Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

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Advice to churches from parents of children with additional needs.

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I am writing a post about including autistic adults in church but had to put it aside as I prepare for a talk I am doing with one of our Good News Group members next Saturday. We have been invited to do a workshop on supporting families with children with additional needs at our Diocese annual Children’s Work conference.

One of the things I wanted to do was tell the stories of families experiences and their advice to churches. I asked the good folk of the Additional Needs Alliance what advice they would give. I thought there would be wildly differing advice considering how different each child and family is.  However, there are some clear and key themes coming through as you can see below.  In thanks to their contributions, I have copied each quote here (anonymised).

The themes are

  1. Welcome – be welcoming, make the whole family feel welcome and ask them how you can make church a positive experience for all of them.
  2. Be aware of the struggles they have outside of church (usually trying to navigate the education system, many professionals involved with the child as well as daily life).
  3. Be kind.  Show your kindness in small and genuine ways.
  4. Love them, accept them and give each family member some one to connect to. That includes mums, dads and siblings.
  5. Enabling is better than ‘caring’.

Here are the quotes…

Try to understand the problems and don’t minimise the challenges faced by the family. Ask “ what can I do to help” ( if they are genuinely offering to support)

“…if they are genuinely offering to support ”  This is a crucial distinction because general offers of help in the “let us know if there’s anything we can do to help” line are often so empty and pointless. There’s nothing you can do with them.

Accept the child as they are. Children with additional needs often have lives filled with professionals all trying to change them and you may be one of the few people they meet who aren’t doing this. (This was one of the great things about the opportunity group we went to.)

For the children’s worker to ask regularly how they can pray for the family and to talk about God and his involvement in their lives, particularly the child’s – there are SO many professionals involved in these lives but most are secular. And don’t let the family miss more than one week before some kind of contact is made to show support and care.

We have recently joined a church who have got it soooo right.  Our children’s worker has offered to come and play so that my boys can get to know her. She has offered to make a quiet space for my diagnosed autie. She communicates clearly. She allows him to communicate through his dragon. She gives him the space to be quirky and find his place in his way.  My boys are loving the kids work and we even got a craft home last week! She also comes and finds me after the service and let’s me know how he got on which I love because neither of them process quickly enough to communicate what they did or if they found anything difficult.  What I love most is that my children aren’t viewed as problems or difficulties. They are valued exactly as they are and welcomed to be the people God created them to be.

Another hint, when they ask ‘how are you?’ don’t take fine for an answer because let’s face it, we are rarely actually fine. Did deeper, ask how the child has slept, have we managed to anything for ourselves this week etc.

While we are desperate for our children to be seen and loved, we also desperately need someone to truly see us. We have to be OK for everyone else. We have to have the answers for the medical people, the educators etc. We really want someone to see our pain and not call us superheros but bring us a cuppa and a hug.

Tell me the good things my child did during the session and see their strengths as well as the challenges. As me what works for my child, one approach does not work for all. I love the kids church my son goes to. They do the above. They are flexible for him but also when there can have been a week of what can feel like negative feedback of what has gone on at school to be tole my son’s strengths feels wonderful and lifts my spirits.

Ask me what my child needs and listen to my answer. Get to know her as a person. I loved when she had 1:1 support in Sunday school, the approach changed massively when they changed the role title from “1:1 support” to “carers” she didn’t need a carer, she needed support to engage with the activities. The title was symptomatic of the emerging problem for her.  We’ve changed churches and I’m involved in coordinating the kids work in the new one.

Just as a lot of folks have mentioned its the ‘ask’ – Just because you’ve experienced a child with condition X or Y before don’t assume that it affects this child/family the same, read about it. (most parents wont mind if you said ‘I’ve read that P and Q can be a challenge is that right for your child or is there a different challenge i need to be aware of?”. THe other is be honest – be honest if you don’t know, be honest if you aren’t sure if the group can support the child, be honest if you need help, be honest when you don’t understand and dont make promises you cant keep – we can only help you help our child if we know where we all stand.

Get to know the child and the family well enough to be able to babysit or take the child for a few hours’ respite in school holidays (especially if there are siblings). Occasionally drop round with a pie or casserole, and leave with the family’s laundry pile. Bring it back washed and ironed when you come back for your casserole dish!

