Rejoicing in ‘Sacred Chaos’

No need to fret on Sunday evenings if instead of singing a smiling choir member waves, claps to her own beat, and spontaneously hugs the director during a song or two.
That’s a blessing, not a problem, during The Feast, Highland Park United Methodist Church’s special needs service where what the Rev. Ramsey Patton calls “sacred chaos” proves the norm.
“It’s lots of joy,” Patton, an associate pastor, said. “It’s lots of fun, singing and dancing. It’s a place where everyone can participate.”
If Patton needs a show of hands to make sure everyone received Communion, that’s OK. If some got served more than once, well, John Wesley, Methodism’s founder, did call it “the duty of every Christian to receive the Lord’s Supper as often as he can.”

Patton joined the staff at HPUMC in 2011. In 2014, she said, the Holy Spirit prompted her to start a service where those of varying cognitive and physical abilities and their families could enjoy greater levels of participation and leadership.
The name for the service refers to “the heavenly feast to which all are invited and included,” Patton said. “When we go to The Feast, you get a glimpse of what the Kingdom of God is. We are all together. We are all rejoicing in the Lord.”
Music associate Terrie Preskitt-Brown views the service as a life-changing miracle and an opportunity to witness the “spiritual growth and spiritual gifts everyone can offer.”
“We need our special people as much as they need us,” she said.
During rehearsals, an hour before The Feast, Preskitt-Brown encourages members of the inclusive Kingdom Singers choir to count her mistakes, because doing so helps them pay attention. One week
those mistakes kept coming, she recalled, until a choir member insisted, “Stop everything. We need to have a prayer for Miss Terrie.”
The Feast started out as a monthly service in June 2015, but went weekly in January 2016.
“When we were meeting once a month, it felt more like a special event,” Patton said. Having weekly services matches Christian tradition and has created a sense of community among those who attend, she said.
Regular attenders have developed new friendships and grown to care for each other, she said.
Attendance averages 50 to 60 with most coming from the Park Cities and nearby parts of Dallas, but some traveling from as far away as Melissa, Fort Worth, and Irving, Patton said.
The choir has grown from five participants the first week — only one of whom was verbal — to 40 people on the roll with about 18 to 20 participating each week.
Preskitt-Brown picks familiar hymns and choruses or writes original songs to go with Patton’s message each week. Hand motions and instruments such as maracas and shakers are typically involved.
Patton describes her own role in services as that of an emcee. She gives a brief reflection. Special needs participants provide the music, give Scripture readings, lead prayers, take up offerings, and serve Communion.
On a recent Sunday evening, key roles went to Leah Battalora, Scripture reading; Kinsey Boozer, prayer; Constance Lewis, Communion liturgy; and Scott Spitler, post-Communion prayer.
John McKinley, as usual, offered a closing meditation before the Kingdom Singers led the congregation in the final two songs.
“To tell you the truth, we are all a little disoriented,” said McKinley, a 69-year-old who controls his epilepsy with medication.
He enjoys the friendships he’s made through The Feast, as well as the opportunity to share inspiration from the Bible.
“Basically, it’s people that care about you and encourage you to do this,” he said. “We are here for an hour, but we get a lot of spiritual guidance during that hour.
“Everyone can come and see and get to know us better.”

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