Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

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An ‘includedbygrace’ book? 

Okay, as promised I’m going to share some of the plans that I think where those mountains left uncovered by the cloud in Keswick.  See this post if you don’t know what I mean!


There are three mountains. Each one is a project and each one will take some planning, hard work and tons of prayer and faith.  I’m going to tell you about one at a time.  I’m also going to tell you how scared I am that talking about them might leave me open to failure.  That speaking about them might mean I’ve rushed ahead and that they might not happen as I say they will. 

But “Faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see” Hebrews 11 verse 1.  (I know this off by heart!) 

So….the first project is to collate all the blog posts I’ve been writing on here for the past four years.  Aided by my lovely daughter we are going to put them all into word documents and then I’m going to choose the better ones to organise into a book.  I may try to send it to a publisher for consideration but I am thinking of self publishing at the moment.  This is mainly because I’d like to use it to raise money to fund the second plan (which I’ll tell you about in the next post….yes…I’m keeping you guessing!) 

So why an includedbygrace book? 

I think that churches might like a book that discusses the issues surrounding accessibility for those with learning and other disabilities.  But in my experience, people really like a practical guide. They like real solutions, things they can do and realistic examples of how they can make a difference.  I think there’s enough of that in my posts to put a book together and if I can advertise it enough, there may be a few people who would actually buy it! 

I’ve got lists of resources and websites I can add and may ask a couple of people to add a post about particular needs, that I haven’t covered in my posts yet.  And having written three books (two autism books published this year and one on its way) then I have an understanding of how to edit and set out a book that I didn’t have before. 

In preparation I’ve set up an includedbygrace Facebook page. If you want to follow it here’s the link…  https://m.facebook.com/includedbygrace/ 

So, that’s the first mountain declared. Thanks for your support and do comment if you feel like it! 

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‘The State Of The Nation – Additional Needs & Disability In The UK’

It’s important that we realise the scale of the ministry field. Children with additional needs grow up, so our ministry is to all those adults too. Where are they in your church?

The Additional Needs Blogfather

In a few weeks time for many, a new academic year will start; in some parts of the country, it starts this week.  The start of the new academic year is often the time that church children’s and youth clubs start up again, although of course some have continued during the summer, or have run holiday clubs or camps.  Sunday mornings become busier again as families return from holidays; the buzz of activity in weekly children’s and youth work across the UK builds up again… including those working with children or young people with additional needs or disabilities.

But what does the overall landscape look like?  What is the background narrative in the UK today to working with children, young people and families where there are additional needs or disabilities?  What do we see if we lift our heads up from the great work which many are doing individually and…

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Simon and the sinful woman (day 1)

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All set up and ready…

Today was the first day of the teaching sessions and we used drama, songs and Molly the puppet (who always asks the questions that others might be thinking!).

We were learning about Luke 7:36-53 where Jesus is invited to the home of Simon the Pharisee (a religious leader).  The other guests are treated with respect but Jesus seems to be a bit of a novelty guest and isn’t even offered water to wash his feet.

Apparently these events were a bit of an open house.  So anyone could come in and watch the spectacle and listen to the debate.  When a ‘sinful’ woman comes in and goes straight to Jesus it it obvious that the guests are a bit disgusted.  As she weeps tears that wet his feet and wipes them dry with her hair,  she also gets out a very expensive bottle of perfume and pours it over Jesus’s feet.

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Simon’s servant washing all feet except Jesus’s

I can imagine the look Simon the Pharisee had on his face, but Jesus knew exactly what he was thinking.  He challenged him by telling him the story of two debtors.  Each one owed the money lender money.  One only a little and one much more.  Both showed how sorry they were that they couldn’t pay back the debt, and both were forgiven and let off their debt.

I was leading the drama about the parable of the debtors.  What was a highlight for us was a deaf female guest dragged up our signer to do one of the parts together.  It was fabulous how they worked together to sign, speak and interpret the part she had to play.  And we all laughed in delight as her sense of humour came out.  When the debtor said she could not pay, the audience said ‘ahhh’ in sympathy.  The signer signed this and the lady mimed a violin playing!  You had to be there….but it was really funny!

