How do we plan worship that truly includes people with disabilities?
We share these thoughts from the World Council of Churches interim statement,
Sometimes people "hear" or comprehend God's Word, and know the mystery and majesty of God's presence in their lives through a sensory experience: perception of light or colour, a picture or sculpture, a whiff of incense, silence, music, dance, a procession, a hug or clasped hands around a circle. This sensory experience in liturgy is important to all of us, but especially to children, elderly people and persons with disabilities. It should be considered in our planning of corporate worship and its setting.
Many elements of worship are non-verbal, and we can be more intentional about how we incorporate them to enhance the service for everyone. There is the movement of dance, drama, hands clasped in prayer or raised in blessing, making the sign of the cross, handshakes and hugs, lifting the eyes, bowing the head, offering gifts, and passing the bread and cup. There are tactile elements of anointing, baptism, laying on of hands, foot-washing, touching, and vesting. We can smell the incense, wine, flowers, and candles, and taste the bread and wine or juice.
Besides words, we hear music, clapping, bells, sighs, and breathing. Centuries ago when many did not know how to read or have access to printed material, churches were filled with visual renditions of the Bible stories. There were murals, tapestries, sculpture, icons and stained glass windows. Today, some churches still have many of these visual elements and can also make use of banners, altar hangings, colourful vestments, scarves, flowers, balloons, liturgical dance and drama to portray the messages of our faith.
In addition to highlighting nonverbal means of participation in worship, we recognize the value of the right words for worship. We share on this page written prayers, hymns, litanies and other words for worship that honor, invite, or celebrate the participation of people with disabilities. Contact us if you have resources you would be willing to share to expand our collection.
Resources from ADN
Light For All: Worship Resources for Including People with Mental Illness and Disabilities. Mennonite Central Committee Canada, 2001. A few copies of this collection are still available from ADN. Contact us to request a copy.
- Image of God Litany by Rev. Jeanne Tyler. "Created in your image, we spill coffee." Rev. Tyler is a retired United Church of Christ pastor living in Lake Mills, Wisconsin.
Resources from others
Worship resource collections
Look for additional resources from the disabilities ministries of other faith traditions.
When hands reach out and fingers trace
The beauty of a loved one's face,
We thank you, God, that love relies
On gifts of grace not seen with eyes... Complete hymn text.
Books and articles
Accessible Gospel, Inclusive Worship. By Barbara J. Newman. Using the Vertical Habits framework developed by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Newman provides ideas to foster faith formation among everyone in a congregation through creating an inclusive worship environment.
- Prayer for People Who Can’t Sit Still. William Tenny-Brittian. Chalice Press.
The author, who has ADHD, draws from times ancient and modern to share ten types of kinesthetic prayer (prayer that involve the whole body and senses, not just your mind and mouth) that will appeal to even the most fidgety as they seek to connect with God.