Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

Posts tagged ‘#accessibility’

Writing Sensory Stories for Teens with Additional Needs (Part 2)

photo from https://eastersealshouston.wordpress.com/category/uncategorized/page/2/
photo from https://eastersealshouston.wordpress.com/category/uncategorized/page/2/

After writing about how to write sensory stories for young children, I now turn my attention to teenagers. This is a tricky post, because by the time they reach their teens, young people with additional needs, learning disabilities and/or autism are growing, developing and making the transition from childhood to adulthood… The same as any teenager.  By this age, their personalities and abilities are becoming more established.  They are unique, amazing and will not fit into a neat box.  So we can’t say, “this is what you should do for teenagers with additional needs”, because each one will need a more personalised approach.

However, I’m going to share an example and some ideas.  Starting with an autistic boy of 14 who I used to support in the Sunday children’s programme.  He was autistic, verbal and wanted to be part of the group.  He loved joining in the social activities and games (once they were explained in a way he could understand) and loved dramatising Bible stories.  However, he was unable to access the Bible study part of the session for a number of reasons:

  • They read from the Bible. He couldn’t read too well.
  • They then spoke at length about the passage, it’s history and some quite in depth analysis of the passage.
  • It was all done far too quickly for him. He just couldn’t keep up with the pace of one idea moving onto another.

For this boy, sensory stories enabled him to access the session alongside his peers, drawing from the same passage and learning one important thing about God each time.  For any teenager that needs a simplified amount of language, we can provide that without talking down to them or babying them. We must respect their age. Some parents feel unable to even try teenage groups because the

The same principles of story telling are used.

  1. One sentence which is the main teaching point of the passage. It usually is a central truth about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit or the gospel. It is ok to repeat these points as we want our teens to really understand their faith in the Lord.
  2. Five to ten (ish) simple sentences that tell the story and move it through the main events. This is difficult as the writer needs to be able to ignore waffle and minor details to get to the point. If there are details that are essential to the meaning they need to be included.  It is at this age we should be including a greater depth of Bible knowledge and not exclude parts of the Bible because we think they are too hard to understand.  Here’s an example from 2 Kings when Elijah hands over to Elisha.

 

1.     Elijah knew it was time for him to leave the earth.  Elisha was his disciple.  He followed Elijah everywhere.

2.     Elijah said… “Stay here”. But Elisha said “No, I will go with you.”

3.     Elijah said again… “Stay here”. But Elisha said “No, I will go with you.”

4.     Elijah said a third… “Stay here”. But Elisha said “No, I will go with you.”

5.     Now they were by the river Jordan.  Elijah put his staff (stick) into the river and the water separated.  Now Elijah and Elisha could walk across.

6.     God took Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind. But first Elisha asked for one thing.

7.     “Give me twice as much of God’s Spirit as you have.” He asked.

8.     Elisha saw Elijah go to heaven. He picked up Elijah’s staff (stick) and put it into the Jordan river.

9.     The water separated. Elisha knew God’s Spirit was with him.

10.  The Bible says God’s Spirit is with us. We can pray and the Spirit will help us in many ways.

Pray for God’s Spirit to help you, teach you and show you all God’s love for you.

ELIJAH HIT THE WATER WITH HIS CLOAK9

  1. The sensory experiences depend on the young persons needs at this point. With this boy, one for the whole story was enough to give him a sensory link to the story. So for this Elijah story we would maybe have a cloak or shawl to use a ac cloak as this is a central prop of the story.  I might have added some water when each of them parted the Jordan too.

cloak

The main issue for young people with additional needs is often social inclusion.  They go through puberty, identity formation, hopes and dreams for the future the same as other teenagers. Being put with younger children doesn’t help this at all.

It is we that have to be more creative and adaptable.  There’s forever to study the Bible for our other teens. Learning how to come alongside and make the Bible accessible to someone with additional needs is a lesson of greater worth than gold.  Then you have a peer group that don’t exclude but are able to communicate the Bible to someone else.  It makes them think and consider the important points and what it really means.  So, teach the other teens to write a story in this way now and again.