Don’t tell me during a really quiet part of worship that it’s ok my child is being noisy. It just makes everyone turn round and notice the noise my child is making. I would hope this is isolated but I was once asked to keep my child in his wheelchair for a service as his behaviour was too challenging out of it.

Even my current church who are generally amazing didn’t listen the first week we were there. When I say he can’t go in his age appropriate group it’s not because I’m being difficult, ask me questions don’t just attempt it and see what happens because that’s when someone gets hurt.

Don’t quote Bible verses in a trite way. My daughter is now 35 and from this vantage-point I can affirm that God’s grace has always been sufficient. But when she was little, I did reach the point where the next person who quoted “His grace is sufficient for you” was going to get bashed round the ear with my Bible! However, the ones who demonstrated His grace in practical ways were very welcome.

…and “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” which isn’t even a Bible quote anyway!

Yeees! People only ever say that to me once 😂🙈awful, awful saying.

God doesn’t give us more than HE can handle!

Yes, as I understand the Gospel He gives everyone more than they can handle so they learn to rely on His strength!

Listen to parents. Particularly when child is little and parents haven’t got diagnosis. Lots of parents in this situation feel low and like this is their fault in some way. They don’t need someone telling them that. Make adjustments for child in children’s groups. Do not say “you ought to give her a good slap and then she’d behave herself” (Yes this was actually said to me by a member of the church when my daughter was being loud in church). Have someone in the church who can advise on additional needs – often someone with knowledge can suggest simple things to children’s church leaders which make all the difference and allow inclusion. Train your children’s church leaders in inclusion and types of additional needs. We had a new family come to church and I happened to be leading the children’s group that week. Mum very anxious and said child had selective mutism / social communication issues. As I knew about these, I was able to put her at ease that he would be included, I would give him quiet space if he needed etc. After the service, I went up to her and told her that we had been fine. When you are new to a setting, someone accepting and saying it is not a problem puts parents at ease.

Just care. Come alongside, communicate, ask questions, but let the parents know you want to help. Don’t leave them isolated and feeling alone, and as if they will never be able to truly belong to a church. It’s a painful place to be.

  1. Listen…
  2. …before even thinking of offering solutions or answers.    I could go on but you did say two pieces of advice 😉

Come and bring me a cup of tea when I am standing far away with my son in a quiet place – I will be feeling isolated when everyone is chatting happily after the service (about the sermon I’ve just missed…)

  1. Don’t separate them with a box of cars/crayons in the corner.
  2. Remember that outside appearances very rarely show the truth of the matter – ‘reaching out’, pah! Make friends.

Welcome the family as you would any other family. Come along side them and walk their journey with them. Whatever that may look like for the individual family. Don’t be afraid, we don’t have 2 heads or need anything too scary all we need is love and acceptance. Oh and don’t see us as a project.

Oh sorry one more don’t pray for healing that’s actually really insulting, God made my son this way, it wasn’t an accident we need to ask him to fix.xx

The most loved I ever felt was when a member of the congregation approached me mid melt down. She kept her distance but just asked whether there was anything she could do and whether I’d like tea or coffee. She knew there was nothing she could do but I was desperate to be loved in that moment when it was obvious that we were disrupting everything. That tea was the best I’ve ever had,  because it was made with so much love.

The first thing I’d say is remember that the happy smiley family that have just walked in have probably been through at least 1 melt down/sit in that morning

Secondly make everything BIG everyone prefers things larger but for a person who is sight impaired or severely sight impaired it might be the difference between them and their family feeling welcome and cared about.

I could write so much more as two of mine have really particular needs and so I have lots of thoughts but there’s lots here already!

Offer to babysit.

Don’t always assume that my child needs something special or separate – I want church to change to include him also sometimes parent can come across as angry – I have found myself to be a critique of the services supposed to be there to support us – often church people find this tricky.

