Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

Posts tagged ‘#accessibility’

Living hopefully in the storm

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Some of you will have read a post I put up a few days ago called “Storm before the Calm.”  I have taken this down as I was embarrassed at how raw it was.  I was having a bad weekend emotionally but thanks to a lovely friend who helped me feel much better after a good chat,  I’m rewriting it as something that can stay on the blog.  (Thanks so much to those that already replied – I have all your comments and you are much appreciated).

Like a lot of people, I have been quite upset by things way beyond my control.  The main things that have ‘stormed’ into my life are:

  1. The news – terrorist attacks, tower block fires, the stupid election (my views are my own!) and just not knowing what the government are doing. I still don’t want Brexit and the process frightens me. It’s unsettling, hard to escape.  Two girls from my town died in the Manchester attack.  Everyone I know shares the worry and grief over all the incidents and events in our country these past months.

 

  1. A death happened. A young person took their own life.  I’m grieving for them and their family.  I have been researching mental health and young people and find that we are ignoring the risks and pressures that affect our young people.  It feels like we are sleepwalking into a crisis.  Many people think that’s already happening.  I’m praying and wondering what the church should be doing.

 

  1. For some time I’ve been wondering about how I can share much more of the resources we’ve built up over 10 years of our Good News Group. Particularly our Bible teaching materials but also sharing our story and training for churches.  I want so much to give our adults in the group, opportunity to speak for themselves and for others with learning disabilities to have access to good teaching materials.

 

And this is where I asked for help in my last post.  If you read includedbygrace regularly I’d like to hear from you.  If you’ve happened to read it by random google search, I want to hear from you.  I want to know what you think of includedbygrace and the information I share.  What it means to you and how it has helped you (or not).

If you want to say a pray for this please pray that God will make this what he wants it to be.  I have been blessed by a conversation with two web developers who are interested in designing an accessible website with me.  Maybe that’s a thing that includedbygrace can become.  I have no funding, only faith at this point in time.  But I believe in a God who funds his own projects.

My second idea is to build a team of trainers from our Good News Group who can tell churches how they can be better included.  I experimented with doing this by video when I went to London and this was one way of sharing their voice.  Locally I can take people to places we speak.

Thirdly, I’d love to reach out to special schools in our area.  Maybe with assemblies or sensory Bible stories.  I’d need a team of GNG members to help me…and again the logistics are huge.  But not for God!

In my mind are a lot of other random ideas.  I only want to go in the direction God has prepared and not waste time on things that won’t work.  The aim is to spread the gospel and disciple children, teens and adults with learning disabilities, giving them accessible Bible teaching and resources.  Also, it is to equip churches to do this work too.  We are a small team…living hopefully in the storms…

The Storm before the calm.

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Which way is the right way?        photo from http://www.i.telegraph.co.uk  

Psalm 143  

A praise song of David.

143 Lord, hear my prayer.
    Listen to my call for help and answer my prayer.
    Show me how good and loyal you are.
Don’t judge me, your servant.
    No one alive could be judged innocent by your standards.
My enemies are chasing me.
    They have crushed me into the dirt.
They are pushing me into the dark grave,
    like people who died long ago.
I am ready to give up.
    I am losing my courage.
But I remember what happened long ago.
    I am thinking about all you have done.
    I am talking about what you made with your hands!
I lift my hands in prayer to you.
    I am waiting for your help, like a dry land waiting for rain. 

Hurry and answer me, Lord!
    I have lost my courage.
Don’t turn away from me.
    Don’t let me die and become like the people lying in the grave.
Show me your faithful love this morning.
    I trust in you.
Show me what I should do.
    I put my life in your hands!
Lord, I come to you for protection.
    Save me from my enemies.
10 Show me what you want me to do.
    You are my God.
Let your good Spirit lead me over level ground.
11 Lord, let me live
    so that people will praise your name.
Show me how good you are
    and save me from my trouble.
12 Show me your love
    and defeat my enemies.
Destroy those who are trying to kill me
    because I am your servant.

Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)Copyright © 2006 by Bible League International

 

It has been difficult for me to keep up with my blog recently.  I even wonder if anyone is at all bothered about that…

But it has been difficult because the Lord seems to be taking me through a storm.  Not literally, but in my life and in my thoughts, there is a storm raging.  And it’s exhausting me.

I’ve started to pray through Psalm 143 as above.  One thing I have learned in all these years as a Christian is that storms have been good for me.  Not while I’m in the middle of them – but always afterwards there is a new thing in my life because some old things have been sorted out.  God is good like that.

