Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

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Some of you will have read a post I put up a few days ago called “Storm before the Calm.”  I have taken this down as I was embarrassed at how raw it was.  I was having a bad weekend emotionally but thanks to a lovely friend who helped me feel much better after a good chat,  I’m rewriting it as something that can stay on the blog.  (Thanks so much to those that already replied – I have all your comments and you are much appreciated).

Like a lot of people, I have been quite upset by things way beyond my control.  The main things that have ‘stormed’ into my life are:

  1. The news – terrorist attacks, tower block fires, the stupid election (my views are my own!) and just not knowing what the government are doing. I still don’t want Brexit and the process frightens me. It’s unsettling, hard to escape.  Two girls from my town died in the Manchester attack.  Everyone I know shares the worry and grief over all the incidents and events in our country these past months.

 

  1. A death happened. A young person took their own life.  I’m grieving for them and their family.  I have been researching mental health and young people and find that we are ignoring the risks and pressures that affect our young people.  It feels like we are sleepwalking into a crisis.  Many people think that’s already happening.  I’m praying and wondering what the church should be doing.

 

  1. For some time I’ve been wondering about how I can share much more of the resources we’ve built up over 10 years of our Good News Group. Particularly our Bible teaching materials but also sharing our story and training for churches.  I want so much to give our adults in the group, opportunity to speak for themselves and for others with learning disabilities to have access to good teaching materials.

 

And this is where I asked for help in my last post.  If you read includedbygrace regularly I’d like to hear from you.  If you’ve happened to read it by random google search, I want to hear from you.  I want to know what you think of includedbygrace and the information I share.  What it means to you and how it has helped you (or not).

If you want to say a pray for this please pray that God will make this what he wants it to be.  I have been blessed by a conversation with two web developers who are interested in designing an accessible website with me.  Maybe that’s a thing that includedbygrace can become.  I have no funding, only faith at this point in time.  But I believe in a God who funds his own projects.

My second idea is to build a team of trainers from our Good News Group who can tell churches how they can be better included.  I experimented with doing this by video when I went to London and this was one way of sharing their voice.  Locally I can take people to places we speak.

Thirdly, I’d love to reach out to special schools in our area.  Maybe with assemblies or sensory Bible stories.  I’d need a team of GNG members to help me…and again the logistics are huge.  But not for God!

In my mind are a lot of other random ideas.  I only want to go in the direction God has prepared and not waste time on things that won’t work.  The aim is to spread the gospel and disciple children, teens and adults with learning disabilities, giving them accessible Bible teaching and resources.  Also, it is to equip churches to do this work too.  We are a small team…living hopefully in the storms…

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Which way is the right way?        photo from http://www.i.telegraph.co.uk  

Psalm 143  

A praise song of David.

143 Lord, hear my prayer.
    Listen to my call for help and answer my prayer.
    Show me how good and loyal you are.
Don’t judge me, your servant.
    No one alive could be judged innocent by your standards.
My enemies are chasing me.
    They have crushed me into the dirt.
They are pushing me into the dark grave,
    like people who died long ago.
I am ready to give up.
    I am losing my courage.
But I remember what happened long ago.
    I am thinking about all you have done.
    I am talking about what you made with your hands!
I lift my hands in prayer to you.
    I am waiting for your help, like a dry land waiting for rain. 

Hurry and answer me, Lord!
    I have lost my courage.
Don’t turn away from me.
    Don’t let me die and become like the people lying in the grave.
Show me your faithful love this morning.
    I trust in you.
Show me what I should do.
    I put my life in your hands!
Lord, I come to you for protection.
    Save me from my enemies.
10 Show me what you want me to do.
    You are my God.
Let your good Spirit lead me over level ground.
11 Lord, let me live
    so that people will praise your name.
Show me how good you are
    and save me from my trouble.
12 Show me your love
    and defeat my enemies.
Destroy those who are trying to kill me
    because I am your servant.

Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)Copyright © 2006 by Bible League International

 

It has been difficult for me to keep up with my blog recently.  I even wonder if anyone is at all bothered about that…

But it has been difficult because the Lord seems to be taking me through a storm.  Not literally, but in my life and in my thoughts, there is a storm raging.  And it’s exhausting me.

I’ve started to pray through Psalm 143 as above.  One thing I have learned in all these years as a Christian is that storms have been good for me.  Not while I’m in the middle of them – but always afterwards there is a new thing in my life because some old things have been sorted out.  God is good like that.