I have not attended church only on a few occasions over about 5 years…when I stopped it was because I was drained and couldn’t cope with the amount of people there wanting to talk to me…I was grieving…the system I was trying to navigate was a bit abusive in nature… it has taken me 5 years to start to feel better.  When I do bump into church people they are always lovely and happy to see me but the last 5 years has been a very lonely time. The experience has made me think.  I am sad that although I went for years to a church, when the going got tough I didn’t have a Christian friend to help me through the difficult patch.  It’s as if there wasn’t anyone that I was really close enough to.

And my final words… Pray for your church to be the best it could possibly be. As I say so often….just start somewhere and keep listening and learning.  God will be with you and can enable all to be fully part of his church. 

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5 ways to support autistic children in church

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1. Get to know them.

Every autistic child is different.  It’s really important that you spend time with the family and the child to watch and learn what you can about the child.  Look specifically for how they navigate the environment and the way they respond to sensory stimuli such as the crowds, music and lighting in your church. Organise a visit to the family’s home and just observe the child, responding to their approaches to you rather than enforcing your interactions on them.  Parents will tell you a lot, and it may be helpful to work together to build a profile of the child that can be useful in getting the support right.

  • How does the child communicate and what communication do they like from others?  This will be different for each child. Some autistic children don’t develop speech to much later than is typical, others can talk exceptionally well.However, communication also includes ‘reading’ other people and knowing how to respond to them. It is important that we find the right communication for each child and are careful not just to rely on verbal communication. This is why pictures and other visual ways of communicating are helpful for many.
  • How do they react to sensory stimuli?  What things might overwhelm them, or conversely, what things might they seek more of.  Some children avoid loud noises, smells, lights etc.  Some seek to be on the move all the time or want to chew things constantly or any kind of sensory seeking activity.
  • Do they have a processing delay? Do they need a pause to think and work out what is being communicated to them?  If so, make sure this is taken into account.  Also check if they do take things literally, so you can be careful and clear when you explain things.  (especially ‘spiritual’ language).
  • What are the child’s interests? If they have a specific interest then this is what will motivate them and bring them joy. It would be good to plan to join them in this interest, take seriously what they know and develop your Bible truths through something they understand well. For example, spending time looking at their favourite things shows them that Jesus is interested in their lives, that he loves to spend time with us.
  • What triggers the child’s anxieties or fears? It could be anything so listen to what he family and child has to say and work out what helps them feel calm and confident.
  • Putting together a one page profile such as these from ShefKids could help you give the key information to those who might be working with the child.  Be aware of data protection, the child’s and family’s wishes and positivity when sharing

2. Change the way you do things to suit this one child.

Now this might be controversial but remember the lost sheep.  Jesus went out of his way to make sure that sheep was safe and included.  If we change what we do so that one child can be included we benefit ALL children and teach them an amazing lesson about Jesus and his love.  For example, if a child uses sign language, all learn sign language.  If an autistic child needs sensory experiences to help him or her to connect with the teaching, do it for all.  If they need a slower pace, things explaining simply and logically, or visual communication. Do it.  Please.

3. Give the family love, acceptance and a break.

Can people offer babysitting or going along to an event with the family?  Could they walk around the church at coffee time with the child so that the child feels safe and the parents can get a coffee?  A buddy system, a group of people who just sit alongside and be with the child or the whole family can make a huge difference.  They can ask if help is needed and bring a brew to them if they can’t get to it.  If the child is finding the service difficult and needs to be taken out or home, you can follow them up, ask if they got home okay and offer to pass on any notes from the service or sermon.  Autistic children want a place where they feel safe and accepted.  Some may really want to be included in everything and be able to make lots of attempts to try to join in.  Some may want to be included and don’t know how to.  Some activities are too much for their senses or too long or wordy or just boring.  (I don’t want to join in those either.)  We need to support those attempts and be a role model to the other children so they know how to accept and include the autistic child.  If the child is reluctant to join in, doesn’t speak or doesn’t know how to join in, then make a way for other children to sit with them, play alongside and quietly build trust together.  (This is where I like activities such as Lego.)

4. Communicate visually.

As I said earlier, autistic children can benefit from visual communication.  One really helpful way is to communicate what is happening.  Many autistic children need to know what is happening so they can follow a routine that is predictable.  Change and unexpected events can cause so much anxiety and even meltdown or shutdown because they cannot work out how to make that change from what they were expecting.  A visual timetable (like those examples in this previous post), is a very useful tool, and again helps all children.  I would love to see all churches with one!  I have written more about visual communication here.