So I trust Jesus and only him to see this storm through.  I hold onto his promises as I wait for the winds to decide which direction they want to settle on (i.e.. which path I should take) and while I wait for the lightening strikes to subside (i.e.. hopefully the problems being thrown my way will ease off.)  The heavy rain is like all the emotions I feel as the storm rages; the emotions pour on me and soak me through.   I’d like those to ease off please.

But I know that God uses the storms to clear the air and refresh the land.

I have been praying about the next steps for ‘includedbygrace’ for a long while now.  I think God is wanting me to move into something new and develop it into more useful things for and with people with learning disabilities, so that they can learn more about Jesus in a way that is accessible.

If you read this (and can make any sense of it – and if you can’t – I shall have to try again to make it more sense-able!)  could you write a comment or send me a message and tell me what ‘includedbygrace’ means to you, what you have got out of it and what you think it could do more of?

Thank you

Lynn  x

 

All can pray.

This week is the Church of England’s week of prayer.  Our church has organised daily prayer events as has many across the world.  Do look at the website   “Thy Kingdom Come”   and social media for examples of what churches are doing.

Just a small part of this is the Good News Group and our contribution.   We were so pleased to be asked to do something for the main Thy Kingdom Come website and called on the services of a deaf film maker called Dean who put together this for us…

The Lord’s Prayer signed by the Good News Group

Please do share it and use it in your church to show people that prayer is for everyone.  I wish you’d been there as we filmed it.  Each person involved was so keen and capable.  They delivered their ‘line’ often the first take was perfect and the whole group was excited as we played it to them the next week.

In our church’s week of prayer we were included in hosting a prayer meeting, as we always are.  I was sent this leaflet about Prayer Stations  and thought that we could easily adapt these ideas to suit our group and their communication needs.

So here are our stations and how we did it.

IMG_3053.JPG Station 1

Using a wooden cross we gave people the opportunity to write, draw or put symbols onto post its and stick them on the cross.

 

We had parts of the Lord’s prayer to reflect on as well as instructions supported by Communicate in Print.

 

 

 

 

Station 2

This reminded people that Jesus is the Light of the World.  I had a disco bulb which fitted perfectly under the balcony of church and shone the moving light onto the ceiling.  This was great for our sensory adults.  This station invited people to write names other friends onto a piece of paper and peg it onto a piece of string tied across the posts.  Lots of people helped each other say and write names on this.

Station 3

This station was to pray for our world.  We placed wooden crosses on the map of the world and prayed for that country.

Station 4

I kept all the prayers I wrote for our country after Brexit and thought that we ought still to be praying for our country.  This table left out a selection of those prayers and invited people to pray for our nation,  especially ‘Thy Kingdom come’!

Station 5

We put out our prayer trees on the tables so people could go back to them and those who didn’t want to walk around the church for long or at all could still pray in an accessible way.

 

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And here are a few AFTER photos…

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You know by now that we are about ABILTY not disability.  There’s no reason why you can’t do these things too.  Go on, try some new inclusive prayer ideas and care with us what you do.

In Jesus Name…always and forever…Amen.

Can we all be a bit more like Angela please?

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Psalm 131 (NIRV)

A song for those who go up to Jerusalem to worship the Lord. A psalm of David.

Lord, my heart isn’t proud.
My eyes aren’t proud either.
I don’t concern myself with important matters.
I don’t concern myself with things that are too wonderful for me.
I have made myself calm and content
like a young child in its mother’s arms.
Deep down inside me, I am as content as a young child.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forever.

I’ve just come home after attending the funeral of one of our Good News Group members.  Angela had Down’s Syndrome and lived to be 61.  She lived with her family and was part of a church that loved and accepted her as she was.  She’d been at the GNG for many years but hadn’t been attending for almost a year due to being ill….but she is and always will be part of our family.  We will miss her very much.

You see Angela didn’t have very many words but those she did have she used to great effect.  She introduced herself to everyone – literally everyone – by going up to them with a huge smile on her face and greeting them with “Hello, my name is Angela” in a beautiful sing song voice.

Angela loved handbags, football and colouring in.  She loved music and singing worship songs and got so excited when we had puppets that we used to just get them out of the box and sit one next to her, just to share in her delight.  She had a twinkle in her eye that told us when she was joking or pulling our leg and Jesus shone in her and from her every pore. And Angela could say “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” because that came from one of her favourite films.

