Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

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I am writing a post about including autistic adults in church but had to put it aside as I prepare for a talk I am doing with one of our Good News Group members next Saturday. We have been invited to do a workshop on supporting families with children with additional needs at our Diocese annual Children’s Work conference.

One of the things I wanted to do was tell the stories of families experiences and their advice to churches. I asked the good folk of the Additional Needs Alliance what advice they would give. I thought there would be wildly differing advice considering how different each child and family is.  However, there are some clear and key themes coming through as you can see below.  In thanks to their contributions, I have copied each quote here (anonymised).

The themes are

  1. Welcome – be welcoming, make the whole family feel welcome and ask them how you can make church a positive experience for all of them.
  2. Be aware of the struggles they have outside of church (usually trying to navigate the education system, many professionals involved with the child as well as daily life).
  3. Be kind.  Show your kindness in small and genuine ways.
  4. Love them, accept them and give each family member some one to connect to. That includes mums, dads and siblings.
  5. Enabling is better than ‘caring’.

Here are the quotes…

Try to understand the problems and don’t minimise the challenges faced by the family. Ask “ what can I do to help” ( if they are genuinely offering to support)

“…if they are genuinely offering to support ”  This is a crucial distinction because general offers of help in the “let us know if there’s anything we can do to help” line are often so empty and pointless. There’s nothing you can do with them.

Accept the child as they are. Children with additional needs often have lives filled with professionals all trying to change them and you may be one of the few people they meet who aren’t doing this. (This was one of the great things about the opportunity group we went to.)

For the children’s worker to ask regularly how they can pray for the family and to talk about God and his involvement in their lives, particularly the child’s – there are SO many professionals involved in these lives but most are secular. And don’t let the family miss more than one week before some kind of contact is made to show support and care.

We have recently joined a church who have got it soooo right.  Our children’s worker has offered to come and play so that my boys can get to know her. She has offered to make a quiet space for my diagnosed autie. She communicates clearly. She allows him to communicate through his dragon. She gives him the space to be quirky and find his place in his way.  My boys are loving the kids work and we even got a craft home last week! She also comes and finds me after the service and let’s me know how he got on which I love because neither of them process quickly enough to communicate what they did or if they found anything difficult.  What I love most is that my children aren’t viewed as problems or difficulties. They are valued exactly as they are and welcomed to be the people God created them to be.

Another hint, when they ask ‘how are you?’ don’t take fine for an answer because let’s face it, we are rarely actually fine. Did deeper, ask how the child has slept, have we managed to anything for ourselves this week etc.

While we are desperate for our children to be seen and loved, we also desperately need someone to truly see us. We have to be OK for everyone else. We have to have the answers for the medical people, the educators etc. We really want someone to see our pain and not call us superheros but bring us a cuppa and a hug.

Tell me the good things my child did during the session and see their strengths as well as the challenges. As me what works for my child, one approach does not work for all. I love the kids church my son goes to. They do the above. They are flexible for him but also when there can have been a week of what can feel like negative feedback of what has gone on at school to be tole my son’s strengths feels wonderful and lifts my spirits.

Ask me what my child needs and listen to my answer. Get to know her as a person. I loved when she had 1:1 support in Sunday school, the approach changed massively when they changed the role title from “1:1 support” to “carers” she didn’t need a carer, she needed support to engage with the activities. The title was symptomatic of the emerging problem for her.  We’ve changed churches and I’m involved in coordinating the kids work in the new one.

Just as a lot of folks have mentioned its the ‘ask’ – Just because you’ve experienced a child with condition X or Y before don’t assume that it affects this child/family the same, read about it. (most parents wont mind if you said ‘I’ve read that P and Q can be a challenge is that right for your child or is there a different challenge i need to be aware of?”. THe other is be honest – be honest if you don’t know, be honest if you aren’t sure if the group can support the child, be honest if you need help, be honest when you don’t understand and dont make promises you cant keep – we can only help you help our child if we know where we all stand.

Get to know the child and the family well enough to be able to babysit or take the child for a few hours’ respite in school holidays (especially if there are siblings). Occasionally drop round with a pie or casserole, and leave with the family’s laundry pile. Bring it back washed and ironed when you come back for your casserole dish!

Don’t tell me during a really quiet part of worship that it’s ok my child is being noisy. It just makes everyone turn round and notice the noise my child is making. I would hope this is isolated but I was once asked to keep my child in his wheelchair for a service as his behaviour was too challenging out of it.

