Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

Archive for the ‘faith’ Category

Giving you permission to be you…from Jesus

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“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”    Matthew 11:28-30 The Message

 

There was a post on Facebook this week about a new Barbie doll.  The post that had gone viral was from a wheelchair user called Laura  (see the post here) who said how a Barbie doll was given her as a child “to encourage her to walk”.  She felt from that early age that she was not enough because she could not walk. The new Barbie doll, one that had a wheelchair like her, seemed to go some way in validating that it was okay not to walk.  It was okay to be her.

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image from smythstoys.com

And I had a wonderful catch up with a friend this week.  A friend who a couple of years ago was diagnosed with autism.  As is often the case, autism in females just wasn’t recognised when she was younger, and she spent her life wondering why she wasn’t enough.  She’s been almost burnt out with religion (hence using the verses from The Message Bible) and we both felt that the pressure to fit in, be doing stuff and to be someone else’s idea of good Christian  was making church and faith joyless and actually sucking the faith out of people who can’t fit into the box that is created for people to fit into.

Another friend who was born with foetal alcohol syndrome was told he couldn’t be in the Sunday school with the other children as he was too much to look after and wasn’t clever enough to keep up with the other children.

But we are finding out something really important, and my friend gave words to it…

We have permission from Jesus to be us!

“Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb. I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration—what a creation! You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, The days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.”                               Psalm 139:14-16  The Message

I have been privileged to meet Elly Chapple who has started a revolution called #FlipTheNarrative (see her short Ted Talk here) – it’s about how we view and value people with differences and disabilities.  How we treat them as if they are not human and we need to change our perspective. So many people cannot speak up for themselves, either because they have no speech and people do not listen to their communication, or because people have been bullied into thinking they have no valid voice – that they are not enough to be acceptable.  But everyone needs to be at the table and valued for who they are.  Does this remind anyone of the Gospel?  Jesus told the parable of the banquet and one aspect is that people only wanted to invite certain people, but Jesus said invite those who are on the outside.  It’s so important that we don’t try to invite people into God’s family by telling them “but first you must _______”  (try to walk, want to be healed, do what is expected, be more like the rest of us… fill in your own version….

I have realised that in some parts of the church, the Pharisees are alive and well, still telling us who can be in God’s kingdom and who is not enough to be included.

“But Jesus put it right back on them. “Why do you use your rules to play fast and loose with God’s commands? God clearly says, ‘Respect your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone denouncing father or mother should be killed.’ But you weasel around that by saying, ‘Whoever wants to, can say to father and mother, What I owed to you I’ve given to God.’ That can hardly be called respecting a parent. You cancel God’s command by your rules. Frauds! Isaiah’s prophecy of you hit the bull’s-eye: These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their heart isn’t in it. They act like they’re worshiping me, but they don’t mean it. They just use me as a cover for teaching whatever suits their fancy.” Matthew 15:3-9 The Message

So this post is reminding you, whoever you are, whether you feel ‘typical’ or have differences that you think are too much or not enough in this world…

You have permission to be you.

You don’t have to join in the peace, you don’t have to stand up for songs, you don’t have to be sociable when you need time alone, you don’t have to sing or go to meetings or pray in a set formula.  So many ways people try to control and manage how we live out our faith.  I confess, I have done that too.  I have learned as God has shown me his grace, and shown me how to see his grace for everyone.   I am full of joy for the people in all parts of the body of Christ that are learning this as well.  I am continually encouraged, challenged, loved and prayed for by people who cannot do groups, or find Sunday services exhausting.  Yet on a 1:1 they are the best people to help me grow in my faith.  They don’t seem to mind me getting a bit over-excitable, or when I interrupt or go off on tangents either!  

We have permission to stim, to fidget, to laugh, to cry in a service.  We have permission to answer rhetorical questions and ask questions we don’t know the answer to.  We  have permission to sit at the back, on the floor, lie down or walk around.  We have permission to have a quiet day at home instead of forcing ourselves to go to church when we might be in pain.  We have permission to make church a free and accessible place for all of us.  (Radical idea…might be different…ha ha!)

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“The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.                    Romans 3:23-24 The Message

We were told by Jesus to love God and love others.  All others.

