PROM. Just the word invokes all those wonderful customs — being invited by someone who finds you special, searching for that perfect dress, and the right make-up and hairdo. You might get your first limo ride, a delicious meal, pictures (lots of them), and the dance. What a magical night! Unless you don’t get asked to go or, like me, someone stands you up for your prom. There certainly aren’t a lot of fond memories then! In fact, sometimes, those experiences can make you feel like you’re just not worth much.

The Jesus Prom

But what if you could attend an event that focuses on the overlooked in our world? What if you could go to a dance with a date that has no hidden agenda, who loves you for who you are, and where everyone is included? What if you could celebrate wholeheartedly with abandon, for the sake of bringing love and joy to someone? A joy not like this world desires but a kind of joy that is contagious? I’m talking about the Jesus Prom.

Since its beginning 14 years ago, Jesus Prom has evolved into a spectacular annual event for teens and adults who face mental or physical disabilities. It is a special night just for them. Over a thousand prom-goers from all over the area attend and some guests even arrive in donated limos. Others have their parents or caregivers help them down the red carpet as “paparazzi” snap pictures. Waiting in a line are over 1,600 escorts who have volunteered to be their dates for the evening.

Each guest is escorted to dressing areas where a mini makeover and corsage are waiting. After professional prom photos are taken, it’s off to the dining area for dinner where a live band entertains as escorts help their guests dine. Following dinner, guests move on to the game room to play simple carnival games or have their pictures taken at the photo booth as a keepsake. The night ends with everyone dancing to another live band in the worship center. Brewster McLeod, master of ceremonies, rounds the evening out by teaching a biblical truth. It is a night that unites community, people groups, and churches together for one cause — to show that ALL have worth in the eyes of Jesus Christ. It is a prom they will never forget and the entire evening is free.

The Party Hat

Brewster McLeod, also the Community Pastor at Southland Christian Church in Lexington, Kentucky, was the catalyst in making all of this a reality. He first served as Southland’s youth minister for 21 years, and during that time he often passed out wallet-sized cards, which had pictures of Jesus wearing a party hat, to the youth. He explained the meaning by sharing Luke 14: 12-14:

“Then Jesus said to his host, ‘When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers, or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back, and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’”

He made it clear that Jesus loves everyone lavishly — the neglected, the disabled, the poor, and the mainstream of our world. Jesus loves a party and wants ALL to come.

Throughout McLeod’s more than 30 years in ministry, he has been showing those in the church how to focus outside the box and serve those the world seems to overlook. He has taught students and adults alike to be the hands, feet, and heart of Jesus to everyone they encounter. Jesus Prom allows the church to serve not only where it seems easy but also to love those of His children the world tends to neglect.

Grooving The Night Away

Jesus Prom occurs every other year, and past themes have included “The Love Boat,” “Go Big Blue,” and “Triple Crown Derby.” The 2013 theme was “O Happy Days;” everyone came out in their poodle skirts, ponytails, and letter jackets to dance under the mirrored disco ball and have a great time! Months of volunteer preparation go into each prom. Local businesses provide dresses, tuxes, limos, flowers, and make-up and hairstyle makeovers. Spectacular decorations transform the church into a beautiful place to dance the night away!

Jesus Prom has become a highlight not only for prom-goers but also for their parents. One mother shared that she enjoyed, “…just seeing all the ‘little ones,’ as Jesus calls them, having a great time enjoying THEIR night!” The guests get to experience a night to remember with others that are just like them as they laugh, love, and dance the night away. They are beautifully embraced to engage in a party Jesus approves, grooving to the live bands, or leading a worship song before their peers all under a disco ball that reflects their joy all around the room.

“As a mom of a very special, wonderful daughter, I appreciate this and the church for their prom. It is truly the most amazing and wonderful thing you will ever see!”

The feeling of belonging is at the heart of Jesus Prom. Even though people with disabilities are mainstreamed more now than ever before, it can still be socially difficult. Jesus Prom is an opportunity for them to interact with their peers in a welcoming environment without all the pressures they might face at a mainstream dance. And that’s the point. This event is all about meeting new people and having a magical evening.

Dancing With Our King

Jesus Prom now draws so many people who want to be involved, who want to volunteer and share in the joy of serving, that it often becomes a ministry within a ministry. For me, being involved in Jesus Prom changed everything! It flipped my perspective about my past junior prom experience to one full of anticipation for so many others. And now, the Jesus Prom vision has caught on in other parts of the nation (California, Colorado, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Virginia) giving all who participate a sense of value.

THIS is what Jesus Prom is all about — lavishly loving, being encouraged whether you are attending or serving others, and touching lives for Jesus Christ. It is a combined effort of the body of Christ and the surrounding communities and all who come together to unite hearts and purpose to bring joy. Grace abounds here. God could have easily overlooked us, yet He extended His grace to each of us. Jesus Prom is a glimpse of what that grace in heaven will be like, where we will all be whole and dancing with our King.

“I have a better understanding of what heaven must be like after going to the Jesus Prom,” said my friend Janelle Cartner.

I wholeheartedly agree.