Even my current church who are generally amazing didn’t listen the first week we were there. When I say he can’t go in his age appropriate group it’s not because I’m being difficult, ask me questions don’t just attempt it and see what happens because that’s when someone gets hurt.

Don’t quote Bible verses in a trite way. My daughter is now 35 and from this vantage-point I can affirm that God’s grace has always been sufficient. But when she was little, I did reach the point where the next person who quoted “His grace is sufficient for you” was going to get bashed round the ear with my Bible! However, the ones who demonstrated His grace in practical ways were very welcome.

…and “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” which isn’t even a Bible quote anyway!

Yeees! People only ever say that to me once 😂🙈awful, awful saying.

God doesn’t give us more than HE can handle!

Yes, as I understand the Gospel He gives everyone more than they can handle so they learn to rely on His strength!

Listen to parents. Particularly when child is little and parents haven’t got diagnosis. Lots of parents in this situation feel low and like this is their fault in some way. They don’t need someone telling them that. Make adjustments for child in children’s groups. Do not say “you ought to give her a good slap and then she’d behave herself” (Yes this was actually said to me by a member of the church when my daughter was being loud in church). Have someone in the church who can advise on additional needs – often someone with knowledge can suggest simple things to children’s church leaders which make all the difference and allow inclusion. Train your children’s church leaders in inclusion and types of additional needs. We had a new family come to church and I happened to be leading the children’s group that week. Mum very anxious and said child had selective mutism / social communication issues. As I knew about these, I was able to put her at ease that he would be included, I would give him quiet space if he needed etc. After the service, I went up to her and told her that we had been fine. When you are new to a setting, someone accepting and saying it is not a problem puts parents at ease.

Just care. Come alongside, communicate, ask questions, but let the parents know you want to help. Don’t leave them isolated and feeling alone, and as if they will never be able to truly belong to a church. It’s a painful place to be.

  1. Listen…
  2. …before even thinking of offering solutions or answers.    I could go on but you did say two pieces of advice 😉

Come and bring me a cup of tea when I am standing far away with my son in a quiet place – I will be feeling isolated when everyone is chatting happily after the service (about the sermon I’ve just missed…)

  1. Don’t separate them with a box of cars/crayons in the corner.
  2. Remember that outside appearances very rarely show the truth of the matter – ‘reaching out’, pah! Make friends.

Welcome the family as you would any other family. Come along side them and walk their journey with them. Whatever that may look like for the individual family. Don’t be afraid, we don’t have 2 heads or need anything too scary all we need is love and acceptance. Oh and don’t see us as a project.

Oh sorry one more don’t pray for healing that’s actually really insulting, God made my son this way, it wasn’t an accident we need to ask him to fix.xx

The most loved I ever felt was when a member of the congregation approached me mid melt down. She kept her distance but just asked whether there was anything she could do and whether I’d like tea or coffee. She knew there was nothing she could do but I was desperate to be loved in that moment when it was obvious that we were disrupting everything. That tea was the best I’ve ever had,  because it was made with so much love.

The first thing I’d say is remember that the happy smiley family that have just walked in have probably been through at least 1 melt down/sit in that morning

Secondly make everything BIG everyone prefers things larger but for a person who is sight impaired or severely sight impaired it might be the difference between them and their family feeling welcome and cared about.

I could write so much more as two of mine have really particular needs and so I have lots of thoughts but there’s lots here already!

Offer to babysit.

Don’t always assume that my child needs something special or separate – I want church to change to include him also sometimes parent can come across as angry – I have found myself to be a critique of the services supposed to be there to support us – often church people find this tricky.

I have not attended church only on a few occasions over about 5 years…when I stopped it was because I was drained and couldn’t cope with the amount of people there wanting to talk to me…I was grieving…the system I was trying to navigate was a bit abusive in nature… it has taken me 5 years to start to feel better.  When I do bump into church people they are always lovely and happy to see me but the last 5 years has been a very lonely time. The experience has made me think.  I am sad that although I went for years to a church, when the going got tough I didn’t have a Christian friend to help me through the difficult patch.  It’s as if there wasn’t anyone that I was really close enough to.

And my final words… Pray for your church to be the best it could possibly be. As I say so often….just start somewhere and keep listening and learning.  God will be with you and can enable all to be fully part of his church. 

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1. Get to know them.