5. Have high expectations of God’s love, grace and power.

Autistic children are fully part of God’s kingdom.  There is nothing missing or damaged.  They are only broken in the same way that ALL of us are broken – in our relationship with God.  So, the gospel needs to be taught in a way that they can understand, it needs to be reinforced by love and grace.  We also need to be certain that God has a place for that child in his church.  They are part of the body and we must be praying for their spiritual growth and for God to reveal himself to them.  Don’t think God speaks to everyone in the same way.  Your testimony isn’t the same as mine, and every autistic child will have their own faith journey too.  God uses those the world thinks are weak to shame the strong.  Whatever messages the autistic child in your church is receiving from the world outside, make sure that the messages they are receiving from inside are good.

Whenever you think “but… we can’t do this, they can’t do, or I don’t know how to…”  stop….pause and instead pray.

Ask God to show you the way, look for the ways the child is showing you.

Mark 10:14

When Jesus saw this, he was angry. He said to his disciples, “Let the little children come to me. Don’t keep them away. God’s kingdom belongs to people like them.

Mark 10:15

What I’m about to tell you is true. Anyone who will not receive God’s kingdom like a little child will never enter it.”

 

Mission and People with Learning Disabilities

It’s been four months since I left the Good News Group and I’ve lamented on how hard I have found it and reflected on what God might me leading me to next. However, one gift God has given me is the opportunity to go back to GNG once a term to lead the teaching. I loved being with them at Christmas and this term the group are looking at mission, along with the rest of St Andrew’s church.

So I’m going back this Wednesday to introduce the topic, which has given me opportunity to pray and look at what place people with intellectual and other disabilities have in the mission of the church.

It is clear when we look at Mephibosheth in the Old Testament and the paralysed man who was brought to Jesus through the roof by his friends, (Luke 5 and Mark 2). as well as the parable of the great banquet (Matthew 22), that people with disabilities are meant to be in the kingdom of God. David brought Mephibosheth to the king’s table, despite him being previously banished and his own assessment of his life being “I’m nothing but a dead dog”. (2 Samuel 9:8) David treated Mephibosheth like a kings son. Jesus showed in his healings and actions, and specifically when healing Bartimaeus (Mark 10), that sin did not cause disability. Jesus showed great respect and inclusion of people with disabilities in his kingdom. Showing us all that we were all in the same state of judgement for sin and in need of rescue by God’s son who came to save us.

So starting with who needs salvation?

…the answer is all of us.

Who can be in God’s kingdom?

….anyone who believes Jesus is God’s son who came to pay for our sin.

My teaching is going to begin by reminding us all about this fact. We cannot be missionaries if we don’t know and believe what the message is!

I’m going to play two songs, and probably have my puppet sing it to the group. First ‘Mighty to Save’ by the Newsboys and then ‘Rescuer (Good News)’ by Rend Collective. I find that music is a great way to help reinforce the teaching and I want to use these two songs to remind us all that the gospel is an exciting thing to share, that it really is the good news.

Then we will look at the Holy Spirit and how before Pentecost, even those who had seen the risen Jesus were scared and hiding away. When God’s power came by the Holy Spirit they were bold, could communicate with people they couldn’t communicate with before, and had courage to go and tell everyone they met the good news about Jesus.

I know the members of the GNG who are passionate and sure of their faith in Jesus. I want to tell them that their communication, intellectual or physical barriers should not prevent them being missionaries. I’m thinking of One young woman who speaks through eye gaze technology forming sentences on a screen. What she has to say about the gospel is just as good as what Billy Graham had to say about the gospel. And the gospel doesn’t always need words. Signing, caring, inner joy are all ways to communicate the gospel about Jesus.

I know words aren’t always necessary. I became a Christian because of some believers actions. I saw Jesus shining out in the way they cared for, accepted and included me. At that time my life was a mess, I had too many wrong things going on and I was on the verge of a mental breakdown. These people did not judge, but showed me Jesus loved me through their actions towards me. They just made sure I knew Jesus was the reason they cared for me so much. A few months later I gave my life to Jesus and started on the best part of my life.