And with their permission – here are some comments from the Additional Needs Alliance Group.  People who have children and groups with teens with additional needs…

Claire Webb‪ For our daughter it’s been opportunity to be part of things! She very sociable and children and young people in a wide age group are very friendly towards her and don’t exclude her (especially young people who’ve grown up with her!) but adults find it harder to include in practice!

Rosie Thornton‪ Thank you for asking this Lynn. My teenage daughter cannot really access discussion groups or events where activities are not tightly structured so we haven’t tried Christian youth groups.

Mark Arnold‪ I suggest that the primary difficulty is that there is not a “one size fits all” answer to this. Every young person is different, their needs and abilities will be different, so an answer that works well for one young person will not necessarily work for another, even with two young people with the same additional needs. Forming an individual strategy for each young person, which they and their families help to create, and which draws on what is working well in other settings (e.g. school, home etc) and which all the leaders of the group understand, is a vital step towards successful inclusion. That plan needs to cover a range of areas including learning style and ability, understanding key triggers that cause difficulties e.g. loud noise, how to communicate most effectively (i.e. not just by speech) etc. Having said that, one common barrier to accessing church is simple acceptance by the other members of the congregation or group. It’s a hurdle that many young people and their families fall at due to negative reactions from others (including adults that should know better!)

 

Fiona Tyler‪ My daughter will be 13 on Saturday! She is cognitively very able, but because she is non-verbal it is very difficult for her to join in discussions and keep up with her peers. Also socially, because she is in a wheelchair and looks different, her peers are very wary of her and don’t naturally relate to her – this has got harder as she has got older (little kids are much more accepting!). We are trying to raise awareness by openly talking about my daughter’s disabilities and also her similarities, but it is a slow process. I agree very much with what Mark says, it is probably a battle that is unique for each young person, and the teenage years can be very difficult as they try to come to terms with, and accept, their own disabilities and differences, when all they want to do is fit in with their peers and the rest of society.

Nancy Gedge‪ Yes – the language base of much work with young people means that Sam can’t access it in several ways. 1. The concepts are difficult for him to grasp.       2. His communication difficulties mean that he finds it difficult to feel part of things (anything) with typically developing children.    3. Times – he is often tired in the evening.    I often wonder if the way to witness to young people like him is through the ‘doing’ – how can he, who is so often helped – serve others? What creative opportunities are there for him? Could he be involved in an art/music project with other young people at church? How could technology be incorporated? How can he be made to feel less isolated? Less different?   And, how can adults be encouraged not to baby him, or see the solution to his inclusion as a box of cars in the corner?

Highstreetmethodist Underfivesworker‪ I know the child is not yet a teen but as a church whose Junior church starts off altogether and then simply meets in different parts of the same room we let the child decide which activity he wanted to do – regardless of whether it was his age group or not.

Ros Bayes – Ellen was always well supported in children’s ministry, but when she outgrew it there were really no appropriate youth activities she could participate in. The good thing about that was that it gave her sister somewhere to go without her at a time when she needed those breaks. The sad thing, for me, was that there were some real moves of the Holy Spirit among the young people, and they bypassed her.

3 Ways to Disciple Adults with Learning Disabilities

  1. Reach
  2. Grow
  3. Send

This is the ministry statement of our church, you can see more about it here. It seems simple…and maybe we do make it more complicated than it needs to be.  This year we are seriously praying about and exploring how we disciple our adults with learning disabilities.

Reaching

We don’t run our Good News Group through the school holidays, except for a BBQ that we are having on Wednesday. People miss it, but it also gives us as leaders, time to reflect and seek God for his plans for the coming year. When we took on the role of leaders (unexpectedly!) Bob, Gill and I agreed that we could not do it without a sense of God’s vision for the ministry.  The first indication from God was to “reach out”.  At the time we were concerned,  each of us had commitments and other ministries that gave us very little time or opportunity to get out and about into our community, but we prayed… Thy Will be Done.

Growing

What we have seen is God building a ministry that is reaching out in ways we could not imagine in those early days.  This blog and my website – www.reachoutasc.com with resources that people can use is part of that, along with the Disability Network we have helped set up.  It seems like God’s intention has been for us to reach out to other churches and support them in their inclusive ministries…and there is more of that to come.

This summer God has been leading us to pray more and more about growing disciples.  We have high expectations of God’s Word in our Bible teaching, we share and teach the Gospel and spend much of our time helping our members understand God’s Word.  It is a joy to see how how members are growing in their knowledge and response to the Bible.