Every autistic child is different.  It’s really important that you spend time with the family and the child to watch and learn what you can about the child.  Look specifically for how they navigate the environment and the way they respond to sensory stimuli such as the crowds, music and lighting in your church. Organise a visit to the family’s home and just observe the child, responding to their approaches to you rather than enforcing your interactions on them.  Parents will tell you a lot, and it may be helpful to work together to build a profile of the child that can be useful in getting the support right.

  • How does the child communicate and what communication do they like from others?  This will be different for each child. Some autistic children don’t develop speech to much later than is typical, others can talk exceptionally well.However, communication also includes ‘reading’ other people and knowing how to respond to them. It is important that we find the right communication for each child and are careful not just to rely on verbal communication. This is why pictures and other visual ways of communicating are helpful for many.
  • How do they react to sensory stimuli?  What things might overwhelm them, or conversely, what things might they seek more of.  Some children avoid loud noises, smells, lights etc.  Some seek to be on the move all the time or want to chew things constantly or any kind of sensory seeking activity.
  • Do they have a processing delay? Do they need a pause to think and work out what is being communicated to them?  If so, make sure this is taken into account.  Also check if they do take things literally, so you can be careful and clear when you explain things.  (especially ‘spiritual’ language).
  • What are the child’s interests? If they have a specific interest then this is what will motivate them and bring them joy. It would be good to plan to join them in this interest, take seriously what they know and develop your Bible truths through something they understand well. For example, spending time looking at their favourite things shows them that Jesus is interested in their lives, that he loves to spend time with us.
  • What triggers the child’s anxieties or fears? It could be anything so listen to what he family and child has to say and work out what helps them feel calm and confident.
  • Putting together a one page profile such as these from ShefKids could help you give the key information to those who might be working with the child.  Be aware of data protection, the child’s and family’s wishes and positivity when sharing

2. Change the way you do things to suit this one child.

Now this might be controversial but remember the lost sheep.  Jesus went out of his way to make sure that sheep was safe and included.  If we change what we do so that one child can be included we benefit ALL children and teach them an amazing lesson about Jesus and his love.  For example, if a child uses sign language, all learn sign language.  If an autistic child needs sensory experiences to help him or her to connect with the teaching, do it for all.  If they need a slower pace, things explaining simply and logically, or visual communication. Do it.  Please.

3. Give the family love, acceptance and a break.

Can people offer babysitting or going along to an event with the family?  Could they walk around the church at coffee time with the child so that the child feels safe and the parents can get a coffee?  A buddy system, a group of people who just sit alongside and be with the child or the whole family can make a huge difference.  They can ask if help is needed and bring a brew to them if they can’t get to it.  If the child is finding the service difficult and needs to be taken out or home, you can follow them up, ask if they got home okay and offer to pass on any notes from the service or sermon.  Autistic children want a place where they feel safe and accepted.  Some may really want to be included in everything and be able to make lots of attempts to try to join in.  Some may want to be included and don’t know how to.  Some activities are too much for their senses or too long or wordy or just boring.  (I don’t want to join in those either.)  We need to support those attempts and be a role model to the other children so they know how to accept and include the autistic child.  If the child is reluctant to join in, doesn’t speak or doesn’t know how to join in, then make a way for other children to sit with them, play alongside and quietly build trust together.  (This is where I like activities such as Lego.)

4. Communicate visually.

As I said earlier, autistic children can benefit from visual communication.  One really helpful way is to communicate what is happening.  Many autistic children need to know what is happening so they can follow a routine that is predictable.  Change and unexpected events can cause so much anxiety and even meltdown or shutdown because they cannot work out how to make that change from what they were expecting.  A visual timetable (like those examples in this previous post), is a very useful tool, and again helps all children.  I would love to see all churches with one!  I have written more about visual communication here.

5. Have high expectations of God’s love, grace and power.

Autistic children are fully part of God’s kingdom.  There is nothing missing or damaged.  They are only broken in the same way that ALL of us are broken – in our relationship with God.  So, the gospel needs to be taught in a way that they can understand, it needs to be reinforced by love and grace.  We also need to be certain that God has a place for that child in his church.  They are part of the body and we must be praying for their spiritual growth and for God to reveal himself to them.  Don’t think God speaks to everyone in the same way.  Your testimony isn’t the same as mine, and every autistic child will have their own faith journey too.  God uses those the world thinks are weak to shame the strong.  Whatever messages the autistic child in your church is receiving from the world outside, make sure that the messages they are receiving from inside are good.

