Did you watch “Call the Midwife” over the Christmas break? For those of you who didn’t, it’s a drama set in the 1950s and 60s about midwives in the East End of London. This Christmas episode focussed on a group of unmarried mothers in a mother and baby ‘home’. It was a bit (well, a lot) sanitised in the programme but reminded me of the way unmarried and pregnant girls used to be treated. Their babies were often taken from them (whether they wanted it or not) and we can only imagine the effect on a whole hidden layer of our society – the mothers and the children, still alive and whose lives were forever changed by the decisions that were made.
My own grandmother was an unmarried mother in the 1930s. She had a terrible time as the family outcast, but the kindness of her sister and later reconciliation with her parents enabled her to bring up my dad as a single mum. No wonder she was always such a fiercely determined woman! Yes, things changed in society in the 1960s and 1970s but there are centuries of ill treatment and children being abandoned to overcome. History is full of the illegitimate children of kings, but so many ordinary people must have been in the same situation, outcasts from the start.
The same attitudes went for those who were born with disabilities. So many were outcasts and later in history shut away in large institutions. Some families bravely kept them at home, but education and employment were hardly options for these children. Education and inclusion for people with learning disabilities, is a rather new concept. In history we read about the ‘village idiot’ and the Victorian ‘asylums’, of homeless and neglected people with little opportunity in life but to rely on the charity of others. Life expectancy was low for many people with learning and other disabilities.
Are you glad that you live in these times. We have an imperfect but much improved education system. It is enshrined in law that a broad and balanced education is a right for all. We have social and national health services and community living. There are some opportunities for employment. Oh yes…there is far to go and much to complain about…but what if we start from a place of gratitude. What we do have is a blessing and we can build upon the work of others and make it better in the future.
In our churches, communities and towns are people with disabilities in their 40s, 50s, 60s and older who were born and raised when times were very different. In our group we have at least one person who grew up in a large institution… a large ‘metal’ hospital. (As it was known). Now living in the community and well integrated into ordinary life, it is easy to forget how this early experience might have shaped his life. Do we take the time to ask sensitively about the early lives of the people with learning and other disabilities in our churches? it is easy to assume that they had schooling and support when they were younger…and maybe they did…but asking them about it might reveal some very interesting insights into the way they have been treated and brought up. And be careful…we need to be very sensitive to safeguarding and respecting privacy. Did you know that if an adult with disabilities reveals abuse or accusation to you, then it is their right to report it OR NOT? This is the difference between adults and children, even if they are vulnerable. I can cover this issue in another post if people are interested.
If we are to minister to the whole person and disciple them, then we do need to be aware of where they have come from. I know from my own experience how Jesus ministers to the deepest and most vulnerable parts and heals what has hurt me or made me think wrongly. People who have learning disabilities and maybe don’t have the words to say or work out what they need healing for, may be able to tell you about their childhood or early experiences. A parent or carer may know some things that can help. Then we must pray. Only Jesus can tell us where to be sensitive and where to challenge. Only Jesus knows each of us and all we have been through. He knows what has shaped us for good or ill, and can heal….oh…he can heal…and make us whole in spirit. It is how we are disciple and how we grow. Praise God that none of us are different or excluded from this.
A Living Hope – 1 Peter 1:3-9
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God has great mercy, and because of his mercy he gave us a new life. This new life brings us a living hope through Jesus Christ’s resurrection from death. 4 Now we wait to receive the blessings God has for his children. These blessings are kept for you in heaven. They cannot be ruined or be destroyed or lose their beauty.
5 God’s power protects you through your faith, and it keeps you safe until your salvation comes. That salvation is ready to be given to you at the end of time. 6 I know the thought of that is exciting, even if you must suffer through different kinds of troubles for a short time now. 7 These troubles test your faith and prove that it is pure. And such faith is worth more than gold. Gold can be proved to be pure by fire, but gold will ruin. When your faith is proven to be pure, the result will be praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ comes.
8 You have not seen Christ, but still you love him. You can’t see him now, but you believe in him. You are filled with a wonderful and heavenly joy that cannot be explained. 9 Your faith has a goal, and you are reaching that goal—your salvation.