This has been brewing in my mind for over a year now. But in June I went on a writers retreat weekend and whilst there had time to listen to God as I prayed about the ministry with people with learning difficulties that I am involved in.
“It’s time to move on.”
Not the message I was releasing hearing but I knew in my heart that I needed to obey God. I know already what he is filling my Spirit with. But my plan is to take a sabbatical for a few months and really work through with Him what next steps I should take. I’m desperate for it to be His plan and not mine because I know one of my faults is to run ahead of Him. So many times He has had to pull me back and rescue me from my own foolishness and over-eagerness without letting Him prepare the way first. Hey….perhaps I’m growing up a bit…ha ha!
So this Wednesday will be my last meeting at the Good News Group as we break up for the summer. I’m attending the summer BBQ in August and taking my break from September. Our vicar, David, always said we should be training others up to take our place, and I am very grateful to Lorraine who is going to take over my role. Believe it or not, it is mainly admin and some teaching, because the rest of the team is so good and so able to keep everything going just fine without me. I am most proud of the way that everyone serves in the group. Whether you have learning difficulties or not, there is something that each person can contribute. I’ve written a letter to share the news with the group and a social story for my special friend S, who I usually give a lift to, assuring her that her carers will take her to GNG and she has other friends there that will look after her. I intend to take her out for coffee regularly as we have been friends for over 8 years and I’m not letting that go. She’s fun and lovely, and my friend.
I’m feeling very emotional because the GNG is the most wonderful experience of church that I’ve ever known. It doesn’t fulfil the ‘wholly inclusive’ brief, but has made Christ’s church more inclusive to everyone who is part of it. It has also changed our wider church. When we’ve taken services people have been challenged to see ABILITY not disability. Our wider congregation talk to people with disabilities in our community much more and invite them to our group. It’s been and will continue to be an important part of our church.
And I, being the ‘gobby’ one have been able to teach and challenge others to see ABILITY not disability. I’ve been able to pass on what we have learned about ways of communicating the whole Bible and how our members have responded. For example, we’ve been learning about missionaries this term. We’ve covered so much of the Bible in the 10 years I’ve been there and my plans do include sharing some of the material we have written. The engagement and involvement of the GNG members has been a joy. And their carers are receiving God’s Word and his love too. I have become passionate about including them and giving them a voice in all I do. There’s a lot more I want to do on that, but I’m hoping to develop that out of the next steps.
Looking ahead to my sabbatical, It will be good to rest a little (hopefully) and I am going to ponder on some things I have been reading and that have come to mind as I read my Bible. I can kind of put them under four headings…4 P’s – (which appeals to my love of alliteration!)
Preaching the gospel to those who haven’t yet heard it is paramount to the Great Commission that Jesus left his disciples. We preach the gospel every week at the GNG but I am well aware that there are many more people with learning disabilities that have not yet heard the gospel. This may mean coming out of the safety of the church building and going to where they are. I am going to have to do some research and find out where I should go and where God might want me to preach his message. I am going to pray about others who might join me and some of them must be people with learning disabilities too.
Obviously prayer is foundational to everything. I am well aware that there is a spiritual battle that wars against us and prayer is our battleground. We have the armour of God and the Sword of the Spirit – the Word of God. We need to be battle prepared and ready. Prayer is the way. I have been greatly encouraged by the prayers of the GNG members. They are so used to praying now and the use of our symbols and accessible prayers such as those we used on the Day of Prayer for Our Nation have given them confidence in approaching God for theirs and other’s needs. I will be asking them to pray for anything I might be doing and will always continue to pray for them.
I was reading somewhere (and I wish I could remember where) that when we preach the gospel to people with disabilities, we’d better prepare the church for receiving them. I think this is really important as I have found that there are more churches than I’d thought that were just not prepared for supporting people with disabilities. Sometimes it’s because they haven’t thought about it, sometimes its the ‘we’ve always done things this way’ inflexibility, and sometimes it’s just not having the knowledge and practical understanding of how to go about it. This is where I really want to help. I want to build a team of others in this area that can train and support churches to be more inclusive. I want that team to include people with learning and other disabilities. But that’s my dream. I have to make sure it is what God intends and do it in his time.
When we realise that many churches would benefit from training and support, we realise that equipping them with good Biblical and practical resources can help too. I would love to find an accessible way of sharing our Bible teaching materials and I will explore that in the next few months. Also have some kind of directory where people can find links to other resources that are out there. I am proud to be part of the Churches for All organisation that is seeking to do much of the same and will be strengthening my links with them and with Prospects, Through the Roof, Urban Saints, Children Worldwide and Disability and Jesus. I believe that working together, raising our voices as one, we will make a big noise. We can support and help one another (theres so many “one another’s” in the Bible for a reason) and I really don’t want to do any of this on my own. I like being part of a team. Team Jesus Rocks!
And if you’d like to pray for our national churches to become more inclusive and for people with additional needs, autism and learning disabilities to be saved – then please do. I shall be blogging my sabbatical and more about inclusion these next few months. Do get in touch if you have anything to share too. Thank you.