Whenever you think “but… we can’t do this, they can’t do, or I don’t know how to…”  stop….pause and instead pray.

Ask God to show you the way, look for the ways the child is showing you.

Mark 10:14

When Jesus saw this, he was angry. He said to his disciples, “Let the little children come to me. Don’t keep them away. God’s kingdom belongs to people like them.

Mark 10:15

What I’m about to tell you is true. Anyone who will not receive God’s kingdom like a little child will never enter it.”

 

It’s been four months since I left the Good News Group and I’ve lamented on how hard I have found it and reflected on what God might me leading me to next. However, one gift God has given me is the opportunity to go back to GNG once a term to lead the teaching. I loved being with them at Christmas and this term the group are looking at mission, along with the rest of St Andrew’s church.

So I’m going back this Wednesday to introduce the topic, which has given me opportunity to pray and look at what place people with intellectual and other disabilities have in the mission of the church.

It is clear when we look at Mephibosheth in the Old Testament and the paralysed man who was brought to Jesus through the roof by his friends, (Luke 5 and Mark 2). as well as the parable of the great banquet (Matthew 22), that people with disabilities are meant to be in the kingdom of God. David brought Mephibosheth to the king’s table, despite him being previously banished and his own assessment of his life being “I’m nothing but a dead dog”. (2 Samuel 9:8) David treated Mephibosheth like a kings son. Jesus showed in his healings and actions, and specifically when healing Bartimaeus (Mark 10), that sin did not cause disability. Jesus showed great respect and inclusion of people with disabilities in his kingdom. Showing us all that we were all in the same state of judgement for sin and in need of rescue by God’s son who came to save us.

So starting with who needs salvation?

…the answer is all of us.

Who can be in God’s kingdom?

….anyone who believes Jesus is God’s son who came to pay for our sin.

My teaching is going to begin by reminding us all about this fact. We cannot be missionaries if we don’t know and believe what the message is!

I’m going to play two songs, and probably have my puppet sing it to the group. First ‘Mighty to Save’ by the Newsboys and then ‘Rescuer (Good News)’ by Rend Collective. I find that music is a great way to help reinforce the teaching and I want to use these two songs to remind us all that the gospel is an exciting thing to share, that it really is the good news.

Then we will look at the Holy Spirit and how before Pentecost, even those who had seen the risen Jesus were scared and hiding away. When God’s power came by the Holy Spirit they were bold, could communicate with people they couldn’t communicate with before, and had courage to go and tell everyone they met the good news about Jesus.

I know the members of the GNG who are passionate and sure of their faith in Jesus. I want to tell them that their communication, intellectual or physical barriers should not prevent them being missionaries. I’m thinking of One young woman who speaks through eye gaze technology forming sentences on a screen. What she has to say about the gospel is just as good as what Billy Graham had to say about the gospel. And the gospel doesn’t always need words. Signing, caring, inner joy are all ways to communicate the gospel about Jesus.

I know words aren’t always necessary. I became a Christian because of some believers actions. I saw Jesus shining out in the way they cared for, accepted and included me. At that time my life was a mess, I had too many wrong things going on and I was on the verge of a mental breakdown. These people did not judge, but showed me Jesus loved me through their actions towards me. They just made sure I knew Jesus was the reason they cared for me so much. A few months later I gave my life to Jesus and started on the best part of my life.

My friends who are seen as ‘less’ by society (and some in the church) because of their disabilities have so much to offer the churches mission. All of them who believe have the same access to the Holy Spirit as all believers. So, ‘what qualification do you need to be a missionary?’ The answer is to know who Jesus is and believe he is the saviour God has sent for all people.

Obviously mission starts where we are. Telling our friends, housemates, carers, families, neighbours, therapists, doctors and people we meet in the community about Jesus is mission. But it would be easy to assume that is all the mission people with disabilities can do.

There may be some difficulties in people with disabilities becoming full time or even short term missionaries on overseas or local mission events. But we need to give them every opportunity to be included. That may mean extra work to make it happen. For example, does your youth group get involved in a short term overseas mission? How could a disabled teenager be given the same opportunity? How can we help and make this happen?

One of the barriers we have found has been logistics. I have always wanted our GNG members to be given the opportunity to speak and share the gospel when we are invited to speak at events. But getting people there has been a real barrier. Time, safety, distance and medical needs have been a challenge. So whilst aiming for getting much better at this what we have done is start with what we can do. So we have tried to stay local, so I can pick people up and get them home in the same day. When I’ve been in Manchester and Liverpool lately, this allowed Cristina, Stefan and John to come and be part of our mission.

