Rainbow Worship is a regular outfit based at St Birinus and St John High Wycombe, which started four years ago and increasingly draws in several dozen people with learning difficulties from all around, to network, celebrate, and worship. It’s a congregation that’s started from the other end, not so much trying to jam people into conventional observance as to allow simple and engaging expressions of love and prayer to emerge from a very diverse crowd.
RW is rumbustous and celebratory some of the time, but hushed and awed at others. Comments are chipped in from all around as things happen, like an ol’ time revival meeting. Craft actvities are built in, and the management has radically tried to break down the distinction between client and helper. On one occasion, as Noah’s Ark was revealed in all its glory, a loud voice cried from the back, “This is one I made earlier.”
Last night I confirmed six members of this community. It’s extraordinary how live it feels praying with people who have no “side” or pretensions, but simply respond instintively in the moment. Highlights included a Creed delivered to thunderous band in clubbing style, melding into a sea of friendly, open faces, dancing and banners, and losing myself in the joys of dance with a marimba. One of the first things I believe we will lose in heaven is self consciousness, which will be subsumed in self-awareness, and the tingling joy of being alive, as death is swallowed up in victory. That’s what we did last night anyway. A lot of us came away feeling we had had a trip to the cleaners — and that doesn’t always happen when we worship, does it?
I found it the experience of a lifetime to bless, anoint and confirm in such a place. There had been modest anxiety in the setting up about how some would cope with the touching and liturgics.
Actually, it was a liturgical stroll along a moving walkway, to call people by name into the kingdom, to anoint them as a sign that they are royalty with the King of Kings, to bless on the basis that “God has called you by name and made you his own...”
Although the language of inclusiveness is politically usable, I don’t actually think it quite covers such experiences. “Inclusiveness” assumes there is a some thing that really belongs to “us” (whoever we are) into which “they” (whoever they are) need to be “included” preferably by the things “we” do for “them.” This did not feel like that at all.
The truth is that we are all exceptional people, all fearfully and wonderfully made, with varying awareness and ownership of what makes us exceptional. Some people with learning difficulties have far more of this than the well-heeled. The real emergence of something heavenly occurs naturally when we all embrace our exceptionalities — why should we wish to be deceived? — and lose ourselves in the emergent transcendence.
One interesting little piece of inclusiveness though, was the inclusion of Morag who founded and leads the group. She was stuck in Switzerland waiting for a plane, so was skyped into the event on one of the worship leaders’ laptops.
It was the first tme I had seen that done in a confirmation, and it somehow affirmed the irrelvance of geography, as well as “disability” to the proceedings.
Many thanks to Steve the Vicar, Morag, Roger who led the talk, craft leaders, and Jay who led much of what geeks would call the Synaxis, and friends, including Scratch the Preacherman Dog.
When you get to heaven it will seem a more natural carry-on to you than it wll people who have been further up themselves on earth, because you will have been practising first.