So I trust Jesus and only him to see this storm through.  I hold onto his promises as I wait for the winds to decide which direction they want to settle on (i.e.. which path I should take) and while I wait for the lightening strikes to subside (i.e.. hopefully the problems being thrown my way will ease off.)  The heavy rain is like all the emotions I feel as the storm rages; the emotions pour on me and soak me through.   I’d like those to ease off please.

But I know that God uses the storms to clear the air and refresh the land.

I have been praying about the next steps for ‘includedbygrace’ for a long while now.  I think God is wanting me to move into something new and develop it into more useful things for and with people with learning disabilities, so that they can learn more about Jesus in a way that is accessible.

If you read this (and can make any sense of it – and if you can’t – I shall have to try again to make it more sense-able!)  could you write a comment or send me a message and tell me what ‘includedbygrace’ means to you, what you have got out of it and what you think it could do more of?

Thank you

Lynn  x

 

bible

“I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; That in everything ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you:  So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:  Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 Corinthians 1:4-8  (KJV)

This is just one sentence in the King James Version of the Bible.  It’s old language and complex elements means it can be very difficult to read, never mind understand and interpret.   There are other versions but some of the difficulties are the same with these too.  There are many people who find the Bible difficult to read.  It could be because:

  • They find the print too small
  • The words are too complex
  • The words are too close together
  • The sentences are too long
  • They don’t know the meaning of unfamiliar words
  • The language is unfamiliar and old
  • It is hard to find the chapter and verse as the numbers are spread out and so small
  • They are slow at reading
  • They frequently lose the point where they have read to

People with poor literacy are found in all kinds of places.  Prisoners are one of the largest illiterate groups in the country.  Around 17% of young people leave school without functional literacy.  People have sight problems or cognitive difficulties which makes long pieces of text hard to follow.   People with learning difficulties can come in all guises and we can easily assume the people in our congregations can read the Bible, when in reality, they just can’t.  We often assume people are ignoring the Bible, but maybe they just are hiding the fact that they find it very difficult to read.  There are people with dyslexia and other hidden disabilities that might not like to tell people that they have these difficulties.

I’ve supported adults with learning disabilities for many years in a church group.  We have some readers who find the Bible texts that we normally have so difficult to access.  We ended up buying children’s Bibles for them, which felt both patronising and unsuitable.  Children’s Bible’s tell simplified versions of the Bible stories.  We wanted the full Bible so we can study it together.

We have been using the NIrV Accessible version of Matthew’s gospel since January and our group have been so excited to read the Bible for themselves.  The text size, simple but accurate text, shorter sentences, wider spacing, gaps between paragraphs and easier numbering of verses has been so helpful.  The illustrations explain the passage and are not childish.  And we have been able to support non-readers by providing visual pictures that follow this text.  Seeing all our group read the Bible together has been amazing.

There were still some needs not being met.  Those who can’t read needed an audio version and we were all desperate to have the whole Bible so we could extend our Bible exploration.

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Buy at:   https://www.biblicaeurope.com/bible-shop/product/234/nirv-accessible-edition-new-testament

So we are so happy that Biblica have now published both the whole New Testament in print version and in audio.  We have put in our initial order and will be looking to buy everyone who can read their own copy, have copies available for Sunday services and make sure that those who cannot read have access to an audio version.

Thank you Biblica.  I can see so many places this Bible can be used.  I’m particularly excited about the project to get them into prisons.  Please do support this, and consider buying one for someone you know, your church or your local prison.

We look forward to the Old Testament too.

All can pray.

This week is the Church of England’s week of prayer.  Our church has organised daily prayer events as has many across the world.  Do look at the website   “Thy Kingdom Come”   and social media for examples of what churches are doing.

Just a small part of this is the Good News Group and our contribution.   We were so pleased to be asked to do something for the main Thy Kingdom Come website and called on the services of a deaf film maker called Dean who put together this for us…

The Lord’s Prayer signed by the Good News Group

Please do share it and use it in your church to show people that prayer is for everyone.  I wish you’d been there as we filmed it.  Each person involved was so keen and capable.  They delivered their ‘line’ often the first take was perfect and the whole group was excited as we played it to them the next week.

In our church’s week of prayer we were included in hosting a prayer meeting, as we always are.  I was sent this leaflet about Prayer Stations  and thought that we could easily adapt these ideas to suit our group and their communication needs.

So here are our stations and how we did it.

IMG_3053.JPG Station 1

Using a wooden cross we gave people the opportunity to write, draw or put symbols onto post its and stick them on the cross.

 

We had parts of the Lord’s prayer to reflect on as well as instructions supported by Communicate in Print.