Of course, we discussed that this parable isn’t about money.  It’s about our own lives and the sins we have done against God.  Some of us think we have led a reasonably good life and don’t owe so much to God.  Some of us know we have done so much against God and others that we owe him a huge debt.  The thing is – none of us can pay our debt.  And that is the reason God sent his Son Jesus to pay our debt for us.   This enabled us today to ask people if they were sorry for their sins and if they wanted to say sorry to God, asking him for forgiveness and wanting to follow Jesus for the rest of their lives.  Of course, many who come have already done this so they could pray for others to know and understand this – or they could remind themselves that they did pray this once and are still God’s child.  They are still forgiven and can still ask the Lord to give them all they need to live for him each day.

Here is the prayer we used…

Lord Jesus Christ

I know that I have sinned and done things that have hurt you.

I want to stop doing the things that are wrong and live your way.

Thank you for dying on the cross so that I can be forgiven.

Jesus be my Saviour and Lord.

Holy Spirit come into my life to help me live your way. 

Thank you Lord.  Amen

And here is Molly –  she is here again and asking all the awkward questions.  Today she wanted to know why Simon had been so rude to Jesus and why Jesus forgave the woman’s sins.  Thankfully,  Andrew had some great answers to help us ALL understand.

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2017 – Return to Keswick

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It’s been two years since I came to Keswick as part of the Prospects Team.   I blogged our week (starting here, Why volunteer?, A bit of a drama,  People, puppets and praise,  God’s heart, Would I do it again?  ) and really enjoyed being part of  a wider work in the inclusion of people with learning disabilities.

I’m back this year and am going to blog again, and this time reflect on what’s happening in other groups across the country.  The theme for Keswick this year is “Captivated” and to be captivated by Jesus through God’s word is the aim.

I have to admit – I’ve already been captivated by God’s creation.  This is the view from my bedroom window in the accommodation the team are sharing….

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I’ve brought along the puppets again.  In fact, I’ve so many puppets with me that I’m hoping the workshop on Tuesday is very well attended.  I’m blessed to have my daughter helping me out (along with the team) on that day.  Our aim is to teach some puppeteering skills and then split the group into two.  One group will learn to lip sync and dance to a song with my daughter, and the other group will learn to lip sync and tell “knock knock” jokes with me!  Here are just a small selection of the puppets I’ve brought with me – thanks to a lot of friends lending me their collections for the week!

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The wider family

Already I have spoken to Audrey who runs a Prospects group in Kendal and Helen who runs a group in Worthing.  These groups both meet monthly,  and have been going for many years.  What is so encouraging is listening to their passion about ‘enabling’ people with learning disabilities to grow in their faith and to serve and use their gifts in the church.  What is disappointing is the common negative responses we’ve all come across from people who have low expectations of what people with learning disabilities can understand and achieve.  I’m going to interview them in more depth as the week goes on as it would be good to have a wider view of what Prospects groups do around the country and share it with you all.  I am really encouraged to see how many groups there are.  All quietly getting on with teaching, discipling and enabling people with learning disabilities to be part of the Body of Christ.

In other news,

two churches in my area have recently approached us about setting up their own groups.  Please pray that the leaders in those churches get behind this and fully support them.  Pray that the volunteers that they need come forward and that people with learning disabilities in those areas will come to church and know Jesus as their saviour.  How wonderful it is to see God building his church with those who have for so long been seen as less than human, unable to understand or participate.

In my experience – that’s the best kind of church I have ever been to.

Finally, I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has messaged and spoken to me after my last two blog posts.  I have felt like the storms are abating and that the sun is beginning to shine through the clouds.  Your love and advice has been so appreciated and I know God hasn’t finished with us yet.  Bless you and I hope he will carry you through your storms too.  In Jesus’s name.   

Why we need an accessible Bible

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“I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; That in everything ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you:  So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:  Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 Corinthians 1:4-8  (KJV)

This is just one sentence in the King James Version of the Bible.  It’s old language and complex elements means it can be very difficult to read, never mind understand and interpret.   There are other versions but some of the difficulties are the same with these too.  There are many people who find the Bible difficult to read.  It could be because:

  • They find the print too small
  • The words are too complex
  • The words are too close together
  • The sentences are too long
  • They don’t know the meaning of unfamiliar words
  • The language is unfamiliar and old
  • It is hard to find the chapter and verse as the numbers are spread out and so small
  • They are slow at reading
  • They frequently lose the point where they have read to

People with poor literacy are found in all kinds of places.  Prisoners are one of the largest illiterate groups in the country.  Around 17% of young people leave school without functional literacy.  People have sight problems or cognitive difficulties which makes long pieces of text hard to follow.   People with learning difficulties can come in all guises and we can easily assume the people in our congregations can read the Bible, when in reality, they just can’t.  We often assume people are ignoring the Bible, but maybe they just are hiding the fact that they find it very difficult to read.  There are people with dyslexia and other hidden disabilities that might not like to tell people that they have these difficulties.

