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Developmentally delayed adults can live independently and have jobs, but sometimes attending a church service can be too uncomfortable for them and their caregivers. That inspired one congregation to create a service with a no-shush policy. Heidi Robinson reports.

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(Locator: Lenoir City, Tennessee)

Linda Kirksey, Caregiver: "Billy, you got your shoes on yet?"

Sixty-six-year-old Billy George needs help from her caregiver, Linda, as she gets ready for what she calls "her church"&ellipsis; a service called Rejoicing Spirits.

Linda Kirksey, Caregiver with Billy George: "You look forward to it don't you? Yeah."

Like other adults with developmental delays, Billy sometimes speaks out, or moves when others are still. She didn't always feel comfortable attending church, until now.

Church members sing: "Oh happy day, oh happy day."

Even the welcome is unique&ellipsis;

Greeter at door: "How about a high five?

&ellipsis;as are tambourines for the service.

Sue Miller, Volunteer, Central United Methodist Church: "Having the noisemakers gives them an open okay. If they didn't have the noisemakers they wouldn't know whether they should be as joyous."

Sue Miller helped start the Rejoicing Spirits Ministry at Central United Methodist Church in Lenoir City, Tennessee almost two years ago. Church members saw a chance to help families with developmentally delayed adults find acceptance.

Sue Miller: "They don't know what their loved one might say or do, and of course they don't want them to be embarrassed, so they just don't come."

Rejoicing Spirits made a difference.

William has Down syndrome. Here his shyness disappears; dancing and even helping Pastor Ron share a reading.

Each service ends with a familiar song of celebration.

"Happy Birthday to you&ellipsis; happy birthday to you&ellipsis;"

The song underscores a message.

Sue Miller: "That they are loved. They can be themselves. They are children of God."

(Group sings) "&ellipsis;peaceful easy feeling."


The Rejoicing Spirits service is modeled on a program used across the U.S.

If you would like more information on this ministry, you can contact Central United Methodist Church at 865-986-7329.

This story was first posted in June, 2008.