Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

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Making disciples in people with learning disabilities.

How do we know we are making disciples in the Good News Group? For some of our members we can talk to them and they can tell us about their walk with God. For those who don’t use speech we offer them visuals to communicate with us. We can observe their actions and reactions. They only way we can do this is by getting to know them and their carers well. Carers tell us about things that happen at home, when someone put ear hands together and prayed or opened up their Picture Bible. But really, our role is not to test our members on their discipleship. Our role is to share, teach and encourage. The Holy Spirit will do God’s work in their lives. We are in this together.

But I do want to share a story with you when the Lord has encouraged all of us through one person’s testimony.

One member has been struggling with fear and despair for months and months and months. He has his own additional needs but also is a carer for other members of their very lovely family. This puts a huge burden on him and sometimes, coming to the Good News Group is the only time he has away from this. We spend time praying with and encouraging him each week and encourage him to pray at home whenever he can. So this week he came to me looking so much happier. He told me that he had been reading his Bible every day. This is amazing because only recently had he received an NIrV Accessible Bible and been able to read it himself. Then he said he had prayed and heard a voice saying “I’m going to sort this out”. He shone with joy as he explained that since then he had felt all the weight of worry had been lifted and how much happier he felt.

To have this miracle being worked out in this man’s life and seeing God speak to him in this way has to show us that it is the Holy Spirit who disciples, who does the deeper work inside the spirits of the people who come together in that group. He now wants to share his testimony and that’s our next plan. We know our group have something to say, that God Works in their lives.

Our next terms teaching is going to be led by them. We will see who volunteers and provide the means for them to communicate their faith. I wish we had more technology available as I think some of those who don’t use verbal communication could tell us much more. (There’s very little funding available in adult social care for technology to aid communication – so sad when people are usually adults for longer than when they were children). So as is our way in the Good News Group we will do all we can to push enabling and participation. The plan is to use their favourite Bible story as a springboard to enable them to talk about and share their faith.

We will start with the man who shared this week. He’s already chosen a miracle story from the Bible as his favourite. And I hope to share more of their stories on here too. You don’t need to know them or their names to know that God Works in all of us in the most wonderful ways!

News

Our annual outreach Carol Service is next week. The whole group is ready and excited. Do come and join us if you’re nearby. 😁

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New Research Suggests Social Issues are Down to Neurotypicals more than Autistics

Important to think about this in church. How do we welcome people who are socially different to us and do we cause some of their social difficulties. I’m glad to say I have seen and have wonderful friendships with autistic people because it IS a two way relationship of supporting each other to understand and relate together.

Intersectional Neurodiversity

colorful-brains-560 Picture by Joan M. Mas

Autism is seen, in popular representations, largely as a social and communication disorder. Formerly framed as stemming from an autistic lack of a “social instinct”, the current dominant idea is that something is deficient or missing in autistic social cognition. Often referred to as a cognitive deficit in “empathy” or “theory of mind”, much research on autistic social issues has focused on trying to clarify and detect this inside autistic brains and minds. The search for an elusive broken “theory of mind module” or “empathy mechanism” in the brain, and its ensuing cognitive manifestations, however, has led to conflicting results – with some scientists even concluding that autistic people feel too much empathy rather than too little.

Another view is that this is not simply an individual neuro-cognitive issue, but rather a wider social problem. Against the idea that autistic people have too much or…

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A Happy, and Inclusive, Nativity.

Wouldn’t some of these idea work really well in a church Nativity 🙂

Mr Finch

As soon as children are back from half term, classes will start preparing for Christmas performances. Assemblies will turn into singing practices, boxes of robes and head-dresses will be retrieved from whatever cubby hole they’ve been hidden in since last year, CD backing tracks for ‘The Grumpy Snowman’ and ‘The Agnostic Pelican’ will be dusted off and the whole carousel will head round for its umpteenth iteration.

All of which is terrific for those children and teachers who thrive on that sort of thing. And all of which can be hard on the children who had just got into the routine of their new classes and now find it strangely changed, or for those for whom the idea of performance is intimidating.

Let’s face it. There are plenty of adults among our colleagues, friends and families who would do just about anything rather than get up and perform on stage…

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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! 

‘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.   

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