In “Orthodox Worship” (below) there was the statement “There is no need for specialized services.” This is based on statements in Fr. Stephen Plumlee’s 1986 article: “The very richness of our worship … is so inclusive of everyone …. [providing the] opportunity to minister to handicapped persons … by incorporating them directly into the liturgical activities of the community … rather than by specialized forms of worship in separate services.”
Howerver, there is a major Orthodox ministry in America that chooses the latter route, separate services: the Challenge Liturgy Ministry on Long Island.
Let us consider the issues.
The goal, obviously, is to bring everybody together- our all-inclusive unity in Christ.
It is to be noted, of course, that when infants and small children get upset and cry in our services, we take them out until they calm down. And if a person who has disabilities and is of the same mental age as these children does the same thing, one must do something similar. But they are bigger, and if the behavior is habitual, there is a problem that must be addressed. And loving wisdom must be exercised.
A special service could be a way of providing for this situation, once inclusion has been tried and found to be unacceptable. But that is a judgment call; unacceptable to whom? And to what extent have all parties been willing to be flexible and tolerant?
Ultimately, though, not being a parent of a disabled child, one must not judge the loving efforts of those who create ministries that, while not conforming to the “ideal,” foster specialized forms of fellowship that have been found to meet the needs of particular situations, such as the Challenge Liturgy.
It is true that special times with peers, those with whom one shares a bond of some sort- in this case, disability- are of real value. This would be a practical supplement towards participation with all – the enactment of the central Liturgical petition, “Thine own of thine own we offer unto thee, on behalf of all, and for all.”
On the one hand, love calls for adjustment to the weaknesses of others, including attitudinal. On the other, there is the call to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect. (St. Matthew 5:48) Implementing solutions that honor both imperatives is truly a narrow way.
And in order to get there, we must get everybody together on going the extra mile to include persons with disabilities who possess the mental and emotional capacity of children. There may be a tendency among the unknowledgeable to be understanding of children who act out, but to not extend the same to an adult who acts out, since adults are supposed to be beyond this. This calls for both education and patience, as well as a hesitancy to act on the impulse to exclude so as to make the worship service “smoother.”
Our worship is for the Body of Christ and all who are members of Him, rather than for the “select” members who make for the most smooth and perfect service.
For “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) Does not the principle apply here?
May the Lord grant us both great patience and wisdom to know what to do in every case. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I would greatly welcome comments to this post.