Angela was never judgemental.  She had no regard for status or rank.  She treated everyone the same whether she liked you or you had done something that annoyed her (although she was never mad for long).   Angela lived each day just for that day and didn’t seem to worry about the future.  She did love and engage with everyone around her, no matter who you were.   The Queen would have had the same greeting as a pauper.

A bit like the Jesus I know.

I’m tired of people being excluded from church families because they are different, don’t fit the mould or are the wrong kind of person.  “Are you disabled? Well, you can’t do this or that.   Are you a woman…then, you can’t do this or that.  Are you LGBT?…then, you can’t do this or that.  Are you a foreigner?…well you can’t do this or that.  Can’t you keep you disabled child quiet?…then you can’t do this or that.  Are you mentally ill?…then you can’t do this or that.  We can’t have our churches run by these kinds of people.”  

 Did Jesus make up these categories…I don’t think so…

But these are the messages I hear from all kinds of Christians and church people.  We’re all shouting at each other and no-one seems to be listening.  (Except maybe the outside world who think what are they on about?!)

So, in my grief today I was reminded that Jesus came for all of mankind.  That no-one is excluded unless they think they don’t need him.   I want to be more like Angela and accept everyone, just as they are.  I am working it out as He teaches me what that looks like in practice.  I’m willing to be shown where I’ve got it wrong –  by the Spirit working in and through the people and situations I meet.   At the moment I don’t even know if I want to part of ‘the church’ in this country that’s doing a lot of shouting – but not about the gospel, only at each other.  But I expect God will sort my thoughts out about that eventually.

So will you join me in being more like Angela?  Angela’s name means “MESSENGER OF GOD” and here’s her message. It’s simple really.  Open up your arms and greet people in the name of Jesus.   No matter who they are.

Multi-Ethnic Group Of People Holding The Word Welcome

So I get to speak at a couple of conferences!

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This is unashamedly a plug for the Enabling Church “No Limits” conference happening in less than 2 weeks from today – in London – so if you can come PLEASE do.

The Churches for All organisation has been set up to bring together those Christian organisations that promote inclusion and speak out as people with disability under one umbrella organisation.  To pool resources and work together is the aim, and the conference is born out of this.   But it needs supporting, people need to come so I’m asking you to please try.  And if it is successful, I and others are going to see if we can get some support and a venue to put a similar conference on up in the north of England.

I’m doing 3 workshops at the No Limits conference this time.  I’m busy planning them this week!  (Only left it this late because the Puppet Festival was first – see below!).  But I am happy that I am doing one workshop about helping teens with disabilities grow and flourish in church as they develop into adults.  The second workshop will be showing people how to tell a sensory Bible story and it WILL be interactive!  Thirdly I will be looking at behaviour management in a children and young people’s group.  Some children with challenging behaviours have additional needs, some undiagnosed but I do have a few tips and approaches that just might help.  There are lots of other workshops too as well as the Key note speeches – so do take a look (and book).  Looking forward to seeing some of you there!

The European Puppet and Creative Arts Festival

This was run by One Way UK was last weekend and along with my daughter, we presented 4 workshops over the two days.  The first was simply an introduction to autism, with some tips about how to support children, families and adults with autism.

 

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The second was a practical session looking at different creative ways of communicating the Bible.  We split into two groups and used puppets and sensory stories to tell about Moses and the burning bush and about Jonah.

The third session was an introduction to Makaton and using signing to communicate faith words, in songs and in prayers and was enhanced by the arrival of a newly qualified Makaton tutor…thanks Linda so much for your help!!!

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Finally, I led a discussion session about how inclusive are our churches.  But this being a puppet festival, we used the puppets to show how diverse our congregations are and to act out different ways we exclude people.  It was lovely to finish this session with a prayer time – using our prayer tree and symbols to show how we try to include everyone in our group of adults with learning disabilities.

 

Thanks One Way Uk!  We appreciate the new puppet skills we also learned and I’m looking forward to seeing how we can develop some puppet activities in the Good News Group ministry.

“My church is on Tuesday and we have a train set.”

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This is a guest blog from Elizabeth Mellor who runs an Additional Needs Ministry called “Take 5 take5& Chat”.  I thought it would be good for us to look at what kinds of Additional Needs Ministries were out there and give you some ideas about what you could do too. 

Whitley Bay is a small seaside town in the Far North East of England (FNEofE) and is famous for many reasons. We have St Mary’s Lighthouse, the Ice Rink – and the town has been used as the setting for many films and music videos. Whitley Bay is also the first town to run a Take 5 & chat Café Drop-in, supporting families who have children with additional needs.

