WESTBROOK – Sister Carol Weaver started the Sunday afternoon service at Trinity Lutheran Church with an unusual call to worship.

“I think we’re ready,” Weaver said, standing before about 30 people gathered in the pews. “We’re ready to worship God and have fun.”

For the next half-hour or so, Weaver led her congregation through a joyful and compassionate service featuring songs, prayers and a Biblical skit.

On the third Sunday of each month, Trinity Lutheran Church hosts an ecumenical service for people of all ages who have a variety of developmental and physical disabilities. The 4 p.m. service is part of the Rejoicing Spirits program started in 2003 by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

Today, Rejoicing Spirits services are hosted by 30 churches in 10 states, Weaver said. Most of the churches are Evangelical Lutheran; a handful represent other denominations, including Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian.

Trinity Lutheran is one of two churches in Maine that began holding Rejoicing Spirits services in January. The other is Grace Lutheran Church in Auburn, which holds its services at 5 p.m. on the first Friday of each month.

Both were launched by Weaver, a deaconess who is associate director of church relations for Lutheran Social Services of New England.

The nondenominational Rejoicing Spirits services exclude celebration of sacraments, Weaver said. They assume only that participants believe in the Bible and the transformative power of baptism.

“It’s intended to be ecumenical and all-inclusive,” Weaver said. “It’s about improving quality of life and opportunity for people with disabilities in our society. It’s not intended to take the place of regular faith worship.”

Trinity Lutheran Church is a handicap-accessible building. An American Sign Language interpreter attends most services, ensuring that hearing-impaired people can participate.

Unlike traditional Christian services, Rejoicing Spirits encourages people with disabilities to participate in whatever way they feel comfortable.

“If some of our folks have to move around a little bit, it’s OK,” Weaver said. “People with disabilities have a deep spirituality that we often overlook, ignore or don’t recognize. Even churches who say all are welcome have some difficulty including people with disabilities in their services.”

Weaver, who leads the Rejoicing Spirits services at Trinity Lutheran with the Rev. Karen Indorf, encourages participants to sing out, get up, dance around and join the action down front. Some participants wave small, paper butterflies on sticks, reflecting the Rejoicing Spirits logo.

Noticeably absent is any concern about sitting still or staying quiet, which can be difficult for some people with disabilities.

“We have a no-shush policy,” said Alitza Wildes of Buxton, a Rejoicing Spirits board member. Her daughter, Jennifer, 33, is hearing impaired and has a variety of developmental and physical disabilities, having undergone multiple surgeries throughout her life.

Formerly Roman Catholic, Wildes said she left that faith when church officials refused to let her daughter participate in the sacraments of Holy Communion or Confirmation, though she had been baptized, because she couldn’t understand church doctrine.

“She’s come a long way,” Wildes said of her daughter. “That’s true of a lot of our folks, and they have so much unconditional love compared to us.”

Sunday’s service and free dinner afterward drew 17 people with disabilities and their parents and caregivers. Parents and volunteers who help organize the monthly service would like to attract more people.

So would Matt Winters, 36, of Scarborough, who delivered the Gospel reading at Sunday’s service. His mother, Kathy Quimby, said her son is more comfortable and confident worshipping with his peers. She hopes others join them.

“I like being here with my friends,” Winters said. “It’s fun.”

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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