These are the best (but not easiest) commands EVER!

And here are some of my favourite songs that I listen when I am needing God’s extra care and want to be reminded of His truths, click on the title to listen…

Strong-arm by Lenny LeBlanc

The Lord’s My Shepherd by Stuart Townsend 

Everlasting Arms by Lou Fellingham

Just be Held by Casting Crowns 

Who am I by Casting Crowns

Amen

 

 

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Compassion for the ‘naughty’ children

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When I was a teenager, I had a tough time.  It led me into making poor choices that had a massive impact on others as well as myself.  I left church and went in a direction that I am sure grieved God and made me very worthy of his anger and judgement.

One day I came back to God, on my own, in a quiet and beautiful place.  I told him all I had done and how I had suffered because of it. I only wanted to know he was real and if he would want a person like me.

All I received was love. Love that accepted me, forgave me and helped me change what was bad for me into a new direction in my life.

Now think about those children who come to your church group or Sunday school.  In particular the one (or ones) you breathe a sigh of relief for when they DON”T turn up.  The ones who are disruptive, make you anxious because you don’t know how to deal with them and often create havoc wherever they go.

I have spent the last couple of years researching about ADHD.  This started because some of the children I work with were being diagnosed with autism and ADHD and I wanted to understand it well so I can help them. But one thing that shocked me most was the reaction of most people when you say a child has got ADHD.  So many people immediately roll their eyes and mention how ‘naughty’ these children can be and tell you about the ‘nightmare’ of having such a child in their class or group.  I confess I had thought the same myself.

The next thing that shocked me was the impact of this on the children themselves.  They are told from an early age that they are ‘bad’.  I read a blog about a boy who thought his name was “No-Joseph”.  SO much of the feedback they get from adults around them is negative.  “Don’t”; “No”; and “Won’t” are typical words they hear throughout the day.  One piece of research I read said that ADHD children are given less understanding and are not liked by their peers from an early age.  Socially they are left out because they are ‘too much trouble’. No wonder they gravitate to others like themselves and often get into bigger trouble as young adults because they know by then that no-one cares about them, they have been written off by society, school and sometimes their families.

There are 3 types of ADHD. See below. (and notice the strengths as well as symptoms) and it is predominantly the hyperactivity and inattentiveness we notice and find difficult to handle.

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(But there are many children with the mainly inattentive type which we may miss because they seem well behaved and are undisruptive – but that’s another blog!)

God sees the heart

What I learned when I became a Christian was that God knew and understood the circumstances that led me to behaving in a sinful way.  I was happy to admit my wrongdoing before such a love as that, and it was an amazing relief to confess my sin and receive his forgiveness.  Slowly he healed my hurts and gave me a new identity in Christ. However, I do not to this day tell many people the details of what happened to me, what I did because I know they will ‘disapprove’ and judge me.  My past AND my present does not live up to the standards they think make a ‘good Christian’.  I hate that this exists in the church because when we disapprove of each other we make people think that God disapproves of them and they are not up to his standards…we are failures and therefore condemned.

Romans 8:1 : Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

The children we struggle with are condemned almost every time they come to church and we tut, sigh or despair at their arrival. They know what we think of them.  They know they struggle to sit still, to listen, not to get bored and they know they are impulsive and do things that impact on others and are always in trouble.  They know when you don’t like them.

But then they think that God must not like them either.  Because aren’t you the face of God that they see?

5 ways we can trust God is changing despair into hope in additional needs ministry

Hope has been a theme God has been weaving into my life and prayers recently.  We are faced with the enormity of the task of making the church more accessible, of changing attitudes and wills, and supporting those who are struggling and hurt because these things haven’t happened yet.

