“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Monday, November 12, 2007

Leading worship for adults with cognitive disabilities

Eric Boyles is a friend of mine who helped me to see worship with adults with cognitive disabilities in a very different light. He is able to elicit participation in worship (or at least showed me that such participation is just below the surface with adults with cognitive disabilities). Eric would come to our Light and Power company group, and lead music/worship once per month. I remember one week, as he was beginning, just playing some chords and plucking strings on his guitar, he said something to the effect, "I feel like there are people who would like to give praise to God. If you would like to give praise to God, please do so." Very spontaneously, people across the group, representing all ability levels, would chime out. "I praise God for my family" "Thank you God for my job" "I praise God for Light and Power class" this went on for perhaps 10 minutes with Eric doing little more than asking the question, setting the occasion for the release of praise. I will admit that I had underestimated the folks in thinking that they would or perhaps could do such a thing.

At other times, Eric would elicit other forms of expression from the group, be it singing or suggesting a song, or prayer, or praise, or just being silent as he would lead. I learned a great deal about the level of participation one might facilitate with little more than praying and then setting the opportunity. Eric's appearance seemed to set the occasion for a deeper level of worship among those with disabilities. As he would express, he just tries to get out of the way and let God's spirit work.

He and I have also had interesting discussions about how persons with cognitive disabilities can set the example of freedom in worship. People with "social skill deficits" by definition, are largely unaware or unconcerned about how they appear to others. This is a real benefit when it comes to worship. If they want to raise their hands, or clap, or dance, or whatever, they feel the freedom to do so. Their presence opens things up a bit in terms of stretching the envelope. They are an example to the congregation.

Eric has also described to me how they are unimpressed with him as a worship leader. Perhaps a better way of stating that is that they are equally impressed with whoever is the leader. I am reminded of my grandmother, who when I told her that I received my Ph.D. said, "That's nice. I hope that makes you happy." She didn't demean me but she wasn't overly impressed. If people are not overly impressed with me as a leader, they once again facilitate my being able to get out of the way and allow God's spirit to shine through.

I asked Eric to write a song to go along with our current series of lessons on the book of Psalms, based upon the sit, stand, walk statement of Psalms 1.
See http://jeffmcnair.com/Biblelessons/Psalmslessons.htm
He wrote the wonderful song, "Sit, stand, walk" which you can see him performing in the video at the right. It is once again a perfect example of treating adults in a manner that is not juvenile. The song is simple, but at the same time profound. It is also a prayer which people can pray by learning to sing the words.

I will be giving Eric some questions to address in the near future, but if you have any questions about leading worship with adults with cognitive disabilities, I would invite you to ask them as well. You can either email them to me at mail@jeffmcnair.com or you can use the comment funciton of the blog to ask the question.

Be watching for more on this issue, and for more input from Eric who has thought a great deal about these issues.


1 comment:

Unknown said...

Worship is tons of fun, and it's fun to worship with others. Thanks, good blog!