We already spend a good portion of our time sitting with our members individually and in small groups to talk with them about putting God’s word into practice in their lives.  We have prayed with them and taught them how to pray.  We listen to their problems and issues and help them apply God’s word to those.  We encourage those that are able, to read the Bible for themselves (the Prospects booklets have been helpful for this, especially as they also come in a CD version for those who can’t read – see below) So far, this has been our experience of growing disciples.

But a new hunger is welling up inside us to explore making disciples in a much deeper way.  I am currently chatting to our vicar about discipleship, and looking at how we can adapt and apply the principles and practices to our group.  We would like to start with some small group or 1:1 Bible study where the participants have more opportunity to contribute and do some self study.  The challenge is finding material that is either adaptable or has already been written with adults with learning disabilities in mind.  We have done some in the past, using a variety of resources.  One of these is the Easy English version of the Bible Click here to go to it, which is accessible online.  It has been really useful to us in preparing our weekly teaching sessions but most of our group do not have access to the internet and so it isn’t very accessible to them!  I’m quite excited about Biblical’s plant produce an accessible Bible, in partnership with Torch Trust, Prospects and Urban Saints and will be writing a blog post for them soon. You can see an article about it here…

Sending

This should be a natural extension of our discipling.  If we are growing strong, confident believers, then they should be able to go out and talk to others about Jesus, whether that is within the other church ministries, such as the children work, to the other residents and carers who share their homes, or actually getting involved in missions further afield.  This is something that will be wonderful to explore.  We have begun but there may be much more we can explore as we reach out, grow disciples and see where the Lord takes these wonderful people we have the privilege to be joined in faith with.  We don’t want to see their disability as a barrier or a limitation, but as a gift and opportunity to reach others for Jesus.

What are your experiences of growing and discipling children and adults with learning disabilities, or with autism?

Why volunteer – Day 1

  

2 Corinthians 8:23  Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)

Now about Titus—he is my partner. He is working together with me to help you. And about the other brothers—they are sent from the churches, and they bring honour to Christ.”  

The Team

That’s the first day done! I am relieved…have learned some things…and found it a fabulous experience.  I didn’t mess up my actions or speaking parts and watching the whole team doing their roles was like watching a ‘well-oiled machine’! I am a proud wearer of THE PURPLE SHIRT.

The purple polo shirt to identify us as Prospects volunteers

So here is the team I am working with…

There is Andrew, keeping us all on task (ish) and who has planned, organised and brought everything we could ever need (except arm bands) and has a plan for any eventuality. He’s like Doctor Who…I’m his assistant….

Liz, who sits majestically at the computer, all the pictures and song words coming up at the right time, in the right place. (And who courageously volunteered to do all the cutting out for tomorrow)

The music team – John, Janet, Agnes and Susan. wonderful sounds from keyboard, clarinet, saxophone and drums.  I particularly appreciate how John went at a pace slow enough for all the guests to keep up with the signing and singing. This is a really important and considerate aspect of making the worship accessible to all.

Karen, our signer.  She’s fascinating to watch and enabled those who couldn’t keep up with the verbal information and those who could not hear to access the meeting.  She even coped with my ad-libbing when I threw in some quick testimony!

Christine, Audrey, Nigel and Steven – the welcome and bookstall team.  I noticed that no-one came in without being warmly welcomed, old friends hugged and delighted in and people who were new to the meetings were looked after individually.

The lovely Anne who provides us with all the brews we need.  She is my hero after not being bothered at all that I’d asked for a China mug instead of a polystyrene cup because polystyrene goes through my teeth. She is the lady who draws a smiley face on the bottom of the [polystyrene] cups so you share a smile with those around you every time you lift up your cup to drink!

And finally there is Gill, who never stopped talking, supporting and helping anyone who needed it all through the session, and managed to be the official photographer as well.

The quote from 2 Corinthians 8 seems to illustrate just what is going on here. A variety of people, from different churches, with different skills, experiences but with one heart for people with learning disabilities to access the life God promises through Jesus.

All we want to do is bring honour to Christ…please pray that we will.

15 ways to include children and adults with additional needs in church.

