A Special Alleluia: Inclusive worship for all abilities

Inclusive worship for all abilities

A Special Alleluia
Participants, facilitators and volunteers at TFWS: A Special Alleluia

On 9 September, worshippers from several churches came together at Pentecost Methodist Church for the event, The Faith We Sing: A Special Alleluia. It was designed to be inclusive and welcomed people from different generations and abilities. Parents could bring their children with special needs, and those who required physical assistance could attend as well.

The participants included members of Trinity, Barker Road and Wesley Methodist Churches, and members from other denominations such as Covenant Vision, Bethesda Bedok-Tampines Church and Bethel Assembly of God Church. The Faith We Sing (TFWS) and its series of events is organised by the Methodist School of Music (MSM). This edition showcased 11 original songs, three of which were intentionally composed for inter- generational families to sing (with the other eight showcased at a songwriting event the night before). Most of the songs were composed during the TFWS songwriting retreat earlier this year.



“This marks our first inclusive and intergenerational worship event, a milestone we are tremendously excited about. We stand committed to the ideals of inclusivity and intergenerational unity, and we are eager to pave the way for more such transformative gatherings in the future,” Dr Judith Laoyan-Mosomos, Director of Worship & Church Music at MSM, said.

The inclusive nature of the event meant that the event was designed with careful thought to logistics, such as the choice of spaces used, event management and pamphlet design. Quiet rooms for decompression were demarcated clearly on both the first and second levels, and a playground and mini garden were available for those who preferred the outdoors. A briefing was held on Zoom a week prior to the event, which allowed organisers to address concerns of the participants. A detailed programme pamphlet ensured that participants were mentally prepared for the programme and could feel at ease.

The day kicked off with a craft session. Parents and children could design a shaker, a rainbow wand or a ring banner. The children worked enthusiastically with their parents to form their own creations that would accompany them throughout the day.

During the worship segment, a flexible seating plan was adopted. The slides featured visual aids in the form of cards to cue the children to look, listen, sing or pray. Amelia Leo, Programme Executive at MSM, said that these visual aids were deliberately included so that children with autism or intellectual disability could follow along more easily. Children were also provided with an A6-sized checklist so that they could follow along and tick off the events as the day progressed. They were also allowed to move about the hall, as long as it was near the seating area.

However, the inclusive atmosphere was largely dependent on the participants themselves. House rules were set to keep a safe and inclusive environment for every participant. There were also biblical reminders that we are all members of one body (1 Corinthians 12:12-20) and to look to the interests of others (Philippians 2:3- 4), which was echoed in the theme song, “Different, Yet Family”, sung at the close of worship. Mrs Laureen Ong, who serves on the GC-WSCS ExCo and was the speaker during worship, added, “Each member is given a spiritual gift to play a vital role in helping one another to grow and love each other in Christ.”

Following the worship segment were three different tracks which participants could choose from: Sounds of Praise, Movements of Praise and Special Praises.

At Sounds of Praise, Dr Eudenice Palaruan taught the fundamentals of singing and worshipping together, while bringing in entertaining anecdotes of his chorister training both abroad and in Singapore. He highlighted the importance of posture while singing, and the need to maximise each person’s comfortable range through vocal stretching, breathing and strengthening exercises. The entire session felt lively and rousing as the audience followed along with the various exercises and practiced the art of singing together.

Mrs Ann Palaruan, an experienced liturgical choreographer, was the facilitator for Movements of Praise. Families were taught a dance sequence that included a chain dance and some basic choreography. The former involved a bit of coordination as each family unit would hold either the left or right hand of the person on their right and exchange places with them. Initially, the participants were hesitant, but over time, the participants understood and were beaming with enthusiasm as they executed their dance.

Pei Wen
Special Praises workshop by Ms Tham Pei Wen

Special Praises was a workshop designed for families with special needs, where Ms Tham Pei Wen, a music curriculum specialist and choral conductor, taught the choreography to the song “I’ve Got Peace Like A River”.

The event concluded with The Big Sing where participants from each workshop displayed what they had practised. The singing group led with the first few lines and the chorus of “Different, Yet Family” while the dancing group executed the dance steps they learnt to the music. It was heartening to see the singing and the dancing groups complementing each other with their voices and actions, respectively.

Posh Lim, a worshipper from Wesley Methodist Church, attended the event with her four children, two of whom have special needs. She said, “My children had the chance to experience a typical service. The flexible seating during the music workshop allowed for people to intermingle and my son (who has autism) could move around freely.”

Movements of Praise workshop by Mrs Ann Palaruan
Movements of Praise workshop by Mrs Ann Palaruan

Beyond children with special needs, the event also catered to multi-generational families. “I was pleasantly surprised and heartened to see the young children interacting with those from the older generation,” said Juliana Nguan, 54, who brought her 88-year-old mother, Anne Low. Despite being wheelchair bound, Anne could participate in the dance (using her hands) during The Big Sing!

Tan Yan An is an English student at Nanyang Technological University and worships at Queenstown Chinese Methodist Church. / Photos courtesy of Moses Goh and Methodist School of Music