While churches traditionally welcome special guests for worship on Easter, or Resurrection Sunday, that welcome is happening a week sooner for some of our congregations. And that seems appropriate, since Jesus, the reason for the season, was boisterously welcomed with shouts of Hosanna! as he rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
On this Palm Sunday, March 25, two churches—and no doubt, many more—will be joined for worship by guests who are not strangers but indeed, neighbors.
Green Hill UMC in Conestoga (5801 River Rd) will celebrate Disability Awareness Sunday (usually observed in January) with a special service that features the Friendship Community Worship Team. The group of developmentally disabled adults perform liturgical dance to praise music. The talented team will enhance the West District congregation’s Palm Sunday 10 AM worship experience with Spirit-inspired movement to song.
Deaconess Barbara Skarbowski, who chairs the Eastern PA Conference’s Disability Ministries Committee, works at Friendship Community in Lititz, a Christian ministry “cultivating capabilities of individuals with developmental and intellectual disability and autism.” Residents participate in learning and life-enriching activities to foster their growth and eventual independence, according to the program’s website.
Skarbowski asked the Rev. Donald Sweimler, pastor, to include in worship the group home’s Creative Movement Team, which performs a combination of interpretative dance and sign language to recorded music. Her request was in perfect step with the personal goal and invitation Sweimler wrote in January on the 130-year-old church’s Facebook page: “…to lead our congregation on a deeper journey of love, as asked by our Lord in the upper room in (the Gospel of) John, Chapter 13.”
Skarbowski plans to capture the liturgical dancers and also members’ reactions in photos and video to share with other churches. “This is a very small congregation,” she said. “So, I think it could be encouraging to other small churches that would like to do a special Disability Awareness Sunday celebration like this.”
Meanwhile, Wharton-Wesley UMC in West Philadelphia will worship this Sunday with the West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship, which has been leasing worship space from Wharton-Wesley since December. The fellowship moved there temporarily in December, because its regular host church, nearby Calvary UMC, was having problems with its heating system during the frigid winter. Calvary also leases space to a Pentecostal church and Jewish synagogue.
While the mostly white Mennonite Fellowship usually holds worship and Sunday school classes in another section, they will join Wharton-Wesley’s predominantly black congregation this Sunday in combined worship at 10:30 AM. The fellowship’s pastor, Lorie Hershey, will lead worship, and Wharton-Wesley’s Community Pastor, the Rev. David W. Brown, will preach.
A combined fellowship meal will follow the worship service. The Mennonite Fellowship expects to return to Calvary UMC in April, when warmer weather returns.
“There’s a legacy of Mennonites and Methodists working together, most notably in the Civil Rights movement,” said Brown, a deacon who is friends with Hershey. The two have worked together with NewCORE, a Philadelphia interfaith group that is working to address racial justice issues while commemorating the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. King was slain April 4, 1968, as he prepared to lead a protest march supporting the civil rights of black sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn.
“It’s true that the cold winter brought us together,” said Brown of the commingling of two diverse congregations. “But it’s our compatibility of purpose that is keeping us together.”
Do your church members engage in intentional, invitational evangelism during Lent, or Holy Week, or throughout the year? Does your congregation offer a welcoming witness to Christ’s love through its creative outreach and hospitality efforts? You might find some good ideas and helpful resources in UM Communications’ article, Easter invitation and outreach, step-by-step.
If you use any of these ideas or resources and they seem to work, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org, so we can share the good news with other churches. Thanks!