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Feb 11, 2016 | Paulette E. Martin

"Rhythms of Grace" Celebrates their One-Year Anniversary

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Families from different denominations gathered at St. Andrew’s in the Heights, Houston, to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Rhythms of Grace at St. Andrew’s. It is a worship service for people with special needs and their families to come together and experience the love of Jesus Christ without worrying about verbal disruptions or distracting movements and gestures.

St. Andrew’s is the first Episcopal church in the country to offer Rhythms of Grace on a weekly basis. The service, initiated at Christ Church Cathedral in 2011, was offered only once a month, but now with the commitment of the Rev. Jimmy Grace, who has a child on the autism spectrum, and Lisa Puccio, Coordinator for Special Needs Worship and Family Formation, Rhythms of Grace is a service anyone with differing abilities can attend more frequently.

Rhythms of Grace families deal with a range of physical and developmental differences. Many of the children have autism, but many have a wide range of issues. Puccio admits parents with special needs children face a lot of on-going struggles.

“Parents have to spend so much time and energy battling with schools and therapists, doctors and friends trying to help people to understand their child and their situation,” Puccio said. “Many times the stories that I’ve heard about faith communities who have let these people down are just heartbreaking.”

The Muller family is a good example. They have a sixteen-year-old son named George who has intellectual disability and autism and the family was asked to leave a Presbyterian church after their son was not able to behave “properly.”

George is nonverbal and will never be able to read or write. According to his mother, Ginnie, George doesn’t like loud noises and prefers to be alone. But despite these challenges, the Mullers have been bringing George every Sunday to Rhythms of Grace and have noticed an improvement in his behavior.

“At school, they are just amazed at how well he can tolerate others and how others are more tolerant of him,” Muller said. “You can tell he knows this environment and that he is loved at Rhythms of Grace. 

“This is the place where there’s absolutely unconditional love,” Puccio said. “You don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to pay anything. You don’t have to explain anything. You don’t have to talk about what your child’s disability is—we really don’t care. That’s how worship should be for everyone. Jesus didn’t have any conditions for anybody and we don’t either.”

 Although Rhythms of Grace is an Episcopal service, Puccio insists anyone is welcome. She also hopes people from other congregations and denominations find the inspiration to start similar services.

 For the Mullers, who are Episcopalian, Rhythms of Grace has given them more than what they expected.

“Jimmy and Lisa reached out us and asked if George wanted to be confirmed,” Muller said. “That was something we never thought would happen. It was something we had never asked for and yet it was offered to us and George did it and it was just wonderful. That’s the church and the Diocese just going beyond.”

As active as George is, Muller remembers with astonishment how he managed to stay perfectly still when Bishop Andy Doyle laid hands on his head and confirmed him.

Rhythms of Grace takes place every Sunday at 2 p.m. It consists of sharing a story from the Bible and then explores the story at learning centers that include a variety of sensory and tactile activities adapted to each theme. After the activities, participants re-gather and break bread in a circle seated on small rugs. The service is full of music, movement and laughter.

 For more information about Rhythms of Grace, e-mail Puccio