I have been quite overwhelmed.  But God has reminded me that there is always something we can do…

1.  We can pray

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Give thanks no matter what happens. God wants you to thank him because you believe in Christ Jesus.                                             1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

This sounds obvious and I’m always reminding people to pray – but when despair and exhaustion comes, I do forget to heed my own advice.  I lose words to say because I am just looking at all the problems and all the people who need prayer.   I do believe Satan encourages us to despair – whispering lies and hopelessness into our minds.  But I have a Bible verse that crushes his attempts to keep me in this state for long…

In the same way, the Holy Spirit helps us when we are weak. We don’t know what we should pray for. But the Spirit himself prays for us. He prays through groans too deep for words. Romans 8:26

People now come to God through him. And he is able to save them completely and for all time. Jesus lives forever. He prays for them.  Hebrews 7:25

So when I don’t have words I give every groan, sigh and the tears I cry to him.  These verses remind me that these are legitimate prayers and that God hears them for both Jesus and the Spirit are interceding on our behalf.

But I also thank God for those he has brought alongside me as my partners in prayer and faith.  I’m part of a network of people who pray for each other’s ministry and lives each week.  These people are amazing in their faith and encouragement and work tirelessly to make the church accessible around the country.  They have held me up, prayed with me and encouraged me.  Thank you Lord for these people!

2.  We can remember

Lord, I will remember what you did. Yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.  Psalm 77:11

When the Psalmist was feeling down and under pressure, he declared that he was going to remember all God had done before.  I thought this sounded good advice.  So, I started to tell myself my testimony, how God brought me to him all those years ago. I remined myself of the times he saved my children’s lives, when he sent my hubby to Albania and so many more amazing interventions in ours and others lives.  So even though he seemed a bit quiet at the moment, I could see that he really had never let us go and wasn’t about to now.  I started to list all the ways God was working through the Additional Needs Alliance and through all the people across the world who are bringing the gospel to people with disabilities.  Remember how God has brought miracles into this world through his love of all people, bringing them to Jesus.

3. We can wrestle with it until we have what we want, and we can fight spiritually.

Genesis 32:28 Then the man said, “Your name will not be Jacob anymore. Instead, it will be Israel. You have wrestled with God and with people. And you have won.

Finally, let the Lord make you strong. Depend on his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armour. Then you can remain strong against the devil’s evil plans. Our fight is not against human beings. It is against the rulers, the authorities and the powers of this dark world. It is against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly world. Ephesians 6:10-18

It was only last week that we looked at Jacob wrestling with God in our new house group. We are starting to settle into our new church, and I feel like I am being slowly refreshed in my faith.  I had to be reminded that wrestling and struggling isn’t because I’m getting things wrong – but it is a real part of faith growing and us receiving the blessings God has promised us.  I know I need to regain the confidence I have in God’s promises and stand up for my right to have them.  It is a spiritual battle which I feel I’m going to have to relearn.  But it is so hopeful to know I can.

4. We can connect with others doing this work

God has given us a great blessing in being able to share in his work.  The most amazing thing is connecting with people who have been alone in doing these great pockets of good practice in their churches and now we are all able to connect with each other and see what is actually happening all over the country.  And the things that are happening are amazing.  I thank God for Mark Arnold (Urban Saints), Kay Morgan-Gurr, Christine and Pete Winmill  (Count Everyone In), the Through the Roof Team,  Beth (Take 5 and Chat), Disability and Jesus, John Williams (The Message Trust – Enable), all those working to make festivals, churches and the huge organisations such as Synod (especially behind the scenes) become aware and make their events accessible to all.  Anne Memmott, Bernice, Collette, and so many more that I haven’t spoken to yet. It is like God is joining all the dots!  Just this week I have had three conversations by email and Skype with people all over the country doing amazing things in their churches and with the wider church. God has lifted us up and blessed us with a simple message “I am at work”.

5. We can trust

Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Do not depend on your own understanding. In all your ways obey him. Then he will make your paths smooth and straight.  Proverbs 3:5-6

So that leads me to the last point.  I haven’t been able to see what God is doing for a while and couldn’t work out why he has taken me on this latest path.  But when I look at what I have been able to write here and what others are doing,  I am reminded that I can trust God and do need to be obedient to him.  He is at work.  Be encouraged friends xxx

Thank you to all those who have been in touch to remind me that they are following my blog and praying for the ministry of IncludedByGrace.

I have to thank God for you because when I have struggled and wrestled with what may or may not come next, with the frustration of doing nothing (although I rarely do ‘nothing’!!!)  and coping with the change of church I have been supported and prayed for.  May God have the Glory!