It is a sad fact that many churches struggle to be a truly welcoming place for families who have children with additional needs. I know that there are many success stories but I have heard of so many families who take turns to attend church, look after their own children in church settings, or give up and do something more family friendly on Sundays instead.

So I wondered what the church could bring to the lives of families in our communities who face extra challenges? I wondered what ‘church’ could look like.

I thought about being the parent at the school gate whose child isn’t meeting the same targets as others. Perhaps their child isn’t invited to parties. Perhaps the teacher often has stuff to report at the end of each day. Perhaps their child is excluded by physical reasons from taking part in everything. When the other parents chat about the weekend, the holidays, the classroom, the reading scheme, this parent feels isolated and alone.

What about setting up something that meant these parents, from different schools in the area, could meet together, as if at the school gate? What might this look like?

It’s a while since my children were at school and my next step had to be to see if this was still needed. So on 9th March 2015, after much prayer and planning, I launched a Facebook Page www.facebook.com/take5andchat as a ‘place to just be’ for those caring for children with additional needs. The intention was to reflect a face-to-face Café Drop-in on a Facebook Page. It hit the ground running and I saw quickly that the need was still there.

We opened as a friendly, accessible café at Whitley Bay Baptist Church in June 2015 and the Drop-in now opens every other Tuesday afternoon, all year round. The parents asked that we stay open through the school holidays as most activities close.

We have hot drinks and homemade cakes. We have activities and some toys – and a play leader in the holidays, but the children remain in the care of their parents. We are a friendly café, not a play scheme.

Neither are we here to directly promote our faith or attendance at our church on Sundays. We open for the parents to have a safe place to be, “an oasis”, as one parent said. God walks amongst us whether or not we recognise him.

Once relationships were established and everyone felt safe together, a number of the parents asked if we could offer any parenting courses, which we could, and did. (I am a trained Facilitator for Care for the Family’s Time out for Parents… but maybe that’s another blog post!)

So now there are over 30 families who ‘drop in’ to a room at the side of our church. They have found support and encouragement. They come with friends, they make new friends, they share the names of helpful teachers at local schools and tell each other where to go for further support and advice. They keep in touch via a closed Facebook Group. Whenever our team is a bit stretched, these parents eagerly step up to help set up, serve at the ‘counter’, clear up or talk to new parents. Because Take 5and chat Café Drop-in is their place and they belong.

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Most of the parents have never been involved in any kind of church before.

Some ‘sign in’ on Facebook at the church.

Many now describe our church as their church.

On Tuesdays. With cake… and a train set.

 Our Founder & Coordinator, Beth, is available to talk with your team, or to your church/faith group, about setting up a Café Drop-in for those parenting children with additional needs. Sometimes having someone from outside explaining it can really help! (Fee is dependent on time and distance, and is to cover costs, please ask.)

If you would like to run a ‘Take 5 & chat’ Café Drop-in, using our name and logo, there is a one-off License fee allowing use of our name and logo to named individuals. We send you digital copies and a certificate. You can use this for your closed Facebook group, on mugs & aprons. (There is a good supplier!)

If you choose your own name, then please acknowledge us if you use any of our general wording or ideas. We can still help you get started!

Email    info@take5andchat.org.uk

www.facebook.com/take5andchat  

https://twitter.com/take5andchat

Website (coming soon) www.take5andchat.org.uk

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People with learning disabilities are scared about the news too.

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This past month has been really difficult for me.  It was building up since before the Brexit vote, but that tipped the scales.  I’ve been worrying about even watching the news, wondering what horrible event will happen next.  I’ve been upset with the political situations in Britain, Turkey, America, and the middle east.  Upset about the violence, murder and persecution of people all around the world.  I’ve been trying to pray for those killed and hurt in attacks, not just in Europe, not just those splashed across the newspapers in our country, but the forgotten and ignored tragedies in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and other countries.

But I’m overwhelmed.  On top of the exhaustion that comes to every teacher at the end of the school year, I want to yell at God…”STOP THE WORLD…AND LET ME GET OFF!”  I’ve not been sure how to cope at all.

And it was in this state that I set up the ‘Day of Prayer for our Nation’ on Facebook. (Join me here if you still want to pray).  That did help a lot.  In searching the Bible for guidance and when a wonderful friend offered to help, we remembered our response to this world is to pray and to share God’s love.  Praying through those prayers as the day went on, really helped calm my troubled soul…and continue to do so.

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It is so important to include people with learning disabilities in our engagement with what is going on in the world. They worry too. They hear and are affected by what is going on, sometimes more directly than we are.  (Take the Government’s welfare reforms as an example). We can pray with them and give them access to praying with us if we help their communication.  The accessible prayers are just one example. Signing or pictures may help  some. I know L’Arche communities are wonderfully experienced in building the prayer lives of everyone in their communities.