 

 

 

 

Station 2

This reminded people that Jesus is the Light of the World.  I had a disco bulb which fitted perfectly under the balcony of church and shone the moving light onto the ceiling.  This was great for our sensory adults.  This station invited people to write names other friends onto a piece of paper and peg it onto a piece of string tied across the posts.  Lots of people helped each other say and write names on this.

Station 3

This station was to pray for our world.  We placed wooden crosses on the map of the world and prayed for that country.

Station 4

I kept all the prayers I wrote for our country after Brexit and thought that we ought still to be praying for our country.  This table left out a selection of those prayers and invited people to pray for our nation,  especially ‘Thy Kingdom come’!

Station 5

We put out our prayer trees on the tables so people could go back to them and those who didn’t want to walk around the church for long or at all could still pray in an accessible way.

 

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And here are a few AFTER photos…

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You know by now that we are about ABILTY not disability.  There’s no reason why you can’t do these things too.  Go on, try some new inclusive prayer ideas and care with us what you do.

In Jesus Name…always and forever…Amen.

 

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This was the cross we used for our drama

Our church isn’t perfect.  All churches are places for sinners – remember Jesus said as the sick need a doctor, so sinners need a saviour.  No matter who you are – you need Jesus.  What a great leveller that is!  But we are working on including people with disabilities in our church family and giving them opportunities to serve and offer their gifts.  This Easter, our Good News Group were asked to lead the Easter Service when all our congregation come together to celebrate Jesus rising from the dead.  So with a good few of our group able to make it on that day,  we planned our service.

Paul and I led the service. He was so excited…as he said “me and you like to boss people about so we are ideal for this job!”   He was also really excited that a recent operation had restored his sight to a degree that he could see where people where and what colour they were wearing.  His joy and excitement lifted our hearts as we encouraged everyone to praise God for Easter day.  We began by reminding our church that for the GNG what we were doing that day was normal.  We have a service every week where everyone is given the opportunity to serve and lead something.  So to read the Bible, lead prayers, run the sound desk or computer, welcome people into church and talk to the congregation is what we do.  That was to help people not see our joining in as a novelty, but something completely usual.

It was a wonderful service because the focus wasn’t on us or people with learning disabilities or on the Vicar or the musicians.  The focus was on Jesus.  Being able to share our Makaton signed songs and have all the church signing them and the Lord’s prayer and grace was a highlight for me.  Lorraine, our BSL signer, signed the whole service and we had a visual schedule of the service.  We chose the aspects of support that our group need and built these into the service.  And guess what…lots of people said it was good to know what was happening and follow the service with the symbols.

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Our service sheets 

I don’t think there is any such thing as a perfect service but we have a perfect Saviour.  if people went away with awe at the fact that Jesus died and was raised to life so our sins could be forgiven, then we have been good servants of the Lord.  We had a great talk from Revelation 1 looking at Jesus’s return.  We look forward to that!

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Leading the church in Makaton signing a song

I was asked why we didn’t do the service every week – and on our Wednesday meetings we do.  Sundays are not suitable for many of the Good News Group as weekends are when there aren’t as many staff to bring them, it is too early to get up and ready or they visit their families.  Our midweek service is open to all (and we do get plenty of visitors which we love) and being in the evening is more accessible to many people.  Occasions like Easter Sunday (we are a church where there are 5 congregations) are a wonderful way to come together and celebrate the diversity of the Body of Christ and meet the rest of the church family.  I thank God for the church we are in and how it works hard to learn how to include people with learning disabilities.

We’re a work in progress.  Maybe you are too….

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Mary and Simone remembering the first Easter. 

“Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.

4-6 In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.”              1 Corinthians 12: 3-6  The Message

The thing about labels of disability or additional needs is that they are based on a deficit model.  The diagnostic criteria for Autism or ADHD, for example, is a list of things the person isn’t able to do.  We say that people who are deaf are ‘hearing impaired’ and a person who is blind is defined by the fact they cannot see.   There are so many ‘disorders’ these days that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual that professionals use to identify these disorders is currently on version 5 and 947 pages thick, compared to version 1 which was only 132 pages long.

When we seek to be an inclusive church we are doing everyone a disservice if we approach people’s differences as deficits.  The Bible tells us we are one body of different parts and that each part is a valuable and necessary part without which the rest of the body cannot function.  I think we could get better at understanding this.  I think we could  develop a less hierarchical model in churches.  Yes, we need leaders (shepherds of Jesus’s flock) but we tend to put them on pedestals and think that they can do everything and should be perfect.  It’s little wonder that so many ministers and leaders fall from that pedestal.  We ought never have put them there in the first place.