My friends who are seen as ‘less’ by society (and some in the church) because of their disabilities have so much to offer the churches mission. All of them who believe have the same access to the Holy Spirit as all believers. So, ‘what qualification do you need to be a missionary?’ The answer is to know who Jesus is and believe he is the saviour God has sent for all people.

Obviously mission starts where we are. Telling our friends, housemates, carers, families, neighbours, therapists, doctors and people we meet in the community about Jesus is mission. But it would be easy to assume that is all the mission people with disabilities can do.

There may be some difficulties in people with disabilities becoming full time or even short term missionaries on overseas or local mission events. But we need to give them every opportunity to be included. That may mean extra work to make it happen. For example, does your youth group get involved in a short term overseas mission? How could a disabled teenager be given the same opportunity? How can we help and make this happen?

One of the barriers we have found has been logistics. I have always wanted our GNG members to be given the opportunity to speak and share the gospel when we are invited to speak at events. But getting people there has been a real barrier. Time, safety, distance and medical needs have been a challenge. So whilst aiming for getting much better at this what we have done is start with what we can do. So we have tried to stay local, so I can pick people up and get them home in the same day. When I’ve been in Manchester and Liverpool lately, this allowed Cristina, Stefan and John to come and be part of our mission.

Another thing I tried was video. So when I went to London, I interviewed John and Chelsea who then were able to present what they had to say on screen. There’s a few opportunities coming up where we can have more GNG members involved in sharing the gospel, their stories and faith (God willing). We will continue to learn new ways of communicating that message…after all, that’s the ‘gift of tongues’ that we are asking for.

Communication might be in words, signs, pictures, music, actions. The Holy Spirit can use all of these, through any of us to let others know who Jesus is and how much they need him as their saviour.

is it a paddy, is it a tantrum, no it’s super-meltdown: things I need you to know about meltdowns

In churches do we know how to support families where children are having meltdowns. First, don’t judge but understand what is happening…
this blog will help – from Clearly Nurturing

clearly nurturing

The thing about sensory processing differences is that they are there all the time, sensory cravings alongside sensory defensiveness in a world full of light, noise, movement and touch means it can be surprisingly easy to get overwhelmed. The thing about autsitic masking (think swan with crazy fast, unseen feet working so hard to camouflage and do the right thing even when it feels like you are an alien in a world where the social expectations and rules are always just out of reach) is that it takes so much energy, so much focus to survive or overcome worry after worry just to make it through the day. So it doesn’t need much of a niggle, misunderstanding, or unexpected moment to be knocked off balance and all the bottled up worries and stress to burst out. Meltdowns happen. They are inconvenient, stressful, messy, noisy, attract unwanted attention, are painful and…

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Building an Accessible Church 2

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A seminar at the No Limits conference 12.11.16

In the first “Building an Accessible Church” blog we looked at the questions: What do you mean by disabilities or additional needs?  What is your theology of disability in the church?

If more disabled people are to achieve their full potential, to enter into ministry, the share their gifts with the church, if we are all to truly “mutually flourish” the church needs to change.  This will only come about when we’re able to face the issues honestly, all of us together, disabled/abled.”

Page 20 “Pilgrims in the Dark” by Katie Tupling, Dave Lucas and Bill Braviner (aka: Disability & Jesus).

In this second post we start to look at what you want to do in your church and where you might begin. So here are the next questions to ask yourself and your church.

  1. Are you willing to build a more accessible Sunday service?

A few times I’ve had the honour to be part of a gathering when people with all kinds of disabilities worshiped together. One I remember so well was the ‘No Limits’ conference in London a couple of years ago.  Being in that room, with a blind worship leader, deaf people signing, vicars who are wheelchair users leading us and a truly diverse congregation made my heart sing with joy.  I remember praising God and praying that all church services could be so diverse and inclusive.  Sometimes our Good News Group lead the service at our church.  It takes a lot of work but it something very special when adults with learning difficulties can contribute, serve, and be part of the Sunday service.  But these are isolated events and the dream of most people with disabilities is to be included.  All the time.  Every single week.

