Sunday, January 25, 2009

Families support each other at disability-focused worship service

From Hometown News in Florida:

NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. - Entering the sanctuary at Coronado Community United Methodist Church, the joyous sounds of laughter and song can be heard.

The song "Everything is Beautiful" is sung by a boisterous crowd that makes it sound as if the entire hall is packed with people.

But, in reality there are no more than two dozen people occupying the first few pews.
The crowd may be tiny but their happiness is humongous.

A small dog, Chipper, who was winding his way through the pews before the singing began has settled on the lap of Randy Rutland-Brown.

Everything points to this not being a typical church service - because it isn't.

It's Special Worship for Special People, an ecumenical, informal service for those with disabilities and their families.

The group meets every Sunday afternoon for a short service that is interactive and participatory.

"It's just fun to be here," said the church's associate pastor Reverend Esther Robinson. "It's always neat every week."

The service is a chance for the members to worship with others who share similar challenges.

"They don't define themselves by their limitations," said Becky Rutland, who plays piano during the worship. "But they find strength in each other.

On this Sunday, Ms. Robinson led the group in several songs before starting a sermon about the importance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and having dreams.

Resident Carole Todd is credited with bringing the idea to New Smyrna Beach after attending a similar service in Ocala with her son Dale, who has cerebral palsy.

Mrs. Rutland and her husband, church pastor Reverend Bob Brown, brought the service to their church more than ten years ago.

The couple brings their son, Randy who has cerebral palsy, to Special Worship weekly.

Ms. Rutland said that the service started out small but quickly grew. At least two group homes from Port Orange would travel to New Smyrna Beach each week for the service, Ms. Rutland said.

But, in the past couple of years, the numbers have dwindled.

"The homes have closed because of a major lack of funding," Ms. Rutland said.

But, even without the high numbers of people, the bond of family is still there for those at the service.

"I love it," said Ellen Loving, who has cerebral palsy and also sometimes plays guitar and dances at Special Worship. "They are all my friends."

Ms. Rutland said that everyone is encouraged to attend.

"There's never an offering," she said. "We never ask them to commit to this church. Many of (the worshippers) go to other churches."

For Marianne Borstad, accidentally getting involved was enough for her to stick around. Ms. Borstad came to the church early for a meeting and stumbled upon the service a while ago. Now, Ms. Borstad is regularly seen at the front, leading the group in song.

"I was hooked," she said. "I can't sing but they don't care. They love it."

After the service, there is a dinner where caregivers can socialize.

"It gives people a chance to share," Ms. Rutland said. "They need somebody else to listen."