Church launches service geared toward families with special challenges

Christ the Healer to host service for disabled//ContributedSTAMFORD — The Church of Christ the Healer in North Stamford will launch a new worship service on Jan. 23 at 12:30 pm. Rhythms of Grace, a church experience for those who don’t feel comfortable in a traditional worship setting, is designed to be comfortable and welcoming to all families, but particularly those with children who have physical, emotional, neurological, or intellectual challenges. The service creates a space for families to worship together in an environment that is relaxed, interactive, creative and nurturing. Participants are free to move around or sit quietly, to participate or not, as they wish.

“For some of us, our minds run faster than our senses can keep up; for others, our minds go slower than our bodies want to move. This service welcomes children and adults to open their spirits to God’s love, however that is experienced” Rev. Kate Heichler said.

Rhythms of Grace was developed by the Rev. Audrey Scanlan, who initiated a service several years ago, geared toward children with autism and Downs syndrome. Since then, Rhythms of Grace has spread to five Episcopal churches in Connecticut, as well as sites in Texas and Scotland, and reaches adults and children with many differing abilities.  Not only is the service proving engaging for children, parents also report what a gift it is to be able to go to church with their children in an  environment of freedom and flexibility which traditional religious services often can't offer.

 
“We could see what a wonderful experience this was for the children, who participated enthusiastically, and for the parents, who could relax and know that the other adults welcomed their children as they were, and knew how to engage them. As we left, one of the little girls said to Audrey, ‘This is the best place ever!," one observor noted.

As people arrive at a Rhythms of Grace service, they are invited to participate in some gathering activities which help to ease the transition into “church time.” Adults are on hand to help children with this transition, and there is even a small tent set up in the church for those who desire some time apart. After a few minutes, everyone is welcomed to sit in a circle, to hear a story from the Bible, often told using visual aids. Questions are always welcome. Following the telling of the story, children are invited to respond to it at a variety of “stations,” employing activities that appeal to different learning styles and modes of expression – arts, crafts, games. Everyone then gathers back into the circle for prayers and song, and a ritual “feast,” during which children are actively involved. The whole service lasts one hour or less.

The planning team at Christ the Healer is headed by Eleanor Christensen, a retired teacher and learning specialist. Leaders have reached out for help to art teachers, parents of children with autism, and to local organizations such as Abilis. They aim to make the service as inclusive of differing religious traditions as possible.
 
Christ the Healer is located at 20 Brookdale Road, corner of High Ridge Road (Route 137), in Stamford. For  information, call the church office at  (203) 322-6991 or check the website, http://www.christthehealerstamford.org.

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