Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

This blog which is part of my series,  but a bit different.  I have been prompted to write about the wider church picture, addressing some issues that are going on in the world concerning the church right now.  Knowing that what we are doing is part of revival, can spur us on to get on with this ministry with and to disabled people.

A Story About People Invited to a Dinner

Jesus used some more stories to teach the people. He said,  “God’s kingdom is like a king who prepared a wedding feast for his son.  He invited some people to the feast. When it was ready, the king sent his servants to tell the people to come. But they refused to come to the king’s feast.

“Then the king sent some more servants. He said to them, ‘I have already invited the people. So tell them that my feast is ready. I have killed my best bulls and calves to be eaten. Everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.’

 “But when the servants told the people to come, they refused to listen. They all went to do other things. One went to work in his field, and another went to his business. Some of the other people grabbed the servants, beat them, and killed them.  The king was very angry. He sent his army to kill those who murdered his servants. And the army burned their city.

“After that the king said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready. I invited those people, but they were not good enough to come to my feast. So go to the street corners and invite everyone you see. Tell them to come to my feast.’  So the servants went into the streets. They gathered all the people they could find, good and bad alike, and brought them to where the wedding feast was ready. And the place was filled with guests.      Matthew 22: 1-10 Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)

 

great banquet

Painting graphic courtesy of Hyatt Moore.   https://www.smore.com/

There is change afoot in the church, especially the large established churches. For centuries, they have been run by men.  Many of them power hungry and dominating. There have been some amazing, humble and revolutionary faithful men throughout the history of the church.  Men who brought the word of God, men who brought revival.  I grew up going to a Methodist Church and was in awe of the Wesley brothers.  People talk about Luther and Calvin and lots of others.  Great.  Fab.  But where are the women in church history?    (My hero is Lydia.  She was the first to believe and be baptised by Paul as he visited Europe (God led Paul to a group of women – Acts 16) and started the first European church.)

The other thing you might have noticed about today’s church are the scandals.  In America, Australia, Rome and the UK, priests and Bishops have been accused and found guilty of child sexual abuse.  Others have been found guilty of covering it up. Even Prince Charles claimed he was ‘deceived’ to believe and defend the innocence of a leading Bishop, later found guilty.  Women haven’t come out of this unscarred either.  The nuns of long ago who took babies off young unmarried girls, sold the children and kept the women as virtual slaves in workhouses, just for their sins. The years we have shut disabled people away in institutions have been supported and sanctioned by the church – even in being silent about it for so long.

The powerful in the church are being held to account. The world reacts with horror and indignation and hates and blames the church.  The world mocks the church and it’s ‘standards’, telling it is irrelevant and a danger to even those in its care. They have used the Bible to subjugate, to oppress and abuse others for their own ends. Why would anyone want to join the church?

But at the same time there is a revolution happening…

Those who have for centuries have been excluded from the church are banging on its doors.  The disabled, the women, the poor, the mentally ill, the LGBTQ people in our society are asking to be included.

The reason – Jesus.  They know Jesus is Good News.  They know he is a saviour and bring forgiveness and hope in this dark world.  They have faith in Jesus, not the church.  They want the church to change to include them. 

And they are finding their voice.  Those who hold on to power in the church will resist.  The powerful have nothing to hope in except their power.  But look, God is revealing the truth behind the mask.  These scandals are showing us the real state of the church.  And just like in the parable of the great banquet – it’s those on the outside that are going to fill our churches.  We need to be full of faith filled messy people.  We need to welcome with rejoicing all those with messy lives who don’t look ‘respectable’ who challenge the status quo and our idea of who belongs on the church.  A time of great repentance is needed.  A revival is coming in a way those in power had never expected.

I am frustrated with the things happening and being reported about the church. It’s slowness to wake up and open its doors, primarily to disabled people as that’s the area I know best, but to all others too. I can see God working to clean up the church and my hope is to be part of that revival. A church that lives the banquet parable is a messy church.  It is a massive challenge to live Jesus’s radical open armed message of grace FOR ALL.  But the church belongs to Jesus.  No matter what we read in the press – He is working in the church to open the doors and fill up his house!

My hubby and I are spending some time visiting other churches. We want to feel refreshed by different preaching and teaching, as well as see what goes on in our area. We are visiting different denominations and congregations.  I am going with a view to observe and listen to the messages about disability and inclusion. I’m going to observe the demographic of the congregations and how people relate to us as strangers. I’m going to look at the place of women in the church.   Already I’ve visited churches where it doesn’t even occur to them, and women are partnering with men as vicars, leaders and preachers and not just children’s or disability workers.  We all want a church that lives the banquet.  We all want to be in church with many people of all ethnicities, disabilities, sexualities, family types and mental health.  We want to worship together, discover each other’s gifts and open the Bible together.  Jesus knows everything and he loves us.  That’s should be the standard we all live by.

So let’s pray for revival.  Let’s pray for repentance and change, for those in power to let go and let Jesus’s love, (his radical, messy, perfect love,) bring those left outside, in to the church.  I’m excited because church like that is going to be exciting and relevant to our broken world. 

 

NB. “The church” refers to the big established church institutions such as the CofE and Catholic church structures of power and priesthood. Other denominations have these power structures too.

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