On the Wednesday, at our usual Good News Group meeting we set aside some time to pray for our nation, using the accessible prayers that I had made for the Friday.  Each table had a set and the members and carers each chose a prayer to offer, in our usual ways of either reading it out themselves, a team member reading it for them or just by placing it in the centre of the table, showing that they are offering their prayers to God.

Everyone there took a prayer and offered it to the Lord. What really struck me was their real concerns and worries about Brexit and all that was happening.  People with learning disabilities hear things on the news and worry the same as the rest of us, we shouldn’t be surprised.  They too want to make sense of it all.  The comments I want to share with you show how much they care about this.

D, who isn’t a Christian but comes to the group every week, was really fascinated by the prayers we had set out on the table.  He said “I’m really glad you’ve put these out.  I don’t believe but I want you to pray about this…” and he passed a card to one of the team to pray. 

V said “I’ve been hearing about all this on the news. It’s terrible.  What’s going to happen, I don’t know.” and she chose a prayer for all the politicians. 

E said, “I’m worried about what will happen to my carer.  She’s not from this country.  I’m scared they are going to take her away, then who’s going to help me then? She’s lovely is my carer. I don’t want another one.” 

And all around the room, people with learning disabilities were joining in as prayer warriors for this nation.  Lord hear our prayers.  Lord have mercy.  Lord hear our prayers.

I’m hoping that others have joined us too.  I sent out the accessible prayers to a few people who asked for them, so if you were one of those, I’d love to hear how your prayer times went.

I feel that God has been sending me encouragement this week in two blogs I have read.  I am sharing them here and hope that if you feel overwhelmed and discouraged they will help you too.  Firstly Anthony Delany reminded me of the parable Jesus told us about how we should know that there is evil in this world. God is allowing the weeds and the wheat to grow in the ground together but he will protect his wheat and burn the weeds at the harvest.  It helped me.  And then Helen Murray encouraged me by reminding me of how Gideon felt when God asked him to fight the Midionites – and to go in the strength that we have because God is with us.  Thank you both.

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A very special talk, challenging how we ‘do’ church.

As promised, here is the full talk from Alma – her words are better than mine and so I am delighted that she has written this down for us. 

Last Weekend I was invited to share my thoughts about Mental Health and Church at a meeting of the Lancashire Roofbreakers.  Lynn has kindly allowed me to share the substance of that talk here.

How Safe is my Church?

It is interesting to consider how quickly our minds move towards physical and accommodation issues when considering this question. Or am I a minority of one?  I find it interesting when listening to others whose concern focuses on other disabilities. The need for ‘inclusion’ seems to equate to making sure people can all join together in one big crowd and how we manage to make it physically possible for that happen. This includes the size of our buildings, accessible doorways, seating etc.

As someone who has grown up in churches of all shades and opinions and who lives with a complex mental health condition the focus on the physical surrounding is irrelevant to me in helping me to feel included within the Church Family.

My biggest problem with Church is the people.  Not the attitude I encounter (although stigma remains a massive issue) but the fact that Church by its nature forces me to spend time with large numbers of people.  Let me explain why this would be a problem to me.  I have a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. It is sometimes now referred to as either Emotionally Unstable PD or Emotionally Sensitive PD.

Marsha Linehan, an American Clinical Psychologist who has created an effective therapy for BPD called Dialectical Behaviour Therapy and who finally admitted she herself shared the diagnosis, has summed up the experience of living with BPD as follows:

 ‘Borderline individuals are the psychological equivalent of third-degree-burn patients.  They simply have, so to speak, no emotional skin.  Even the slightest touch or movement can create immense suffering.’

Let’s just pause for a moment and imagine that the presence of other human beings, of any number can feel excruciating, then let me ask some questions about ‘how safe’ the way we do church, especially on Sundays, feels to me.

How Do We ‘Do’ Church?

  • Medieval

If you spend any time visiting the large spectacular buildings of our historic churches and cathedral, we can observe how the medieval church gathered.  It was often the largest building towns and villages and therefore was used for mass gatherings, there was no seating.  As a modern church we have inherited buildings from earlier generations.  From a purely appreciative perspective, it is fantastic to know that there is such a ‘Cloud of Witnesses’ who have gone before us.  Have they always worshipped solely in large spacious buildings, in large crowds, or has there been a different way of gathering together?