It is a privilege to be asked for advice on what a church should do to include people with additional needs. To make them feel welcome, to make them be able to come along each week and it be a place of refuge and strength for them.  The thing is, our church, like most others, are learners…we haven’t got all the answers or got everything right, so I turned to the lovely people of the Additonal Needs Alliance and asked them what advice they would give. This, along with a couple of blogs I have read recently, has helped me put together this post.  So thanks to Beth, Mark, Ruth, Barbara-Anne, Anita, Fiona, Liz, Rachel and Bea!

  1. Have a designated person to oversee and coordinate the support and overall vision of the church for inclusion and practical implementation of support for people with additional needs. This is like a school has a SENCO.  Mark Arnold from Urban Saints made this point.  I agree, all churches should have a SENCO.
  2. Understand what having a child or adult with additional needs in your family is like. It is 24/7.  It is an abundance of love for them standing alongside constant care, worry, sleepless nights and fear for their future. Every day is full on, no day is the same and parents and carers never switch off. They often don’t look after themselves too well (they don’t have time) and often give more of themselves to help others who are carers too.  Sometimes they feel grumpy and can be short of patience with small minded things.   Often they are sleep deprived and coming to church is not a break or a rest. It can be a minefield of fear, anxiety and stress.
  3. Listen to parents and carers.  They know their child best.  They may not yet be experts on the child’s condition, but they are learning.  However, do not tell them what you know; as often what we know is a generalisation;  but ask them if you can learn alongside them.  Even though I am an autism specialist teacher, I will always ask a parent how autism looks in their child, because each autistic person is uniquely autistic.
  4. Listen to the child or adult with additional needs. They know themselves best. They know what they like and don’t like. If they cannot speak, spend time watching them and learning how they communicate.  Think highly of what they can understand and achieve.  They have gifts that the church can be blessed with.  Jesus has a place in his body for them too and it cannot function well without them.

  5. Don’t let your congregation judge. Don’t even let one little “tut” come out of anyone’s mouth! Parents and carers of people with additional needs get plenty of that out there, in society.  It has no place in Jesus’ church.
  6. When you have listened you can ask some practical and patient questions. What works for you?  What works at their school or daycare centre? Is there any of these things that we could do to make church better and easier?
  7. Do….The things you can from the answers above. One small thing can make a huge difference to the child or adult with additional needs and to their family or carers. When you’ve done one thing, don’t think you have done it and can ignore them from then on…do another thing…and another.
  8. Consider getting good training for church leaders.  (Everyone who leads or volunteers for anything!) Have speakers who have additional needs.  Keep talking about diversity and learn together.  Prospects, Through the Roof, Liveability, Torch Trust, and others can be found on the Churches for All website.  Urban Saints do a great training course called All Inclusive and is highly recommended.  All these will provide or find training for you.  The local special school may have some Christian staff who would be willing to help or do some training for you.
  9. Keep reviewing how you are supporting the child/adult and their family or carer. Ask them how you are doing. Ask the people they talk to, just in case you get “I’m fine”. We all know “I’m fine” doesn’t mean everything is ok, it often means ” I don’t want to make a fuss”.  Encourage them and a friend of theirs to be more honest.
  10. Set up some special activities that are preferred by the child / adult with additonal needs and for once in a while, get other children or adults to come alongside them in THEIR comfort zone.  So whether it be a child who loves Lego, (have a Sunday School session based on Lego once a month) or an adult who uses Makaton (let them sigh the Lord’s Prayer in the service) bring their interests and strengths into how we do church.
  11. Teach the congregation about Jesus’ love for all people.  Send them out to serve in daycare centres, do assemblies in special schools, visit people with additional needs in their homes or talk to families with additional needs in the supermarkets.  Bring children up in the church to stand up for those who have additional needs at school.  Show them how to approach and be friendly, make sure they know the names of any children with additional needs who come to church, however infrequently.  Tell them to smile and say hello, when they see them, and not to stare when they make noises or behave unexpectedly.
  12. Have high expectations of God and his word.  Find ways to open up the wonderful riches of the Bible. It may mean you do your weekly services a bit different. It may mean your preaching takes on a different style completely.  You may need to use differnt forms of communication, like pictures, or signing rather than just talking for 20 minutes or more. Maybe all the church could learn some basic Makaton or BSL signs.
  13. Celebrate the diversity of God’s family.  Watch and listen to people with additional needs and let them show us how they connect with God.  I want to tell you about Becky who uses a special computer with eye-gaze technology to communicate. She drew this picture of the Easter story    Becky's picture        And another little girl who has autism, who danced around the cross on Easter Day, making people experience her joy and abandonment.  I want to tell you about our adults with learning disabilities who pray for us, serve in the church and love Jesus.                                                                                                        IMG_0237
  14. Know it is God’s work to save.  Then pray, be mouldable and trust him.  A willing heart can be used by God.  He can change us to be his family together. Be willing.
  15. Finally (for now!) is to remember that you don’t need any qualifications or even experience with additional needs to be a church who makes people welcome and part of their congregation.  All Jesus asks us is to follow him and do the things he did.  I don’t remember him ever “tutting” at someone trying to come to him….do you?

