Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

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How easy it is for most people to get to church these days? Do you walk, drive, take the bus? Is your church easy to get into? Are there steps, narrow doors, corridors to negotiate?

Following on from my Jan / Fab blogs about barriers which you can read here : Barriers 1 (reading) http://wp.me/s2MVJu-barriers …. Barriers 2 (talking) http://wp.me/p2MVJu-4tBarriers 3 (jargon) http://wp.me/p2MVJu-4C  ….Barriers 4 (us)  http://wp.me/p2MVJu-4H

Barriers 5 – Physical Barriers

Thanks to legislation, all public buildings have to have disabled access. However some people think that adding a ramp and a disabled toilet ‘ticks the box’ and makes them disabled friendly and an inclusive church….but where ARE the people with disabilities in our churches?

Last week I was privileged to meet with a group of ladies during a conference for women in ministry at my church. This little group got together in the afternoon because we had a shared interest in ministry to people with additional needs.  Some of us were in established ministries, some of us supported an individual child in church, some of us were just starting out and  interested in developing a ministry in their church. We were discussing barriers to people with additional needs being part of our church families.

As well as the barriers I have already spoken about – there is still the issue of physical barriers that go beyond a ramp or a toilet.

There are barriers to leaving the house and getting to church – what if someone is agoraphobic? What if someone is autistic and cannot just be taken to a new place without preparation? What if someone is in a wheelchair and relies on someone else to transport them? What if some one is not confident or able to travel on their own for other reasons? What if you have no transport or your carers cannot bring you because there are other people in the house to care for too?

Church is about Gods people being family. If that means we have to be flexible, adaptable, accommodating and open to new ways of including people…then that is what we must be.  Being willing to pick someone up and physically take them to church can be a great start.  Many of our Good News Group could not come without team members who bring them in their cars.

_52222349_a9be1a28-1382-443e-a59e-8948aace65e3Leyland Life Week

However, I have been thinking about this too – Is it right that we expect people to come to us to hear the gospel and receive the life Jesus offers?

Jesus told his disciples to GO and spread the gospel….not to sit in a pretty building and wait for people to come to them.  Our buildings may be the very barrier that is stopping them knowing about Jesus.  So maybe the physical barrier is actually a barrier to us too – a place we safe and secure from the outside world where we can feel comfortable and do our ‘faith’ for the week.  Maybe we feel too comfortable or fearful to go out and share our faith?

Maybe we should be overcoming the physical barriers by getting out into our communities more, meeting people in their homes and places they CAN access easily. It might help us realise how we can make our actual church building more inclusive!  It doesn’t have to be standing on a street corner, knocking on doors and preaching. It can be going to a coffee shop with a friend who has a child with special needs, or taking someone shopping or visiting them at home. We can find natural ways of sharing experiences that lead us to talk about the gospel.  We can do assemblies in special schools, we could offer a gospel-focused but fun session at a day centre or nursing home.

I am challenged by writing this…am off to arrange a visit to a coffee shop with my friend who hasn’t been to Good News Group for a couple of weeks…

Have you been challenged too? Do comment and share your thoughts and experiences…

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