Open Praise Project: Open, accessible worship for people with learning disabilities
I go to Greenbelt Festival as a volunteer. I am always excited to go and immediately feel a sense of ‘other worldness’ when I arrive. Something about the joys of camping, something about the smiles on people’s faces and the expression of freedom and belief that appeal to me and keep me coming back.
Last year, working at the Performance Café, I stood with a fellow volunteer and watched the people milling about, the sun showing a rare appearance and listened to the soothing music coming out of the café. My fellow volunteer turned to me and said, ‘this is how I imagine heaven to be.’ Cheesy? Maybe a little, but something about the idea that the ethos of Greenbelt could be there all the time really got me thinking. I love to come here, and yet I never take any of it home. Why not?
Last year I came home with a passion, and a vision, and the Open Praise Project was born.
This may be a good moment to clarify my background. I’ve worked in social care for some years. My mother was the matron of a nursing home. My early years , right up to teenagehood were spent racing wheelchairs along corridors when the residents were asleep, or working in the kitchens when they weren’t. The care bug stayed with me and every job since then has been social care related. I am currently the manager of the Disability Advice Centre in Brighton.
It was during my time working at L’Arche Kent that my faith and job collided. I had a deep sense of unity and faith and loved the respect I felt for those around me. This style of worship, making a joyful noise, not minding if someone was shouting, rocking, singing or behaving in any particular way, really made me feel free and it was this that Greenbelt had also stirred in me.
On return from Greenbelt I developed the ideas for the Open Praise Project and ran its first sessions in November 2011. Its aim was to share the Christian message with people with learning disabilities, through using interactive and sensory bible themed stories.
The sessions were based on different bible stories and included a range of singing, sign language, storytelling and sensory tools. The sessions told popular bible stories in a different way, and created a safe open space for people to come to.
The sessions were a real delight. Seeing people with learning disabilities coming to my Church to worship and dance the ‘funky chicken’ was amazing!
A key part of the Open Praise Project for me has been to share the vision with others, to spread the availability of sensory based worship, and give other churches and services a chance to be more accessible.
In April 2012 I wrote to Greenbelt Trust to ask for funding for the Open Praise Project, to make the contents of the 6 sessions into a resource pack that could then be circulated. I was successful in the application and in August 2012 I’m happy to say that the pack is complete:
Open Praise Project Pack: Now Complete!
The Open Praise Project pack contains material for six sessions and includes sign language, warm up activities and craft activities. Each session is based around popular bible stories. The handbook has detailed step by step instructions and support notes.
The pack also contains felt, foam and card props to be used alongside the story to help bring it to life.
Open Praise Project: sample page – the story of Jonah
The book of bible stories contains easy read images above the words to help the user understand the story.
The whole content was inspired by the original sessions run at Holland Road Baptist Church, so it has been inspired and developed by people with learning disabilities themselves. In fact, the pack has had a range of imputs from people, some expected, some not expected. I am so grateful that this work is so much more that the small sum of my parts.
We are excited to be launching the pack at this year’s Greenbelt Festival. We are also excited that we have been asked to deliver a session of the Open Praise Project at the festival. This is a real blessing to bring back the Open Praise Project to the place where God first planted the idea, one year on.
The pack is available for purchase at £19.99 and the Easy Read Story Bible at £7.50 (trade discount available)
Watch this space! Or follow us on facebook, www.facebook.com/openpraise