How the Accessible Worship Symposium Impacted Our Worship Team

We're thrilled to share this reflection from Calvin College student and Worship Apprentice, Emmy Luker, who recently attended the Accessible Worship Symposium in Chicago.

On November 19th at The Moody Church in Chicago, acquaintances and strangers gathered together to learn about inclusivity in the church at the Accessible Worship Symposium. We left as brothers and sisters in Christ, reminded of our shared identity as children of God and equal participants in the work of His kingdom.

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The Worship Apprentice team from Calvin College raise their voices in praise to the Lord during the opening session of worship.

The symposium was hosted by All Belong in conjunction with Joni and Friends Chicago and the Calvin Institute on Christian Worship. A variety of keynote speakers discussed practical ways to create inclusive spaces for worship and workshops put these discussions into action. The symposium began and ended with uplifting times of worship that demonstrated this inclusivity. The whole day was devoted to three things: reaffirming the worth of every individual in the Lord, recognizing their God-given abilities, and realizing how their abilities can benefit the body of Christ as a whole.

Thanks to the generosity of CICW, the 2016-2017 Calvin College Worship Apprentice team was able to attend this symposium. We are a team of Calvin students and staff that plan and manage the worship at the college. At the symposium, we were newly convicted of the importance of making worship accessible for people of varying abilities. Worship Apprentice Sarah Hughes said that before this symposium, she had never really thought about inclusivity in this way. Oftentimes, inclusivity on a college campus is focused on reaching out to people of different cultures, rather than different levels of ability.

Sarah was amazed at the “practical, simple solutions that can make worship services more hospitable to the entire body of Christ.”

Luke Enders also realized that, even if only a few members are affected by disability, creating accessible worship services can benefit the whole congregation.

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The Praetorium Sign Language Choir helped lead attendees in worship during the symposium.

Being mindful of this accessibility to worship, whether for people of a different ability or culture, is an integral aspect of community-building.

Rachel Tollefson was struck by the sense of community that was “so quickly formed between complete strangers of varying abilities when they were open to each other, extending grace, and working together.”

Erica Norman felt “encouraged and upheld by brothers and sisters of all abilities” that she was able to meet, talk with, and learn from. I was amazed at the spirit of grace that infused the talks by the speakers and the interactions between every attendee. With open minds ready to learn, people were able to connect across differences that may have kept them apart in another context. When the door is open to make an effort and push through awkwardness or confusion, the result is beautiful.

Angie Lee was excited to see how easy it was to incorporate people who may seem different into a shared worship experience, and felt privileged to see what it looks like to be able to learn and serve together “no matter who we are.” Another Worship Apprentice, senior Luke Harkema, has lived with dyslexia all his life. At the symposium, he was amazed and blessed.

He said that “no one had ever spoken to [his] disability in church; it felt like the first time a church had ever cared about something like that.”

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Symposium attendees collaborate and create a work of art after learning about how implementing visual arts can make worship more accessible.

He felt affirmed by the efforts made toward inclusion and is excited to continue the work of inclusion at Calvin College. Benjamin DeMaso is now likewise convinced of the importance of inclusive worship. Before the symposium, he didn’t realize that worship was so exclusively geared towards people of a specific ability level, but now he appreciates the diversity of the kingdom differently.

At Calvin College, the Worship Apprentice team works hard to be inclusive of all different people. The chapels at Calvin are often multisensory, including dance, artwork, reading, and writing, or times of silence and singing. However, now our efforts towards diverse worship have a new weight and importance because we better understand that people hear and understand things differently. The symposium reminded us that we are all integral members of God’s family and co-laborers with other believers in the work of His kingdom. As Luke Harkema so concisely and accurately said:

“I used to think accessible worship was a luxury. Now I think it is a necessity.”

To view more photos from the event, visit photographer Jake Preedin's website.

Emily Luker

Emmy Luker is a junior at Calvin College studying English and Spanish. She has a passion for worship and church community and hopes to use her gifts someday in ministry.