This is a challenge as it means a lot of thought, planning and change.  The way we make sure everyone can access Sunday services starts with knowing who wants to access them immediately, and then building in small changes bit by bit.  Start with asking people who are in your church family first. What about the parent who always has to take their child out of the service? Or the person who is visually impaired? Or needs to use the hearing loop – have you checked it works well for them?  Here are some simple changes that you can make to get you started: (And remember to involve the people with disabilities in making suggestions, designing and giving feedback.)

  • Make a designated quiet area for adults who need to escape the hustle and bustle of a large group of people. You can call it a quiet prayer space and if possible ask those who might need it (such as autistic adults) what it might be like.  (eg. Low lighting, box of sensory items, headphones etc.)
  • Look at your communications – service sheets, newsletters, visual displays, leaflets, signs, website, song books or words on screens etc. Ask how you can make them more accessible to those who cannot read, are dyslexic or visually impaired. Start with bigger fonts, shorter sentences, clearer space between short paragraphs to separate sections of information and pictures to illustrate the main point of the text. This is just one example of a welcome booklet.
  • The Bible – have a selection available, including the Accessible New Testament NIrV from Biblica. Show people how to access audio Bible content on their phones.  The Bible App YouBible has an audio facility and the Accessible Bible has an audio App people can buy.  You can make your own sequence of pictures to help people follow the Bible story or sermon.  We use Communicate in Print but www.freebibleimages.com are great for ready made powerpoint that are not too childish.
  • Consider a visual timetable of the service. You can print this on your service sheet or have it as a master slide on a power point or even in packages like SongPro. If you can get this to take off the symbols as each section finishes then even better.  This shows everyone what is happening and what is left. Keep it simple and if you have a regular routine then it won’t need much changing.  This is one we have at Good News Group but I’m designing one we can out onto SongPro at the moment.  You can use any symbols or pictures are long as they are clear, consistently used and understood.
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The Visual Timetable of our service. 

  • Organise your service differently. Can a 40 minute sermon really be the best way for your congregation to learn about God?  Use video, pictures and handouts with key points on the teaching.  Props can be helpful too, as long as there are not unexpected sensory shocks such as a sudden loud noise.  A multi-sensory approach is not childish but allows us to stay alert and pay attention because our brain is receiving more information to help it understand the verbal language it is hearing.

Remember, making your Sunday service accessible to all is a process that you will never complete.  Don’t ever think you’ll get it completely right for everyone but do it anyway. Speak to people, make what changes you can and most of all have a plan and a strategy that keeps you moving forward.

 

  1. Are you wanting to provide a ministry to a specific group and age range? Do you have people in your congregation already who you can consult / include / build something around?

There are an increasing number of churches providing specific groups for families with children with disabilities and for adults with disabilities.  There is a network of Deaf Churches across the country and Torch Trust provides groups for visually impaired and blind people.  We run our Good News Group as a separate-from-the-Sunday-services meeting.  Having a fully accessible to all Sunday service is an ideal we should not let go of.  Indeed, we’ll all be in heaven worship God together, but there are some practical considerations that make a separate meeting more accessible for many.

One reason can be the day you meet.  A midweek meeting is more accessible for our adults with learning disabilities because many of them live in supported accommodation.  There are less staff on at the weekends and their shift changes clash with a Sunday service. Parents with toddlers might find it easier to get out to church when older children are at school and a different format might suit tired parents who would rather there was no pressure to sit still and be quiet through a 40 minute sermon. (see above!)

The Additional Needs Alliance, Through the Roof’s Roofbreaker Network,  or something like what Take5andChat café’s are doing in the North East, shows us that there is help and advice from those who have already been running a group or ministry for some time.  There are many people willing to help other churches and you can learn from them what works best or what mistakes to avoid.  We have helped set up a number of similar ministries to the Good News Group over the years (and will do training in the North West) and Count Everyone In is offering support and training in the South of the country.