Another thing I tried was video. So when I went to London, I interviewed John and Chelsea who then were able to present what they had to say on screen. There’s a few opportunities coming up where we can have more GNG members involved in sharing the gospel, their stories and faith (God willing). We will continue to learn new ways of communicating that message…after all, that’s the ‘gift of tongues’ that we are asking for.

Communication might be in words, signs, pictures, music, actions. The Holy Spirit can use all of these, through any of us to let others know who Jesus is and how much they need him as their saviour.

What kind of Father is God?

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This Christmas I have been thinking about Joseph.  We often talk about Mary, the blessed Virgin but prompted by this 80s song by Michael Card   ,  I got my puppet to sing it to the congregation when I did the Christmas talk at the Good News Group.  (and here are the lyrics)

If you want a multi-sensory experience with this post – get yourself a small piece of play dough or ball of blue tack and follow the instructions at each section.  There is also a picture and symbol with each part too. 

The word Immanuel means “God with us” and The Bible says:

“God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. Anyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life.”  John 3:16  (NIrV)

Joseph became the dad to God’s son.  What an important job.  I am sure that Joseph loved God and we know he obeyed God.  God sent him the message by an angel, and so he married Mary.  We don’t hear much about him in the Bible because it tells us that God was really Jesus’s Father – and Jesus came to show us what God his father was like – and tell us that God is our Father too.

So what kind of Father is God?

A Father who Loves…

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Make a ball with your playdough and think that as you hold something you made in your hands – God holds the world in his hands and he loves it so much.  He wants the world to know how much he loves it.  And to do that he sent his son Jesus into that world.

When we say, God so loved the world it reminds us that he made the world, and he made you.  The Bible also says:

“You created the deepest parts of my being.
    You put me together inside my mother’s body.
How you made me is amazing and wonderful.
    I praise you for that.
What you have done is wonderful.
    I know that very well.”    Psalm 139:13-14 (NIrV)

A Father who forgives

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Make a cross with your playdough.  This reminds us of the sacrifice Jesus made for us and the hope we have when we remember that cross.

When Jesus came into this world, as well as telling us about our Father God’s love, he came to do an important job.   He let people nail him to a cross to take the punishment for our sins.  Our sin is that we ignore God and that leads to all kind of selfishness and bad things in the world.  God knew we couldn’t make ourselves right with him.  So, Jesus did this for us instead. When Jesus died, we know God raised him to life and he went up to heaven to be with his Father.  We know we will not die because Jesus came alive after death.  That is the hope we have when we believe in Jesus, to live with him in heaven forever.   Now Jesus is alive and at work with his Father to look after all those who believe in him until that happens.  That’s him looking after Us!

And the kind of Father God is, made sure Jesus left us with another very important promise – that one day Jesus would come back and make this world new and how it should be.

And that is why…

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  John 14:6 (NIrV)

A Father who promises always to be with us…

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Make a person with your playdough.  Don’t worry how rough it seems.  Now breathe on it.  Help it move.  Can you make it live?  Of course not, but God made you, he knows you and all that you love, hate, he knows all your gifts and dreams and all the things you struggle with.

When Jesus went to heaven he promised that he wouldn’t leave us.   But he went into the sky and the disciples were left very sad and worried.  Some days later, the Holy Spirit came and breathed God’s power into them.  They had all this confidence to go out into the world and tell others about Jesus.

The Holy Spirit is God’s presence and power with us now, so you can have God’s power every day too.  When times are tough, when you feel broken and when you feel amazing – God’s promise never changes.  He is always with you.

“How can I get away from your Spirit?
    Where can I go to escape from you?”   Psalm 139:7 (NIrV)

“Lord, you have seen what is in my heart.
    You know all about me.”   Psalm 139:1  (NIrV)

A Father who is generous in giving gifts…

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Make your playdough into a tiny world again and give it to the person next to you as a gift.  Make sure we have all given and received a gift.

“God’s gifts of grace come in many forms. Each of you has received a gift in order to serve others.”  1 Peter 4:10  (NIrV)

It seems harder when you have a disability, when the world tells you ‘you can’t’.  When people think you are not as good as them because you don’t learn in the same way, or because you need help to do look after yourself each day.  That’s not God’s way at all.