I’ve supported adults with learning disabilities for many years in a church group.  We have some readers who find the Bible texts that we normally have so difficult to access.  We ended up buying children’s Bibles for them, which felt both patronising and unsuitable.  Children’s Bible’s tell simplified versions of the Bible stories.  We wanted the full Bible so we can study it together.

We have been using the NIrV Accessible version of Matthew’s gospel since January and our group have been so excited to read the Bible for themselves.  The text size, simple but accurate text, shorter sentences, wider spacing, gaps between paragraphs and easier numbering of verses has been so helpful.  The illustrations explain the passage and are not childish.  And we have been able to support non-readers by providing visual pictures that follow this text.  Seeing all our group read the Bible together has been amazing.

There were still some needs not being met.  Those who can’t read needed an audio version and we were all desperate to have the whole Bible so we could extend our Bible exploration.

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Buy at:   https://www.biblicaeurope.com/bible-shop/product/234/nirv-accessible-edition-new-testament

So we are so happy that Biblica have now published both the whole New Testament in print version and in audio.  We have put in our initial order and will be looking to buy everyone who can read their own copy, have copies available for Sunday services and make sure that those who cannot read have access to an audio version.

Thank you Biblica.  I can see so many places this Bible can be used.  I’m particularly excited about the project to get them into prisons.  Please do support this, and consider buying one for someone you know, your church or your local prison.

We look forward to the Old Testament too.

The Gospel for All – Inclusive Easter.

 

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This was the cross we used for our drama

Our church isn’t perfect.  All churches are places for sinners – remember Jesus said as the sick need a doctor, so sinners need a saviour.  No matter who you are – you need Jesus.  What a great leveller that is!  But we are working on including people with disabilities in our church family and giving them opportunities to serve and offer their gifts.  This Easter, our Good News Group were asked to lead the Easter Service when all our congregation come together to celebrate Jesus rising from the dead.  So with a good few of our group able to make it on that day,  we planned our service.

Paul and I led the service. He was so excited…as he said “me and you like to boss people about so we are ideal for this job!”   He was also really excited that a recent operation had restored his sight to a degree that he could see where people where and what colour they were wearing.  His joy and excitement lifted our hearts as we encouraged everyone to praise God for Easter day.  We began by reminding our church that for the GNG what we were doing that day was normal.  We have a service every week where everyone is given the opportunity to serve and lead something.  So to read the Bible, lead prayers, run the sound desk or computer, welcome people into church and talk to the congregation is what we do.  That was to help people not see our joining in as a novelty, but something completely usual.

It was a wonderful service because the focus wasn’t on us or people with learning disabilities or on the Vicar or the musicians.  The focus was on Jesus.  Being able to share our Makaton signed songs and have all the church signing them and the Lord’s prayer and grace was a highlight for me.  Lorraine, our BSL signer, signed the whole service and we had a visual schedule of the service.  We chose the aspects of support that our group need and built these into the service.  And guess what…lots of people said it was good to know what was happening and follow the service with the symbols.

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Our service sheets 

I don’t think there is any such thing as a perfect service but we have a perfect Saviour.  if people went away with awe at the fact that Jesus died and was raised to life so our sins could be forgiven, then we have been good servants of the Lord.  We had a great talk from Revelation 1 looking at Jesus’s return.  We look forward to that!

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Leading the church in Makaton signing a song

I was asked why we didn’t do the service every week – and on our Wednesday meetings we do.  Sundays are not suitable for many of the Good News Group as weekends are when there aren’t as many staff to bring them, it is too early to get up and ready or they visit their families.  Our midweek service is open to all (and we do get plenty of visitors which we love) and being in the evening is more accessible to many people.  Occasions like Easter Sunday (we are a church where there are 5 congregations) are a wonderful way to come together and celebrate the diversity of the Body of Christ and meet the rest of the church family.  I thank God for the church we are in and how it works hard to learn how to include people with learning disabilities.

We’re a work in progress.  Maybe you are too….

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Mary and Simone remembering the first Easter. 

The “I can – We can” approach to inclusion in Church

“Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.