When people with learning disabilities or who are autistic, or blind or deaf come are part of our church it is very easy to start with what they cannot do.  They can’t read the notices,  they can’t hear the sermon, they can’t stay for tea after the service, they can’t keep quiet in the service…etc…etc…

But what if we had a different place to start?  What if we started with what they CAN do?

I CAN

I recently met with a church worker, a mum and her son who has Down’s Syndrome.  He was just four years old and they came to my house to chat through some ideas about helping the little boy settle into Sunday School when he moved from the creche into the class.   One thing we started with was what could he do and what did he like.  I found out he could sign some words and he liked singing and sensory toys.  His mum told me this, but he could tell me too, not verbally but by me getting on the floor with him and imitating what he was doing.  I sang a song and signed it, and he joined in…and then asked for it again (and again…)  When we allow the child with additional needs to tell us what they CAN do we have something to start us off.

An adult with learning difficulties wants to come to our Sunday service.  I will start with the same approach.  What CAN he do?  In our Good News Group, we get to know our members by finding out what their interests and abilities are.  We start with “I CAN”.

Starting with “I CAN” means that you listen and don’t assume.  It means you adjust the way you do things to make it engaging, meaningful and inclusive based on what that person CAN do.  We are still learning.  Each time a new person comes we start again.  And the thing is,  when we read 1 Corinthians 12,  the bit that says we all have gifts…then we can find out what those gifts are.  We want to teach ourselves and the world that people with differences are not to be pitied or patronised or excluded. The body of Christ is something so diverse and inclusive everyone should want and can be an equally valued part of it….now let’s help the church catch up with that!

WE CAN

The other aspect of this is how we function as a community.  And to do that we can develop the attitude and practice of being a community.  In this highly individualised society we value independence….not interdependence.  A body is by it’s nature a whole entity.  The Bible warns us of thinking that one part is more important than another.  God turns this world’s values upside down.  In order to be his people we need to ask what “WE CAN” do together.  So when that little boy I mentioned earlier starts his Sunday School class, the church is asking what “we can’ do together to make him included and valued.  We talked a lot about how making all children work together, for example, all learning signing together, will help all of them understand the inclusivity of God’s Kingdom.   When the man with learning difficulties comes to our church service we will ask what “we can” do to adapt our service so that he can feel part of us, included and valued.  We should be doing this for everyone, and all together.   That’s God’s community.

WE CAN also give space for everyone to tell their stories.  We can learn so much from listening to how God is working in each of our lives.  Listening takes away the need to assume things (which can often be wrong) and can help us see that everyone has faith and gifts to offer our community.

We know we’re going to make mistakes and we know we are often falling into judgemental attitudes, moaning, complaining and assuming things about people that just aren’t true.  We get angry and uppity about unimportant things and let the important things pass us by because we prefer not to speak up…..Well,  that’s my confession, anyway!

So as a faith community, believers and followers of Jesus, WE CAN focus on what it is that joins us together.  Jesus died, was raised to life and sent the Holy Spirit to be with us so that we could be more like Jesus.  It’s the Resurrection that unites us.  It’s the gift of faith by GRACE that levels us.   WE CAN because Jesus has promised to give us all we need.  He forgives us so WE CAN forgive each other.

It is humbling and exciting to be in a church that isn’t perfect.  And yet, on Easter Sunday, our Good News Group will be leading the Easter Day service.  We will be working as a team, sharing our gifts with our congregation and visitors…because what we share more than anything else is our love of Jesus and our faith in his Resurrection from the dead.

We are saved by grace –

together…

AMEN and Hallelujah!!!

‘Weak Made Strong’

I am so pleased to keep reblogging Mark’s blogs. His thoughts and work are so similar to all that includedbygrace is about. Here’s his latest post and it makes my heart sing!

The Additional Needs Blogfather

Have you ever built a great big tower out of Jenga blocks?  Seen how high you can build it until it falls over?  Great fun isn’t it!  Around this time last year, I was helping out at Spring Harvest, the Christian festival that runs every Easter.  My role was to support guests with additional needs and disabilities across the whole site and across all ages from the crèche to the senior adults.  It was while I was ‘doing my rounds’ that I first saw Jack* building his tower out of Jenga blocks (other wooden stacking blocks are available!)  He would get to maybe six or seven blocks high and then they would all fall down.

Jack was about eight years old then, and I learned that he has Autism which in his case means that he struggles to communicate verbally, prefers not to be in a large noisy group…

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