I’ve been wondering whether to write about Lord Freud this week. Earlier in the week a tape emerged that exposed the Conservative Minister as having said that maybe some people with learning disabilities may not be worth paying the minimum wage to. Rather than repeat what I thought, you could read what I said to Sarah Lothian, writing for Christian Today, here… http://www.christiantoday.com/article/lord.freud.and.disability.row.what.is.a.person.really.worth/41755.htm
In this blog I am more concerned with the attitudes to people with learning disabilities within the church. Where are the people that Lord Freud refers to in our churches? Where is our example? Are they serving in church? Are they working for the church? Are they supported to work by the church? In some churches they are, but in others, attitudes are woefully outdated. We can have such low expectations.
Matthew 7:4-5 (NIV)
4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
I and the team at the Good News Group have been speaking about what we do at various churches and Christian groups lately. We’ve loved it and had great feedback that we have helped people think about how they can include people with learning disabilities better and we have hopefully increased the expectations that they have. For each talk, at least one of our members with learning disabilities has accompanied us and contributed to the session.
I have to confess, I am frustrated and cross with some of the assumptions I have come across from different Christians in a few places this past year. One of the most annoying things is the low expectations some people have of those with learning disabilities. Or the assumption that they are all the same, or all ‘affectionate’ or all having ‘the understanding of a 3 year old’. I have been asked if we are wasting our time trying to do Bible teaching to people who can’t even talk. It was very difficult not to give a very rude reply to that. And yes, the person saying it was a ‘nice’ person who genuinely did not have the knowledge or experience of people with learning disabilties to see how partronising this attitude really is.
It is so important to have high expectations and then support people in achieving them. Take access to the whole Bible, for a start. Let’s not assume that adult with learning disabilities can’t understand the deeper and more complicated concepts and issues of the Bible. We just need to find a way to make it accessible for them.
I never said it would be easy, but assuming that our group CAN access the Bible has challenged us a lot. I remember one of the most engaging sets of teaching we did was based on the book of Judges. This term we are looking at some of the Names of Jesus. It was my turn this week and the theme was ‘Jesus is the Lamb of God’. Through three short talks and pictures to help show what I was talking about, we looked at the Old Testament temple sacrifices, especially the role of the sacrificial lamb. I wanted to explain the importance of the blood that had to flow so that the people’s sins could be covered, to make atonement (payment) for them.
I wrote a little puppet drama, which everyone got involved in, where the puppet was accused of various sins and found guilty (by the members who were all part of the jury!) The puppet was sentenced to death. Everyone gasped! It was a brilliant moment as I knew then that they had engaged really well with what was happening. Suddenly Bob, one of our leaders ran up and offered to take the punishment for the puppet, because he was his father and he loved him. It was a special moment as so many of the group gasped again! Bob was led away and the puppet set free.
My final short talk was about how Jesus did this for us because we are loved so much by him. The aim of the teaching was to help people understand how Jesus needed to die to pay for our sins and that God had shown us a picture of this in the temple sacrifices. The Jews would understand Jesus as the Lamb of God in the light of this, and hopefully our group have a better understanding of this too.
This term we have looked at how Jesus is ‘The Son of God’, ‘The Bread of Life’, ‘The Light of the World’ and ‘The Good Shepherd’. Hopefully, as with our other series, I will collect the teaching materials together and make them available for others to use.
We are all learning from opening up the Bible and from the challenge of making it accessible to ADULTS with learning disabilities, all of whom are different, have different abilities and communication skills – but isn’t that true in all congregations?!
If you pray, please pray for Churches for All http://churchesforall.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/ENABLING-FLYER.pdf as they are putting on four training days based on the Enabling Church conference they had back in June. We are going along on Tuesday 28th Oct to do a presentation about our group and what we do. Their plan is to put a pack of training materials together that can be used in all dioceses of the Church of England, and I’m sure other churches too. I am really proud to be even a small part of this and am looking forward to learning from all the other contributors. Please pray that it goes well, that people come along and fill the venue each day and that churches are transformed. I’d love to see people who are just starting out on the journey of being more inclusive in their church there. There’s a lot of help avaialable for those with willing hearts!