In the next few months I am working with my diocese children’s workers to start conversations about accessible church and how I could support them with training and whatever else they might need. Please pray these meetings will be well attended and that we don’t just talk about it – that real action comes from this that changes the way people do things in their churches. 

What kind of Father is God?

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This Christmas I have been thinking about Joseph.  We often talk about Mary, the blessed Virgin but prompted by this 80s song by Michael Card   ,  I got my puppet to sing it to the congregation when I did the Christmas talk at the Good News Group.  (and here are the lyrics)

If you want a multi-sensory experience with this post – get yourself a small piece of play dough or ball of blue tack and follow the instructions at each section.  There is also a picture and symbol with each part too. 

The word Immanuel means “God with us” and The Bible says:

“God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. Anyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life.”  John 3:16  (NIrV)

Joseph became the dad to God’s son.  What an important job.  I am sure that Joseph loved God and we know he obeyed God.  God sent him the message by an angel, and so he married Mary.  We don’t hear much about him in the Bible because it tells us that God was really Jesus’s Father – and Jesus came to show us what God his father was like – and tell us that God is our Father too.

So what kind of Father is God?

A Father who Loves…

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Make a ball with your playdough and think that as you hold something you made in your hands – God holds the world in his hands and he loves it so much.  He wants the world to know how much he loves it.  And to do that he sent his son Jesus into that world.

When we say, God so loved the world it reminds us that he made the world, and he made you.  The Bible also says:

“You created the deepest parts of my being.
    You put me together inside my mother’s body.
How you made me is amazing and wonderful.
    I praise you for that.
What you have done is wonderful.
    I know that very well.”    Psalm 139:13-14 (NIrV)

A Father who forgives

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Make a cross with your playdough.  This reminds us of the sacrifice Jesus made for us and the hope we have when we remember that cross.

When Jesus came into this world, as well as telling us about our Father God’s love, he came to do an important job.   He let people nail him to a cross to take the punishment for our sins.  Our sin is that we ignore God and that leads to all kind of selfishness and bad things in the world.  God knew we couldn’t make ourselves right with him.  So, Jesus did this for us instead. When Jesus died, we know God raised him to life and he went up to heaven to be with his Father.  We know we will not die because Jesus came alive after death.  That is the hope we have when we believe in Jesus, to live with him in heaven forever.   Now Jesus is alive and at work with his Father to look after all those who believe in him until that happens.  That’s him looking after Us!

And the kind of Father God is, made sure Jesus left us with another very important promise – that one day Jesus would come back and make this world new and how it should be.

And that is why…

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  John 14:6 (NIrV)

A Father who promises always to be with us…

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Make a person with your playdough.  Don’t worry how rough it seems.  Now breathe on it.  Help it move.  Can you make it live?  Of course not, but God made you, he knows you and all that you love, hate, he knows all your gifts and dreams and all the things you struggle with.

When Jesus went to heaven he promised that he wouldn’t leave us.   But he went into the sky and the disciples were left very sad and worried.  Some days later, the Holy Spirit came and breathed God’s power into them.  They had all this confidence to go out into the world and tell others about Jesus.

The Holy Spirit is God’s presence and power with us now, so you can have God’s power every day too.  When times are tough, when you feel broken and when you feel amazing – God’s promise never changes.  He is always with you.

“How can I get away from your Spirit?
    Where can I go to escape from you?”   Psalm 139:7 (NIrV)

“Lord, you have seen what is in my heart.
    You know all about me.”   Psalm 139:1  (NIrV)

A Father who is generous in giving gifts…

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Make your playdough into a tiny world again and give it to the person next to you as a gift.  Make sure we have all given and received a gift.

“God’s gifts of grace come in many forms. Each of you has received a gift in order to serve others.”  1 Peter 4:10  (NIrV)

It seems harder when you have a disability, when the world tells you ‘you can’t’.  When people think you are not as good as them because you don’t learn in the same way, or because you need help to do look after yourself each day.  That’s not God’s way at all.

God says anyone is his child when they believe in Jesus.  He gives everyone the same gift of the Holy Spirit as everyone else that believes in Jesus.  God does NOT put limitations on what you can do for him. So thank him for Jesus and be bold, be strong and praise him every day.  I look forward to what he will do in your lives and what you will do for him.  It’s going to be amazing.