God says anyone is his child when they believe in Jesus.  He gives everyone the same gift of the Holy Spirit as everyone else that believes in Jesus.  God does NOT put limitations on what you can do for him. So thank him for Jesus and be bold, be strong and praise him every day.  I look forward to what he will do in your lives and what you will do for him.  It’s going to be amazing.

Summary

So, what kind of Father is God?

  • A Father who loves
  • A Father who forgives
  • A Father who promises always to be with us
  • A Father who is generous in giving gifts.

I still have my earthly Father. I call him Dad and I love him.  But he is just a human being just like me.   He can’t be all the things my heavenly Father is.  Jesus said we can call God a special Father name – he called it Abba – it’s the same as Daddy.  Do you feel that close to God that you can call him Daddy? 

I love to pray…

Daddy thank you

Daddy I love you

Daddy help me

Today God’s promise to you is that if you believe in Jesus you are his child.  He promises to love you and that after you finish your life on this earth you will go to be in heaven with him.   You will meet the real Jesus and live without pain, hardship or tears forever.   And while you are waiting for that day he promises to be with you always….every… single… moment.  Every one of you here can serve God, love God and be used for him in your life.  Don’t let anyone say to you, ”you can’t”.  Because when the Holy Spirit is in you, you have God’s power to do anything he asks you to do.   It really is going to be an amazing life when you follow Jesus. 

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Has God ever asked you to let go of something you loved, even if it was a really good thing?  Why would God do that?

In September I stepped down from the Good News Group and have now had a term of not being there each week.  (Although it was wonderful to be involved in the Christmas service with everyone.)  I’m still a bit heartbroken to be honest but it has been good for me to think about why God would do this to me and what I might need to learn from it.

One thing I realised is that God wants me to come to him and give my time to him.  I’m still working this out as I am naturally a really busy person and can soon fill up a few spare minutes or hours.  Social media is a big draw to me – and I’m still having to discipline myself to stop looking at it so much – (not doing brilliantly on that yet).  Wouldn’t it be awful if I just filled up my time with worthless activities instead of God… so I am aiming to do more walking to my local country park and while I am walking, listen to the lovely voice of David Suchet reading a book of the Bible to me.  I am already falling back in love with God’s word by doing this.  I’m not studying it, or doing a study book…just listening.

By letting go of the Good News Group I have given others the chance to step up.  I have been praying each day for the team that is left and know that it is a difficult time of transition.  But I know too that this is God’s work and he will equip and enable them.  I remember when the previous leaders left, very suddenly, and three of us offered to take on leadership ‘temporarily’!!! We had no clue how to do it or how we were going to manage, but at every step, in prayer, God has enabled us.  If you are running a similar group or thinking of doing so – just pray, pray, pray and know that God will enable you.  The more we trust him, the more he is able to give us – and then we can give the glory back to him.  We know we don’t deserve any of it.

I think I was taking some of God’s glory and putting my hope in what I was doing, not who God is.  I need to be humble and repent of this.

And finally I am now seeing that God has work for me to do elsewhere.  My hubby and I are still visiting other churches and I am getting a better feel of what disability awareness and support might be needed by churches.  I am not feeling the need to settle anywhere else so far, but then if God has that in his plan, we are certainly open to it.  It is a time of waiting and learning – being such an active person, this does not come naturally to me, but then with God all things are possible!

My prayer for all of you (maybe 3 people…ha ha!) who read my blog is that you too know when God is calling you out to wait, listen and learn.  It may be a time he is getting you ready for the next stage of your ministry or a time of discipline and healing.  And don’t forget that our friends with learning difficulties may need times like this too.  It may be that God calls you to come alongside someone one-to-one and support them through their time of waiting.

God Bless and do keep in touch.  There will be some news next year, as I think God is leading me to new things that I have had meetings about recently…

 

Church service timetable pics

I’ve visited a few churches over the past couple of months and it’s been interesting to see examples of good accessibility practice but I’ve also seen that there is a lot more each church could do  (I haven’t been telling them this…. not yet, I’m grateful for people’s welcome and love!) We are waiting for God to show us where we need to be ad in the meantime

The Good News Group and I went to talk at a Harvest Service in Middleton, Manchester and was impressed to see how they had made a visual timetable powerpoint.  The same symbols appeared on the service sheet.  These small additions can make a huge difference for someone visiting, especially if they have additional needs, anxiety or just wants to know what is happening and when.