  • Victorian

If we have a legacy of physical spaces which force us to look at numbers over quality of relationship…What then of the timetable of fellowship in each week? The Victorians put pews into the large medieval structures, or mimicked them by building huge structures in the medieval image.  That means that it would feel like a waste if our main meeting together didn’t make use of this accommodation.  What about two large gatherings every Sunday?  Evening services effectively developed when Sunday Schools were at their height and churches needed to feed their Sunday School teacher spiritually. Is the way we plan services on a Sunday effective for today’s needs?

  • Big Crowds

When I am invited to join in with my church family I am caught in a conundrum. I know that the Bible exhorts us to ‘not give up meeting together’, but why do our gatherings focus primarily on large groups of people?  We like numbers, in a society where Christianity faces many challenges, sometimes our need to gather in large numbers can feel like a form of defence.  It’s okay if our large Victorian building is full, especially every Sunday.  We feel safe in large groups.  They’re anonymous.  If the presence of people inspires anxiety and panic in me, is it safe for everyone? What would happen if our focus moved from joining together as the whole church body (particularly in large and growing churches) and looked at how well supported our small groups are?  It’s easy to escape the challenges of living in fellowship if you only attend the large, well-attended meetings particularly on Sundays.  It also allows us to absolve our responsibility to be an inclusive church to the Welcome or Leadership Teams.

  • Family Focused

For many with Mental Health issues families are not safe places.  I need you to teach me and model for me what a loving family can be.  Is the emphasis on children, and the importance of family in the way you do Church, or hurting people who have internal wounds which need to be healed?  I found it interesting at our meeting of Roofbreakers how much time was spent discussing the needs of children in church with Learning Difficulties and the practical solutions offered to help them stay in Church.  Many of the solutions were on drawing people into the larger group.  The prospect of only being able to access Church if I am prepared to manage my emotionally responses enough to ‘cope’ with being in groups of 100+, terrifies me so much, most Sundays I either have to put in all my energy to staying there, or I opt out.

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How Can We Do Church?

  • Redefine

Can we redefine church from being the gathering of EVERYONE in our circles on a Sunday to a broader definition?  How often do enjoy being able to share in the Spirit with the struggles of the church worldwide, while we neglect the regular remembrance of those who are housebound, or unable to join with us due to disability of any kind.  For me, the ability of friends in ones, twos and small groups to meet together and support me spiritually is vital to me feeling a part of the church.

Do we need to look again at where the church started?  3000 were suddenly added to the church at Pentecost, where did they all end up meeting?  They didn’t have large buildings, nor did they have the ‘evangelical timetable’.  You know the one: Sunday is Church, Monday is Ladies’ Prayer, Wednesday is Small Groups, Thursday/Friday is Youth.  Where is the idea that Church is ‘where one or two are gathered in my name’, or ‘Whenever they met together’…. If Church is only Sundays (I know and have heard many times, ‘Church is not the buildings but the people’) then is the way we define Church out of sync with what we believe about what Church should be?

  • Break Down the Numbers

What would happen if our focus was more on organising ourselves as mainly meeting as church in smaller groups?  What if our gathering of the ‘whole’ congregation became less regular, on a monthly basis, and the main point of teaching was within smaller groups? What if we sold our buildings off, or changed them to be an essential resource for the community, thereby having a daily presence of the Church in witness to the world?

  • Challenge Stigma

The best way to challenge any prejudice is to introduce the bigot to a real living person with whom they have to interact.  If you want to know how my experience of life and faith differs from yours, ask me.  In smaller groups it is easier to break down barriers.  Again if Church only means the big Sunday Services, it becomes very easy to pat me on the head and distance yourself from what I’ve been banging on about at the front.  Especially, if you misunderstand what Mental Illness is and how it affects people.

  • Relationship

My understanding of the gospel is that relationship is central to it.  In the beginning, God established that ‘it was not good for man to be alone’.

Before we are in relationship with God there is a vacuum.  Emptiness and isolation are common symptoms of a number of complex and more common mental illnesses.  It follows then, that the Church has hope to offer to people with Mental Health issues.  God understands that we were made for relationship.

Is the way we do Church at the minute designed to help us develop effective and satisfying relationships with one another?  I often have conversations with people about how dissatisfied they are with the lack of depth in their Church friendships.  That’s because we fail to apply God’s principles to our Church relationships.  We emphasise our relationship with God, rightly and stress the importance of time spent learning more and more about Him through prayer and Bible Study.