Summary

So, what kind of Father is God?

  • A Father who loves
  • A Father who forgives
  • A Father who promises always to be with us
  • A Father who is generous in giving gifts.

I still have my earthly Father. I call him Dad and I love him.  But he is just a human being just like me.   He can’t be all the things my heavenly Father is.  Jesus said we can call God a special Father name – he called it Abba – it’s the same as Daddy.  Do you feel that close to God that you can call him Daddy? 

I love to pray…

Daddy thank you

Daddy I love you

Daddy help me

Today God’s promise to you is that if you believe in Jesus you are his child.  He promises to love you and that after you finish your life on this earth you will go to be in heaven with him.   You will meet the real Jesus and live without pain, hardship or tears forever.   And while you are waiting for that day he promises to be with you always….every… single… moment.  Every one of you here can serve God, love God and be used for him in your life.  Don’t let anyone say to you, ”you can’t”.  Because when the Holy Spirit is in you, you have God’s power to do anything he asks you to do.   It really is going to be an amazing life when you follow Jesus. 

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When you leave the thing you love the most

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Has God ever asked you to let go of something you loved, even if it was a really good thing?  Why would God do that?

In September I stepped down from the Good News Group and have now had a term of not being there each week.  (Although it was wonderful to be involved in the Christmas service with everyone.)  I’m still a bit heartbroken to be honest but it has been good for me to think about why God would do this to me and what I might need to learn from it.

One thing I realised is that God wants me to come to him and give my time to him.  I’m still working this out as I am naturally a really busy person and can soon fill up a few spare minutes or hours.  Social media is a big draw to me – and I’m still having to discipline myself to stop looking at it so much – (not doing brilliantly on that yet).  Wouldn’t it be awful if I just filled up my time with worthless activities instead of God… so I am aiming to do more walking to my local country park and while I am walking, listen to the lovely voice of David Suchet reading a book of the Bible to me.  I am already falling back in love with God’s word by doing this.  I’m not studying it, or doing a study book…just listening.

By letting go of the Good News Group I have given others the chance to step up.  I have been praying each day for the team that is left and know that it is a difficult time of transition.  But I know too that this is God’s work and he will equip and enable them.  I remember when the previous leaders left, very suddenly, and three of us offered to take on leadership ‘temporarily’!!! We had no clue how to do it or how we were going to manage, but at every step, in prayer, God has enabled us.  If you are running a similar group or thinking of doing so – just pray, pray, pray and know that God will enable you.  The more we trust him, the more he is able to give us – and then we can give the glory back to him.  We know we don’t deserve any of it.

I think I was taking some of God’s glory and putting my hope in what I was doing, not who God is.  I need to be humble and repent of this.

And finally I am now seeing that God has work for me to do elsewhere.  My hubby and I are still visiting other churches and I am getting a better feel of what disability awareness and support might be needed by churches.  I am not feeling the need to settle anywhere else so far, but then if God has that in his plan, we are certainly open to it.  It is a time of waiting and learning – being such an active person, this does not come naturally to me, but then with God all things are possible!

My prayer for all of you (maybe 3 people…ha ha!) who read my blog is that you too know when God is calling you out to wait, listen and learn.  It may be a time he is getting you ready for the next stage of your ministry or a time of discipline and healing.  And don’t forget that our friends with learning difficulties may need times like this too.  It may be that God calls you to come alongside someone one-to-one and support them through their time of waiting.

God Bless and do keep in touch.  There will be some news next year, as I think God is leading me to new things that I have had meetings about recently…

 

Building an accessible church 4 – Starting with some training.

This post comes after I have done two training sessions at churches in Liverpool and Manchester.  What I have been inspired by is the heart of the church leaders and others to start a new season of accessibility and inclusion at their churches.

We all know that oak trees grow from tiny acorns and that Jesus said if we had faith as small as a mustard seed then anything is possible.