  • Research what others are doing and ask for advice. Ask your target group what they would like the group to be doing.
  • Get your church on board and ask the leadership to join in the praying and planning for your group. If you can link with an established organisation such as those above, then do.  Put up a display so people have time to get to know all about what you want to do.
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We put up this display for Ability Sunday 

  • Build a team to help. Ok, we know in reality that might be you and someone else, but don’t try to do something like this on your own.  If you are a small church consider joining together with other local churches and building a ministry together in your community.
  • Think about getting some awareness training, safeguarding training and find out what systems for safety you need to put in place. (Eg. Food hygiene if you’re going to serve food, DBS checks for leaders etc).  We have a team meeting every half term which is on a Good News Night but the group doesn’t happen that night.  In fact, it wouldn’t happen without that team planning and organising meeting.  We find we can discuss, arrange, have training and pray in those meetings and everyone gets a chance to speak.  Our group would not be as strong as it is without looking after the team who volunteer to run it.
  • Plan to involve your group members in the running of the group. People like to feel useful and can feel that they belong if they are part of what happens each week.  At the Good News Group our members are involved in every way we can think of and if you came to visit you would see all kinds of inclusive serving and worship together.
  • Where, when, what and how long you organise your meetings for will depend on this ground work and the availability of your volunteers. We meet every week in term time because we have volunteers with children off in the school holidays and we found that those were natural breaks.  The meetings of 6 weeks with a break, then a team meeting, work really well for us and the excitement about coming back to Good News Group after a break is really high!  Many groups like ours meet once a month.  Whatever works for you should be thought out.  My advice is to build in regular breaks for your own sake as running any kind of ministry is hard work and you need to look after yourself too.

I have a couple more questions thinking about who we might invite to our church and ministries and how we find them.  That will be the third blog in this series – hopefully next week…

Building an Accessible Church (1)

each one different

Church – a unique assortment of people, like these buttons!

I’ve had a break from blogging but not from work and ministry.  I have been exploring some new ideas and in the end, became a bit overwhelmed by the amount of work that this was generating.  I learn by trying things out, by researching and making plans.  Sometimes these don’t go as I expected and I learn about my own limitations and that I’ve probably gone down the wrong road. I see this as part of my spiritual growth.  I have always believed that as Christians we grow more through the storms than we do when everything is going smoothly.  I can now realise that I have been doing some growing.  I’m sure there is a lot more to learn!

During this past year God has, of course, been so faithful and allowed me to see him at work.  I’ve had a number of opportunities to talk to individuals and churches who are exploring how they might make their church more accessible or wanting to start up an additional needs ministry from scratch.  I’ve learned so much from them by watching the journey they are travelling.

It has led me to put together a few questions that people might ask themselves as they begin to build a more accessible church.

  1. What do you mean by disabilities or additional needs?  What is your theology of disability in the church?

Ok. Now those are two questions and they are the big ones.  It is worth spending time doing some research and having some discussion about this right at the beginning.  There are at least two main models of disability, (and I am explaining these very simply) the medical model which looks at disability as something wrong with the person and often our view that a person needs ‘fixing’ comes from this.  If we believe that disabled people need praying for healing and that their disability is a result of sin or a mistake in evolution (I’ve heard all those things) then we might need to look more carefully at the social model of disability.  The social model looks at how society is organised and that failure to adapt and make provision for different needs is what causes disability.  That is, people are disabled because society is disabling them. Where we stand as Christians on these, matters.  They will inform how we approach making our churches accessible and how we see gifts, service and discipleship for everyone. It is important to talk to disabled Christians and listen to their views.  Disability can come from illness, impairment, genetic causes or accidents.  We might consider carefully the language we use and invite disabled people to guide that conversation.  Generally, look for positive words and descriptions.  We need to validate and honour people in our congregations, whoever they are.

An example is using person first language.  It can seem honourable to say a person is a person first, then they have a certain condition. For example, a person who is deaf, or a person who uses a wheelchair.  We must also be aware that some people do prefer not to describe themselves in this way.  For example, autistic people often prefer using the term ‘autistic’ rather than ‘person with autism’.  Don’t feel bogged down with worry about the language.  Have the conversation, talk to people with disabilities and read up on the matter.  Be aware that language changes over time.  Only 30 years ago it was acceptable to call people with learning disabilities ‘educationally subnormal’.  Be humble and open to learn.  You will.

