded the effort after learning that friends of hers didn’t feel comfortable attending church services due to their children’s disabilities. She thought about offering Sunday School classes, but realized that wasn’t going to work due to a lack of available classrooms. It was her mother-in-law, Elaine Faul, who told her about the Rejoicing Spirits service held at her church in Emmaus, Penn.

“I knew at that very moment that the Holy Spirit was guiding me to find a way to bring this beautiful ministry to Gloria Dei,” Faul says.

She met with Pastor Wayne Koenig and Naomi Ersoff, a special education teacher and colleague at Hudson High School, to form an organizational team. Teachers Sue Grunenwald and Denise Porfeli also provided input.

The biggest help, however, came from St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, which started the Rejoicing Spirits ministry in Exton, Penn. in 2003. Since that time, 23 host sites have been set up across nine states from Maine to Texas. Gloria Dei is now one of them.

“They sent us a book of step-by-step guidelines,” Faul says.

The Rejoicing Spirits website, www.rejoicingspirits.org, describes it as “an innovative ministry which reaches out to enrich the spiritual lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their families, friends and other supportive community members.”

And that is exactly what members of Gloria Dei attempt to do during their special service, which takes place the first Saturday of every month at 5:30 p.m. year round.

Faul says the developmentally disabled in their congregation are referred to as “Rejoicers” and range in age from “around 11 to a woman in her 40s.” They have varying degrees of disability but all are given ways to participate.

“The Rejoicers do everything. They carry in the banner, take the offering, participate in the song by playing instruments. They are also greeters and some help with snacks for fellowship afterward,” Faul says. “Some are even lay readers.”

Pastor Wayne Koenig, who is now an assistant to Pastor Eric Tritten, enjoys the “spirited” nature of the worship service.

“What I love most about the program is the ‘no shush’ policy,” he said. “Any type of behavior is acceptable.”

In fact, the Rejoicers are encouraged to use noisemakers, such as maracas, bells, and tambourines during the songs.

“Pastor makes the service interactive and he plays the guitar,” Faul says. “Another neat thing about the service is we celebrate birthdays for that month. We ask them to come up and we all sing to them and give them a blessing. It is always a heartwarming time.”

They also celebrate other events, such as Christmas and most recently, Valentine’s Day, with presents.

“At Valentine’s, they all got cheese balls,” Faul says. “We didn’t want to give them sugar, and they all love cheese balls, so I filled little tins with them.”

Another benefit of each service has been the offering collected, which has allowed Gloria Dei to give back.

“Last year, we were able to give a monetary gift to one of the agencies that sponsors many of the group homes in this area. We also gave a monetary gift to St. Paul’s Church in Exton, Penn. to help them with their expenses of being the home site for Rejoicing Spirits,” Faul says.

Like St. Paul’s, Gloria Dei has adopted 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,” as the foundation for its ministry.

According to Faul, St. Paul uses the body as an analogy to explain that we are many parts that make up the church.

“Each person is a vital part of the church and should be treated with equal concern,” she says, adding “All should be welcomed into the church.”

Thanks to the Rejoicing Spirits service, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church has become more inclusive. For Faul, it’s also made her church experience more meaningful.

“When I see the Rejoicers, there’s just pure joy in them,” she said. “It takes the meaning of church right down to a beautiful level.”

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