Joyful noises: A worship service with children of all abilities

It’s Saturday morning, just before ten. My daughter Harper and I are a little early for the service, so we stop at the church playground for a couple of trips down the slide before we head inside. Just outside the door is a large piece of plywood, propped up and painted to look like a jigsaw puzzle. There’s a hole in the middle where one of the puzzle pieces should be. Harper knows what to do immediately: she scampers behind the sign and pokes her head through the hole. I oblige and take a picture, her grin complementing the painted words: “You belong here.”

The “here” where we belong this morning is a sensory worship experience offered by Salvage Garden, a nonprofit organization in Greensboro, North Carolina, that’s hard to categorize. Part church, part support network for families and individuals with special needs, Salvage Garden strives to create a space where all are welcome, regardless of age or ability. The Banquet—the worship service we’re heading into now—is Salvage Garden’s primary activity.

Salvage Garden founder and executive director Melissa Guthrie sees us and comes to say hello. Melissa and I know each other well; when she’s not running Salvage Garden and leading worship at the Banquet, she works as the communications manager at the church where I serve.