Matthew 17:20-21  (NIRV)

 He replied, “Because your faith is much too small. What I’m about to tell you is true. If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, it is enough. You can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there.’ And it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

In Liverpool, I spoke about autism along with Cristina who is, by her own definition, ‘An Aspie Christian’.  It was organised by Liverpool Deaf church and we had two BSL interpreters signing our talks and allowing us to communicate with the deaf members of the audience.  We made a point of recognising that there were deaf autistic people and that communication with them needed to take both differences into account.  I learned from the deaf people who attended, some of the differences in deaf communication that I hadn’t know, such as interrupting isn’t really a ‘thing’ for them as the way they communicate in sign language is more fluid than waiting for your turn to say something.  As always, the sensory needs of autistic people were of great interest to the audience and they responded really positively with ideas about what support they could give in their churches.

In Manchester, I spoke about the ‘hidden disabilities’ including dyslexia, ADHD, autism, and how we may have a high number of adults with different disabilities that we know nothing about.  The implications for our preaching and teaching is huge.  What if 50% or more of our congregations can’t understand our Bible teaching fully?  (There are no statistics for the people who actually understand a regular sermon because much is ‘hidden’ and people don’t want to admit they didn’t ‘get it’. – So I made an educated guess to make a point).  We are disabling people if we make sweeping assumptions about the ability to understand and things like literal understanding of spiritual words and concepts (set my heart on fire). There is the need for concrete examples that people can relate to alongside acknowledging the awe, wonder and mystery of our God.  We looked at autism in particular, and what autistic people might need from the church to help them be included and discipled.  We looked at the enormous amount of gifting in people with hidden disabilities that we may need to think of different ways to grow and develop.

What was wonderful in both these settings was seeing church leaders and members wanting to do something positive to make their church more accessible.  Some were just starting out, right at the beginning of looking at what they do and thinking about what was helpful and what wasn’t.  Another church had done a lot of work on becoming dementia friendly and could see how some of those approaches (such as using visuals and having a quiet space) could be developed further to support some autistic people.  One church had started to put symbols on their service sheet as a visual clue to what that part of the service was about.

These may seem tiny but they are significant steps.  We all have to start somewhere and often it is small things like making a quiet/sensory area available, changing the language in sermons to make it more understandable to more people, using a visual schedule to show what will happen in the service and having ways to help people who can’t sit still or who find coffee time terrible because of the noise and demand of socialising.

The best thing is to do an audit of what you do, involving any autistic or other disabled people in your congregation, asking them.  If you are not sure who you have, then speak to an autistic person you might know and ask them to do an audit with you.  An autistic perspective can be such a valuable thing, as long as you remember that each person is different and so other changes may need to be made for others.  Then you can develop a plan – with goals and regular updates about how things are going.

I have written about writing a more accessible sermon here.  Changing our teaching style may be more challenging than you think but more rewarding than you can imagine. Looking at words and explaining things clearly can help all our congregations.  Explaining the Bible, spiritual terms and language in ways that almost all the congregation can grasp means that more will go away from a Sunday service equipped to live the Christian life each day.  Using visuals or drama can help people see what it means and what the concept might look like in real life examples.  It is the simple things in the Bible that we need most to live out in our lives when we are not at church.

My starting point is this question…If a group of adults with learning disabilities arrived at your church in a minibus one Sunday to join your service – would you be ready or could you adapt what you were going to do so that they felt welcome, included and understood something about Jesus’s love and desire for them to be part of his kingdom?

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Keswick 2017

I have been to help with the Keswick Convention Prospects team twice now and although I love it so much the thing that stands out to me is the Wednesday evening in the big tent when the Prospects group go on the main stage to share what they have been doing and sing a song with everyone.  This is well received but feels like a missed opportunity.   The measure for me is this, that when all the group sit down after being on mainstage, the meeting carries on as usual.  The songs contain complex words (and one year we did really have the ‘ineffably sublime’ song…what on earth does ‘ineffably’ mean?)  and the talk is long, full of complex language and concepts and mostly inaccessible to the Prospects group.

A missed opportunity or a token gesture?  I would rather see real inclusion.

Hebrews 11:1 (NIRV)

Faith That Produces Action

Faith is being sure of what we hope for. It is being sure of what we do not see. 

Building an Accessible Church 3 – Revival is coming.

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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