The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Rejoicing Spirits

'This is a place where they count'

Wearing light blue logo T-shirts, carrying large banners and waving butterflies on sticks, children and adults informally process into church. Here it's OK to play a tambourine, shout out or unexpectedly walk up to the altar, for this service is designed for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Susan Crawford is founder and director of Rejoicing Spirits, a ministry of nearly 30 churches in 10 states — Delaware to Maine, Tennessee to Texas — that have scheduled one or two services a month for people with special needs. In addition to Lutheran, participating churches include United Methodist, Presbyterian, Church of God and Baptist.

Started at Crawford's home church, St. Paul Lutheran in Exton, Pa., today the movement is catching on as a way to both reach out to the community and serve people with disabilities.

Daniel Krewson (left), pastor of Calvary
Daniel Krewson (left), pastor of Calvary Lutheran Church in West Chester, Pa., put stoles around the shoulders of some participants of the  monthly Rejoicing Spirits worship. Pictured are: Samantha Bucher, Fred Gaffney, Laurie Scoggins, Hunter Hope and Erica Thomas. Also shown are Krewson's wife, Jill, and their daughter, Sophie.

"This is a place where they count," said Mark Singh-Hueter, pastor of St. Paul. "It's a place where they are valued; they are affirmed. They feel God is here."

Although Crawford has a degree in social work, she later went into the computer field. But she has always had a heart for people with special needs. "I was praying and trying to discern what my gifts were and what I wanted to do, and the Holy Spirit put this idea in my head," she said.

From her days working and volunteering in group homes, she knew the residents didn't always get a chance to go to church. When they did, they were often shushed and given stern looks if they shouted or acted out. Crawford assessed community needs, then approached St. Paul's church council. Rejoicing Spirits was born.

Crawford then began contacting community agencies, group homes and other organizations to invite people to Rejoicing Spirits.

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February issue


Embracing diversity