I am not a trained theologian, but as I search the Bible I see quite clearly how Jesus made God’s kingdom accessible.  He welcomed what society saw as broken people, he sought out those on the edge of society, those excluded.  He told them that disability wasn’t the result of sin, but so that God’s glory could be seen.  King David welcomed Mephibosheth, son of Jonathan, to the king’s table.  It is worth spending time looking at Scripture and asking the Lord to lead you through to a theology that matches his love.  My favourite passage is in 1 Corinthians 12. (This from the Easy Read Version).

One Body but Many Parts

12 There is one body, but it has many parts. But all its many parts make up one body. It is the same with Christ. 13 We were all baptized by one Holy Spirit. And so we are formed into one body. It didn’t matter whether we were Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free people. We were all given the same Spirit to drink. 14 So the body is not made up of just one part. It has many parts.

14 And a person’s body has more than one part. It has many parts. 15 The foot might say, “I am not a hand, so I don’t belong to the body.” But saying this would not stop the foot from being a part of the body. 16 The ear might say, “I am not an eye, so I don’t belong to the body.” But saying this would not make the ear stop being a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, it would not be able to hear. If the whole body were an ear, it would not be able to smell anything. 18-19 If each part of the body were the same part, there would be no body. But as it is, God put the parts in the body as he wanted them. He made a place for each one.20 So there are many parts, but only one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the foot, “I don’t need you!” 22 No, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are actually very important. 23 And the parts that we think are not worth very much are the parts we give the most care to. And we give special care to the parts of the body that we don’t want to show. 24 The more beautiful parts don’t need this special care. But God put the body together and gave more honour to the parts that need it. 25 God did this so that our body would not be divided. God wanted the different parts to care the same for each other. 26 If one part of the body suffers, then all the other parts suffer with it. Or if one part is honored, then all the other parts share its honour.

My challenge to you is to not assume that those with disabilities are the little toes of the body. Neither should we assume they are the ‘dishonourable’ parts.  We could even start by asking if they are the neck? The part that connects the body to the head?!

Here’s a resource you might be interested in. A guide to starting a disability ministry.   It’s aimed at supporting children and carer’s but the same principles should apply to adults too.  (More about that in another blog).

I have some more questions but I don’t want to make this blog post too long.  I’ll continue the questions you might ask in my next blog…

It’s nice to be back.

Adventures in the book of Daniel.

I did say I wouldn’t be able to blog as often, and indeed it’s been a busy, busy time. However, we’ve been carrying on as we do at the Good News Group and I thought it was worth sharing about our recent Bible studies.

We have always tried to explore the Old Testament as much as the New Testament and to enable our group to understand that all the scriptures point us to Jesus. This term we decided to revisit the book of Daniel as it had been a few years since we last did it. We had six weeks and six chapters, neatly packaged into six stories. We began with the Israelites exile to Babylon and Daniel and his friend’s refusal to eat King Nebuchadnezzar’s food. Then it was the fiery furnace, followed by King Neb’s strange dream about a tree that only Daniel could interpret through God’s gifting. We had one of our Vicar’s (Duncan) coming to tell the story of The writing on the wall, and the story of Daniel in the Lion’s den. We covered three King’s reigns and saw how God brought each proud king to their knees before him. It was great to learn that God really is in charge of all who think they are in charge of this world. We were able to think about today’s rulers and pray for them, asking ourselves if we really believe that God is in control of all the world leaders today.

It was also good to think about how God rescues his people. For Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo, it was through dangerous events. He sent his angels to save them from fire and lions. God made them wise and favoured by the kings so they could keep his memory alive in a foreign country, far from their home of Israel. And eventually the kings were faced with humbling themselves before The one true God, or being humbled by him.

As always we had puppets, drama and practical engagement to help us tell these stories. We are still reading the Bible together using the widget symbols and using images from http://www.freebibleimages.com to illustrate the stories. The whole group have been engaged, excited and interested in the book of Daniel. They’ve remembered the stories and asked about what happens next.

As usual, we never ask rhetorical questions…We always get an answer! I wish Sunday church was that interactive!

Here are some photos for you to enjoy…

The writing on the wall.

King Neb having his strange dream.

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