So I’ve made an example timetable on a power point that hopefully (if it works) you can download and use as a template (see below).  The symbols may not be in the order you need, but with a bit of cut and pasting, you (or a young person…LOL) should be able to rearrange them to suit you.

I’ve also added a few tips on presentation.  The background and text colours are based on dyslexia and learning disability advice and please don’t have a scene (or worse a moving scene) behind printed words.  I’ve seen this done for songs and it can make it unreadable for many people with additional needs, including dyslexia and sight impairment.

This sort of timetable can be used for any group, any event and once you have got the basic template, can be used quickly and easily each week.

Do have a go and let me know how you get on.  🙂

Church Service timetable  – download by clicking on this link.

Visuals come in many formats and we use visual images in many ways in church. Stained glass windows told the stories from the Bible to people who couldn’t read in times gone by.  When I was a girl, the minister used a ‘flannel graph’ board to illustrate the Bible story, and as a child, it certainly kept my interest.

There are many good reasons for using visuals to help people with additional needs access what is going on in church and connect with the Bible teaching we are presenting. The best thing to do is ask them what works for them, but by also adopting some good practice, you are accessible to those who potentially may yet come to your church.

Here are four main reasons:

1. Visuals are inclusive. If you can’t read so well, have hearing difficulties, speak a different language, have working memory difficulties, or find it hard to sit and listen then a visual image is there for longer than the words you speak. Well chosen visuals can also help those with visual impairments. A visual image allows the brain to process the message or information without having to remember the information at the same time.

2. Visuals (such as a visual timetable) help everyone know what is happening, in what order and when it all will finish. This can help people who feel anxious, who have autism or ADHD, for example. They can check for themselves what is happening and if needed, can add their own choices of activities to help with their managing to be in the service or group.

3. Visual pictures link parts of a story or series events together by putting them in a sequence you can see. It helps someone to recall what happened and see the whole story linking together.

4. Preparing visuals for a talk that you are writing helps you check how much it makes sense to others! It is easier to explain complex spiritual language using a visual illustration…but take care…people may take it literally. Here’s an example…

Set my heart on fire..

 

What does this really mean?  Maybe something like “give me power and passion to be enthusiastic for Jesus every day.”   It is good to explain our spiritual terms, not just for those with additional needs, but think about those new to Christianity and those who don’t understand our language very well.

Here are some ways you can start to use visuals in your church and children’s groups.

1. Have a visual timetable of your service. If you use a projection onto a screen have a plain background (and avoid moving pictures with text on top) with large font writing. Dark blue backgrounds with yellow writing can work well. But then at the bottom of the screen you can put a timetable of the service. It isn’t too difficult to take one picture off as each part of the service continues. You can use specialist software such as widgitonline (try the free trial) or just a set of free clip art images that are available online. Alternatively, have a visual timetable in a prominent place at the front of church or even on the service sheet. If possible have someone take off the picture symbol as each section finishes, maybe there is a child or adult who would love this job in your church!

IMG_2982

This was one way we tried – giving out a timetable of the service with the service sheet. 

2. When writing a sermon or children’s talk, prepare a key point you can illustrate with pictures. Try to think literally. One key sentence for people to take away.  When you are speaking, a visual picture as you move from point to point, helps people keep up and focus on each part. It also helps you slow down and keep on point! Here’s a link to how to write an accessible sermon.

3. In children’s groups a visual timetable should have the place they are going to and the place they are going to after the session is finished.  You are breaking down the session into manageable chunks.  If necessary a child with additional needs could have their own. They may need included; a safe space and a sensory or favourite activity that helps them engage.

4. Picture sequences of Bible Stories can help children who struggle to listen, read, write or speak. They can follow the story as it is told, put the events in order and answer questions by pointing to the pictures. Here are some good resources …

www.widgitonline.com – try the free trial but plan what images you would like to have and keep in that trial time.  Then you can make lots and reuse them.  Consider if it is worth buying a subscription for one or more people who would be making these every week for you.

jpeg Jesus calls disciples

Here’s one I made earlier. 

freebibleimages – my old favourite – but free – so what’s not to like?

Additional Needs Alliance website – lots of free resources people have added.

This is just a beginning and I’ve tried to show as many examples as I can. Please add examples that have worked in your church in the comments below.  Let’s share our good practice.

Here’s the catch up for the recent Methodist Church Belonging Conference. all about including additional needs in church. 

 

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