4-6 In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.”              1 Corinthians 12: 3-6  The Message

The thing about labels of disability or additional needs is that they are based on a deficit model.  The diagnostic criteria for Autism or ADHD, for example, is a list of things the person isn’t able to do.  We say that people who are deaf are ‘hearing impaired’ and a person who is blind is defined by the fact they cannot see.   There are so many ‘disorders’ these days that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual that professionals use to identify these disorders is currently on version 5 and 947 pages thick, compared to version 1 which was only 132 pages long.

When we seek to be an inclusive church we are doing everyone a disservice if we approach people’s differences as deficits.  The Bible tells us we are one body of different parts and that each part is a valuable and necessary part without which the rest of the body cannot function.  I think we could get better at understanding this.  I think we could  develop a less hierarchical model in churches.  Yes, we need leaders (shepherds of Jesus’s flock) but we tend to put them on pedestals and think that they can do everything and should be perfect.  It’s little wonder that so many ministers and leaders fall from that pedestal.  We ought never have put them there in the first place.

When people with learning disabilities or who are autistic, or blind or deaf come are part of our church it is very easy to start with what they cannot do.  They can’t read the notices,  they can’t hear the sermon, they can’t stay for tea after the service, they can’t keep quiet in the service…etc…etc…

But what if we had a different place to start?  What if we started with what they CAN do?

I CAN

I recently met with a church worker, a mum and her son who has Down’s Syndrome.  He was just four years old and they came to my house to chat through some ideas about helping the little boy settle into Sunday School when he moved from the creche into the class.   One thing we started with was what could he do and what did he like.  I found out he could sign some words and he liked singing and sensory toys.  His mum told me this, but he could tell me too, not verbally but by me getting on the floor with him and imitating what he was doing.  I sang a song and signed it, and he joined in…and then asked for it again (and again…)  When we allow the child with additional needs to tell us what they CAN do we have something to start us off.

An adult with learning difficulties wants to come to our Sunday service.  I will start with the same approach.  What CAN he do?  In our Good News Group, we get to know our members by finding out what their interests and abilities are.  We start with “I CAN”.

Starting with “I CAN” means that you listen and don’t assume.  It means you adjust the way you do things to make it engaging, meaningful and inclusive based on what that person CAN do.  We are still learning.  Each time a new person comes we start again.  And the thing is,  when we read 1 Corinthians 12,  the bit that says we all have gifts…then we can find out what those gifts are.  We want to teach ourselves and the world that people with differences are not to be pitied or patronised or excluded. The body of Christ is something so diverse and inclusive everyone should want and can be an equally valued part of it….now let’s help the church catch up with that!

WE CAN

The other aspect of this is how we function as a community.  And to do that we can develop the attitude and practice of being a community.  In this highly individualised society we value independence….not interdependence.  A body is by it’s nature a whole entity.  The Bible warns us of thinking that one part is more important than another.  God turns this world’s values upside down.  In order to be his people we need to ask what “WE CAN” do together.  So when that little boy I mentioned earlier starts his Sunday School class, the church is asking what “we can’ do together to make him included and valued.  We talked a lot about how making all children work together, for example, all learning signing together, will help all of them understand the inclusivity of God’s Kingdom.   When the man with learning difficulties comes to our church service we will ask what “we can” do to adapt our service so that he can feel part of us, included and valued.  We should be doing this for everyone, and all together.   That’s God’s community.

WE CAN also give space for everyone to tell their stories.  We can learn so much from listening to how God is working in each of our lives.  Listening takes away the need to assume things (which can often be wrong) and can help us see that everyone has faith and gifts to offer our community.

We know we’re going to make mistakes and we know we are often falling into judgemental attitudes, moaning, complaining and assuming things about people that just aren’t true.  We get angry and uppity about unimportant things and let the important things pass us by because we prefer not to speak up…..Well,  that’s my confession, anyway!

So as a faith community, believers and followers of Jesus, WE CAN focus on what it is that joins us together.  Jesus died, was raised to life and sent the Holy Spirit to be with us so that we could be more like Jesus.  It’s the Resurrection that unites us.  It’s the gift of faith by GRACE that levels us.   WE CAN because Jesus has promised to give us all we need.  He forgives us so WE CAN forgive each other.

It is humbling and exciting to be in a church that isn’t perfect.  And yet, on Easter Sunday, our Good News Group will be leading the Easter Day service.  We will be working as a team, sharing our gifts with our congregation and visitors…because what we share more than anything else is our love of Jesus and our faith in his Resurrection from the dead.

We are saved by grace –

together…

AMEN and Hallelujah!!!

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