The Church is Christ’s Bride, that means that everyone of us form a part of one body, we are all united to one another in Christ.  Somehow, I think we have decided to accept that this mysterious, spiritual union, somehow negates the necessity to learn more about one another, in fellowship.

How do we do that? By spending time with one another, for me the most effective and safest way to get to know my Church Family is in ones and twos.  When I spend more time with you during the week, then there is a shared understanding when we come together for worship and fellowship as part of the wider family.  If I can see that I am accepted, that there are reliable relationships and true friendships, then it makes the struggle to get to the bigger meetings worth it.  How important, really is relationship and enabling the building of in-depth relationship, in the way we currently do church?

I am not offering any answers. I recognise the inherent challenge in much of what I have said.  However, I hope it helps us to engage with the thorny issues around probably the most isolated disability group in our churches.  Solutions and hope for relationships are welcome.

 

Three amazing talks at our Network meeting.

On Saturday 30th April we met for the fourth time as the Lancashire Roofbreakers network.  Over 20 of us met, and listened to 3 great talks that prompted a lot of discussion and questions, which was fantastic.

Talk 1 – setting up an additional needs ministry for children and the wider church

A small tent with sensory toys inside

James and Sarah talked to us about how they had planned to put provision in place for children with additional needs in their children’s activities on a Sunday morning. But more than that, they had put together a 3 part plan to develop awareness and engagement from the wider church, with the ultimate aim of getting everyone aware and equipped for including children, young people and adults in their church.

James had put together a training evening for the children’s workers, (which was very similar to the All Inclusive training done by Mark Arnold from Urban Saints) and has rolled up his sleeves to get involved in the Sunday children’s work each week. From there, he and Sarah can implement the advice, support others doing so and speak to parents of children with additional needs.  I was very impressed by the lengths they had gone to in order to listen to children and parents so that what they needed was made available. Sarah showed us some of the resources they were using and gave us chance to look at them through the morning.

Secondly, James and Sarah have attended leaders’ meetings and presented their vision and plan so that the leaders understand, know and can support what they are trying to do.  They have spoken to smaller committees and leadership teams and are hoping to speak to every group in the church.  This is a good approach…communication and having everyone be aware means that what they are trying to do will be understood, supported and hopefully adopted by others.

Finally, James and Sarah shared a wider vision…to reach out to the community. To tell them through the community newsletter what they are doing and what is available at the church for those with additional needs and disabilities.  We all know families and individuals that find church hard, or who came once and felt that they weren’t going to fit in, and they want to make a way for people to come back to church, or come for the first time, feeling that they will be understood and supported with care and acceptance.

Talk 2 – Disability and Jesus

Dave, Bill and Jarvis the Guide dog

We were excited that Dave, Jarvis the guide dog and Bill had travelled over from the North East to join us and grateful that the snow earlier in the week hadn’t stopped them coming.

They came to tell us about how and why Disability and Jesus was set up, what they believe about disability and about their conference in June.

First they talked about how they want to develop a Relational model of disability. Our society looks at disability as a medical (disabled by medical causes) or social (disabled by society excluding or not valuing) issue.  Relational is about that we are all this together – all of us.  As Christians, and human beings we are all in relation with each other and should be journeying together towards our goal of being more like Jesus.

Bill said that we are all made in the image of God.  A God who doesn’t make mistakes. They also spoke about Jesus how exercised an inclusive ministry. He drew in those who were excluded. His ministry was one of incredible inclusion and welcome. They then went on to talk about the difference between healing and cure.  Healing being, coming to terms with your disability and being at peace with who you are with that disability. Cure is taking that disability away. God can do that but the healing is the most important thing.  The important part of healing is peace with God.  It gave way to lots of interesting and important discussion about healing and the wants and hopes of different people.  Disability and Jesus will be giving people an opportunity to look at the Biblical basis of disability, healing and inclusion at their forthcoming conference https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/towards-a-theology-of-disability-tickets-24367371464?utm_term=eventurl_text

The practical application of being relational with people with disabilities in church is about stopping people building walls between groups of people. They suggested we ought to be radical about hospitality, inclusion, welcome.  Asking why do we segregate people? How can we all come together and make it accessible for everyone.

We should be doing what Jesus did and going out and finding disabled people, sharing the gospel and bringing them in from where they are.  Making sure that what they encounter is the right ATTITUDE.

It’s not the church building – it’s the welcome and attitude that speaks more than any ramps or accessible toilets.  It goes beyond ACCOMMODATION – providing separate access.  It’s about INCLUSION in what everyone does.

Being community, all flourishing TOGETHER is what God wants.