This is just a guide and summary of all the great advice people who have additional needs or who have children with additional needs have given me over time. We have put as much as we can into practice in our church and are still very much a work in progress….like we all are.  I hope you find this useful and encouraging….let’s all work together and let Jesus build his church for all.

We’re Better Together

I am finally ready to admit something that really bugs me…

It’s that each time we have needed training or wanted to go to a conference to support the ministry we have at the Good News Group, it has been ‘down south’…

Now, this is not a gripe about my lovely friends or the amazing people who live and work south of, say, Cheshire, but it’s just that I’ve noticed that in the North West of England, we MUST have a wealth of experience, expertise and resources right here that we can and should be using to support one another.   I want to be able to build a hub of expertise, training and resources that we can call on locally and where people can visit each other’s churches easily and share good practice, or observe what is going on.

So that is why we are setting up the North West Disability Network.  We are going to be connected to and supported by lovely people from various charities that support inclusive church. The group is facilitated by Through the Roof and Tim Wood is coming up (from ‘down south’) to start us off.

So if you go to a church in Lancashire, or knows someone who does, please pass this on to them.  We will have a great morning at our first meeting. Some of the Good News Group are going to tell you how they learn about the Bible, and there will be tea and home made cakes as we work out how this Network can work best for us in Lancashire.  Whether you are a church leader, a Sunday School teacher, person with a disability or parent of a child with additional needs, everyone is welcome.

If you can let me know you’ll be coming, (you can use the contact form at the foot of this post) it will be helpful, otherwise, come anyway.  We’d love to meet you.  Don’t forget to look at http://www.reachoutasc.com/churches-organisations/links-and-resources for some great free resources too.

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Inclusion or separate provision?

image     image

I’m writing this from the Hand in Hand Conference in Eastbourne where I’ve come to deliver two sessions about making the Bible accessible for children with learning disabilties and autism in churches.

Someone asked the question, “Do we keep all the children together even if they don’t seem to be accessing what we are doing, or should we set up a special class?”  Someone else asked, “What do we do if a child needs a lower level of teaching and would access what they do in the younger class? Do we keep them with their peers or let them stay down?”

My initial response is to say that inclusion means having the same opportunities as everyone else.  It is better for social inclusion for a child with learning disabilities to be with their peers.  It is also good for the peers of the child with learning disabilties to learn how to build friendship and include those who may see and experience the world differently to them. Relationship is two-way. Relationship is sometimes not easy. Relationship may take some effort.  But relationships that are two-way, where both learn ways of building that friendship can be wonderful.  Children with learning disabilties and with autism need peers that can include them, and adults need to facilitate that.  Especially in the church.

However, sometimes the needs of the child are causing them to be overwhelmed and going into the group can just not be working.  It is them that sometimes taking them out of the group, working with them 1:1 or in a much smaller group can be helpful.  There should always be a plan of how to work towards getting that child back into the group.  Sometimes that means changing how the group is organised and what they do.  In the work I have done with autistic children in churches there are some simple things that have been really effective…

1.  Talk to the parents, ask them what their child likes and what works for them. Find out all the things the child likes.

2. An hours training about what autism/ learning disabilty is for adults involved.  (A similar session aimed at the children can be done as well)  Parents or the child’s teacher might do this for you.

