New Parables Program at Chelsea UMC Emphasizes Inclusive Nature of the Christian Faith
By Doug Marrin, STN Reporter
“Parables” is a worship service at Chelsea UMC that takes a fresh approach to church services while highlighting the inclusive nature of the Christian faith.
“Parables is a form of inclusion worship that puts people with ability-differences all together to experience what God will do when we trust in the goodness and value of every single person there,” says Rev. LeAnn Seto, Parables Program Director at Chelsea First United Methodist Church.
Parables was designed by Rev. Leslie Neugent at Wayzata Community Church in Minnesota. The image she used was that of a little red fish swimming in a different direction than the mainstream---not a wrong direction, just different.
“If you think about it, Jesus was a bit of a ‘red fish’ of sorts,” says Rev. Seto. “He challenged the status quo. We're invited to swim like Jesus by loving each other and the world.”
The genesis of Parables came to Rev. Neugent one Sunday when a young man in a wheelchair started singing "Jesus Loves Me." She thought to herself, How cool! He really gets what communion is all about! But at that moment the young man's father stood up and whisked him out of the service with a shamed look on his face. Neugent says that was the moment that Parables was born. She wanted to create a space for "red fish families."
Rev. Seto had a similar epiphany in 2016. She and her husband attended a church service in Minnesota designed to include, in particular, people with developmental delay and intellectual disability.
“Our grown daughter lives with autism, and so this was very close to our hearts,” says Rev. Seto. “Both of us just couldn't stop crying. The beauty of human awkwardness infused with divine care and acceptance in such creative and radical ways stole our hearts. My husband turned to me with tears and said, 'If you build something like this in Chelsea, I will help you with it.'”
Rev. Seto had found her true calling.
When Seto first began Parables in June 2017, she found the relaxed format incongruous with her own perfectionist nature. She would obsess over what she felt were small blunders such as misplacing props or calling a therapy dog handler by the dog’s name.
But in that, she found new freedom after being coached by a colleague to "Drop the perfectionism! Just keep the eye of your heart following God's Spirit as it appears to you in the people and situations present."
“That’s how we're supposed to live our lives every day, of course, and yet we forget that trying to ‘do things successfully,’” says Rev. Seto. “Parables is a lot like Sunday-morning-improv. I call it ‘sacred chaos’ sometimes! People move around to pet the dogs or change their fidget or just pace sometimes. People are unabashedly honest when sharing aloud prayers of longing and gratitude. People dance and ask questions with such spontaneity sometimes, it heals the neurotypicals like me in the room from their crazy self-consciousness.”
Seto points to the informal motto borrowed from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: "Trust in the slow work of God."
“Parables is a remarkable demonstration of how Spirit works, as surely and as silently as seeds pushing up through the soil,” says Seto. “It's beautiful when you're given a glimpse of that quiet power of the Divine.”
More information on Parables can be found at https://chelseaumc.org/worship/
Photos courtesy of Rev. LeAnn Seto