Talk 3 – Alma Johnson

Alma with her question that says, Is my church a safe place?

Alma began with a startling question…

“Is my church a safe place?”

She then shared some of her own testimony and challenges of having a personality disorder to challenge us all about what made church safe for people like her and other conditions, that meant being in one place with large crowds of people were just too overwhelming and therefore made church unsafe and inaccessible.

Alma herself has written a blog post about what she shared and so I will post it as the next blog so you can read it from her own words.

Reflections 2015 and Resolutions 2016

Our Welcome Booklet

Our Welcome Booklet

“But the true idea [of Genesis 1:26,28] is that you’re to invest your abilities to create value on the earth, to plant and to build and write and organise and heal and invent ways that bless people and cause God’s kingdom on earth to flourish.”   UCB Word for Today 28.12.15

“I remain confident of this, I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.  Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart, and wait for the LORD.”      Psalm 27:13-14

Reflections 2015

  1. It’s only when you stop and look back that you realise another year has gone by and wonder did you make it count? I could list all the time I’ve wasted, all the things I wished I’d done but didn’t and all the times and chances I missed to do something less selfish.  I’ve been spending time in the Psalms this year and all my faults, worries, regrets and concerns are there… and that is so comforting.  The best thing about the Psalms is that each one can be summed up as this…  “Life is often really rubbish; But GOD IS GOOD.”
  2. The Good News Group has continued to be a great joy in my life, but this year we have had some difficult times and challenges.  Towards the end of the year we seemed to be struggling and as leaders, we felt under attack.  We did, what we always know we need to do and that was to come back to prayer.  We realised that in our haste to get everything set up each week, our prayer time had been pushed aside and some weeks didn’t even happen.  So, with repentance we got back to praying and also hosted a whole church prayer meeting in the week of prayer. Things have been getting better since… we shouldn’t be surprised at that!
  3. Two of our GNG members went to be with the Lord this year and we do miss them.  It is so different when you know someone responded to the gospel and knew Jesus as their saviour. Praise God that these two men did.
  4. We’ve had three meetings of the disability network (now called Lancashire Roofbreakers) and we are very grateful for the network and support from Tim Wood at Through the Roof.  It is wonderful to see people from different churches coming together to see how we can promote and support more inclusion of people with disabilities.  One church has now started a children’s ministry which is very inclusive of children with additional needs and another has a regular autism friendly children’s event.  I am sure there is a lot more to come from within this group.  God willing.
  5. I had a BRILLIANT time as part of the Keswick Convention Team with Prospects in the summer.
  6. Over the past 6 years I have been collating the teaching materials we have written for adults with learning disabilities, on different books of the Bible. I am beginning to explore how we can share these with others and sent them out to a couple of people we might be able to partner with to make them available more widely.  We are blessed with a great Bible teaching church and have some new team members willing to write a session each term.

IMG_0754

Resolutions 2016 (Our prayer list!)

  1. To pray more…learning the lesson from this year, we cannot exist without making the Lord the focus of all we do.  He wants us to go forward in his will and bless us, so we cannot afford to lose our way by doing anything without God. We have loved teaching our members to pray at the Good News Group and we can make sure that we include them in praying for the things we teach, the relationships we have with each other and for those who are struggling.
  2. To make disciples… to help those who have been coming to GNG for a long time to grow in their faith and to make new disciples from the many people with learning disabilities and their carers whom we have not yet reached.  This is going to challenge us to get out and reach out to new people in our community.  The challenges include time to do so (many of our team work) and to pray for opportunities.  I think God wants to open doors for us and we want to be able to take those opportunities.
  3. To make our teaching materials available to others.  I’m in discussion about this, as I said, but whether it is put in printed form or online will be a decision to make.  I’m leaning towards an online version that people can subscribe to – what would you prefer? Would you use Bible study materials for adults with learning disabilities?
  4. To do all we can to reach out to other churches and support them in including children and adults with additional needs. Personally this will mean praying about how I can use my own experience to support churches, but also by putting on some courses such as Makaton training from Prospects, some courses from Through the Roof and the All Inclusive training from Urban Saints.  This will take some organising and marketing, so prayers for this will be appreciated.  I have an idea about putting on a conference later in 2016 or even the year after.  I’ve no idea how to do that, but if it is God’s will, I’m sure he can make it happen.

There, I am stopping before I get carried away.   If you could remember us in your prayers, that would be wonderful, and if you are involved in ministry with people with additional needs, tell us your prayer needs below and we will pray for you.  Our Good News Group love to pray and we will make a symbol for your prayers and add them to our sessions.

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