Financial Considerations

Accessible Worship at Fourth Reformed Church

Aaron Wetzel playing guitar Aaron Wetzel uses his musical gifts and heart for worship to bless the Fourth Reformed congregation.

At Fourth Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Aaron Wetzel is the guitarist on the praise team. His bright smile and positive attitude are appreciated as much as his skills on the guitar—he is an integral part of the team. Aaron also has a visual impairment. Legally, he is considered blind, but he is able to see bright lights and anything in high contrast. In another church this might limit his involvement, but thanks to some creative brainstorming between Aaron and worship director Julie Schalk, he is able to use his musical gifts to lead worship.

Julie Schalk Worship director Julie Schalk is committed to ensuring that persons of all abilities can use their gifts at Fourth Reformed Church.

Earlier this year, Julie attended the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship Symposium on Worship. At the symposium, she heard All Belong’s director of church services, Barbara J. Newman, speak on the importance of inclusion. Barbara described people as puzzle pieces, each one with their own unique strengths and weaknesses that match up in different ways to complete the puzzle. Everyone has varying abilities that make their ‘shape’ unique—but they are just as vital to the puzzle.

Julie was immediately convicted by Barbara’s talk. She realized that, although some people may have weaknesses that stick out more than others, every person has strengths and weaknesses that are important components of the body of Christ. When together, individual strengths and weaknesses can complement and accompany another in a way that makes the whole body stronger. Julie found that sometimes introducing a small change can highlight someone’s ability in a new way. Slight adjustments to the status quo may be the only thing needed to make someone feel included.

Computer monitor turned sideways By turning a computer monitor on its side, Aaron Wetzel can use a foot pedal to follow along with the music on his guitar.

When Aaron first approached Julie about playing guitar in worship, she was eager to give it try. Through conversations, learning about Aaron’s strengths, and some trial-and-error, they were able to come up with a good system. Julie found a computer monitor, turned it on its side, and turned up the contrast and brightness as high as possible. Aaron uses a foot pedal hooked up to the computer to move the music along. Reflective tape on the floor marks a path from his seat in the congregation to his chair with the worship team so he can move from one place to another without assistance. Everyone knows to keep Aaron’s ‘runway’ clear and makes sure to pick up anything that may be in the way. These little solutions, though they may be unnoticeable to the larger congregation, make Aaron feel included and needed in the church body.

Julie has made other small adjustments to accommodate the different abilities of various congregation members. One gentleman is in charge of locking up the church but recently developed tunnel vision. He would often bump into the music stands and instrument paraphernalia left out by the worship team and moved by the janitors. When he mentioned this to Julie, she made sure to communicate with her worship team and the custodial staff the importance of keeping equipment in the same location each week. The ‘runway’ tape originally set up to assist Aaron has been beneficial for his movement across the church as well. Now, he has memorized the positions of the equipment and is able to navigate a clear path across the sanctuary to complete his job with ease.

Worship as One video Created in partnership with the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, "Worship as One" has already received more than 32,000 views since its September release.

Such solutions are just the tip of the iceberg. All Belong’s Worship as One: Disability in Community video documents some of these changes made by Fourth Reformed Church as well as those made by other churches in the Grand Rapids area. Inspired by the work of these other churches and encouraged by All Belong, Julie is currently developing an inclusivity team. This team, made up of church members interested in creating a more inclusive community, will evaluate the needs of the church and plan long-term solutions. Although this particular focus on inclusivity is new to the congregation, their response has been positive. At Fourth Reformed Church, community is everything. Recognizing diversity of body, mind, skill, talent—diversity seen and unseen—and making simple adjustments to accommodate that diversity is changing their community for the better.

Passionate about inclusive education? Make a contribution to All Belong to help us create inclusive communities for persons of all abilities.

Emmy LukerEmmy 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.