Recently, our redevelopment* congregation began a ministry called Across the Spectrum. This intentionally inclusive worship and fellowship experience provides worship opportunities for people of all abilities. Our goal was to provide a safe place for worship where all people might find valuable ways to engage with God, with an intentional outreach to people on the autism spectrum and persons with physical or intellectual disabilities. Since as much as twenty percent of our twenty to thirty people in worship live on the autism spectrum or with an intellectual disability, we wanted to provide an opportunity for inclusive worship for others who might not be able attend on Sunday mornings, or who already have a church home but would like a more sensory worship experience.
We found a great initial response, with an initial attendance of fourteen people. We honed the activities to the passions and abilities of the people in attendance. We gathered people from within our congregation and who'd never set foot in our church before. Energy was high.
Yet, we also found certain limitations. We first noticed that our space didn't allow for much growth. With many worship stations, a desire for free space to move, and a need to provide access for wheelchairs, our fellowship hall showed its limits. Though our sanctuary is flexible and would provide the necessary space, we're awaiting the installation of a lift to provide comfortable access to that room and to accessible bathrooms. We also noticed that our church's location was outside of the normal traffic patterns of much of the New River Valley's population. People from Blacksburg and Christiansburg were unlikely to travel to Radford, especially without knowing the trip was worthwhile.
So, our numbers hovered between ten and fifteen. Until Sunday, when we had twenty four people attend Across the Spectrum. What changed?
We began to partner with another ELCA congregation, this one in Blacksburg, where people also shared a passion for inclusive community. They have larger space that is immediately accessible, and their building sits just off of the campus of Blacksburg City Schools. With our combined resources and a shared commitment to inclusion, ministry grew.
Across the Spectrum will now alternate locations, with the first Sunday of the month at St. Michael (Blacksburg) and the third Sunday at Christ (Radford). CLC gave birth to this ministry and raised it through the early stages of life. Now, along with St. Michael, we will together help raise it into a new maturity.
We're better together. Not just CLC and St. Michael, but all congregations. We're at our best when we partner in the Gospel, when we join our passions and resources that more people might encounter Jesus. No congregations has all of the vision, gifts, resources, and capabilities to perform all the ministries our communities need. Yet, when we come together, good ministry may transform into powerful. Nice programs may blossom into beautiful. Church partnership, when driven by the Gospel desire to love our neighbors, is life giving to congregations and to communities alike.
In the High Priestly Prayer, Jesus prayed that we might share the unity that he shares with the rest of the Trinity, that we might embrace the kind of life inherent to the Triune God. We've begun to taste a bit of that here in the New River Valley. Across the Spectrum was great as a ministry of CLC alone, but we can reach even higher heights with the partnership of St. Michael. Our partnership reflects the image of God and opens up the life of God, that all might experience more of the thriving, more of the vibrancy, that Christ offers to us.
*This is a term used by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to describe established congregations committed to a process of discernment, community engagement, and vision casting in the hopes of finding new life for the church through renewed partnerships with the surrounding community.
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.