3.  Simple visual structure so that they child knows what is happening and in what order. (A visual timetable)   Include some of their favourite activities and if you can find Bible related versions of these, great.  E.g. Bible jigsaws, the brick Bible Lego pictures.

4.  Look at simplified versions of the main teaching session. Think of one sentence you could focus on.  Use visual pictures to sequence a story.  Let them take home one sentence or Bible verse to focus on.

There are lots more things you can do.  I have put my Eastbourne slides and resource list on my website (www.reachoutasc.com) so do take a look under the “churches” tab.

The aim should be to establish what does work and them move it into the main group – and the peers of the child themselves should be involved in the inclusion.

I have pondered the same question with our adult group too.  Why have we set up a separate group in our church?  One of the reasons is that Sunday Church has been inaccessible for a lot of our group.  For many of the reasons I have discussed on this blog, there are language, sensory, physical and cognitive barriers in the main church service.

Our aim IS to have fully inclusive church, but just as there are midweek groups for ladies, men, the more mature, children’s groups and so on, the Good News Group is a focussed group where people with learning disabilties can come and meet other people like them, they can have teaching and nurturing that is built around their needs and where the pace and communication is tailored totally to being as accessible as it can be.  I can say that the Good News Group is fully church to me too. We work as a congregation, serving one another, finding our gifts and developing them and knowing one another so well that we carry each other’s burdens, pray and praise together.

We run our ‘service’ part of the evening like a regular church service.  We do this because ultimately we want to draw our members into the main church and allow them to feel familiar, comfortable and that they understand some of it.  Our church will need to play its part and be supportive and welcoming.  It is.  Our ministers preach with pictures to illustrate their sermons a lot of the time. This makes Sunday church more accessible for our members.  We have a long way to go but we are not saying “we can’t”.  We might say “We don’t know how?” but I think God can work with that.

The same is with your children with learning disabilties.  Work with them and their families to make them feel safe at church.  Then work to include them.  Then work to disciple them and show them that with God there are no limits. Remember all the other children need to be part of the inclusion process.

If you think you don’t know how, then that’s okay.  Just don’t say “we can’t”.

Remember what I said in my talk… “If children can’t learn the way we teach, then let us teach the way they learn.”

Access issues for the disabled at church

There is a reality in many of our churches – they are just not that physically accessible.  This is the entrance to our church…

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There’s another entrance, fortunately, but to get into the building, those who come in wheelchairs have to park on the church hall car park, come through the graveyard and be pushed up a wooden ramp into the  building. (A good path, lit and smooth has been laid but it’s not much fun on a dark and rainy night…especially one like last week with hailstorms).  Once inside we have only one toilet (it is disabled friendly) and from there in the building is level, we replaced the old pews with chairs a few years ago and so wheelchair users can sit wherever they like.

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You see, the word “CAN’T” is not allowed to be a barrier to people accessing the church.  On a Wednesday meeting at the Good News Group we may have up to nine people in wheelchairs joining us.  The co-ordination and effort put in by the people themselves, the team and the carers runs like a military operation.  I only realised this term as for a short time I seemed to be ‘in charge’ of making sure everyone got OUT of the building and to the right car, taxi or lift at the end of our meeting.  I can’t wait until Bob comes back, he’s much better at the job than me!

Our building is old. It is beautiful, historical and listed.  So we can’t put a ramp in by the front steps, apparently.  We’ve had to find creative ways of meeting legislation for access and making the building accessible to all.  It seems to work…even though we are aware that without all the help from others, our members who use a wheelchair might not get into church at all.

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The problem of old, inaccessible buildings is a a reality for many churches.  We have legislation to comply with but more than that we need to do all we can to make a church easily accessible for all. I’d rather tear down and rebuild a useless building…but that’s not always possible. (we had enough complaints when we took out the pews to put chairs in!)   The alternative is to do church in another place that is accessible.

Saying we “CAN’T” isn’t an option…not because of the law, but because church is a family of all believers, not just those who can get there up the steps…

You do not know the seeds you plant?

Leyland Band

    Leyland Brass Band were amazing last night. A world class brass band who happen to come from our town and doing a concert in our church. I never thought I would love brass bands so much, but then I never thought our 15 year old son would be playing trombone in another local brass band, either.
It was at primary school when a brass playing headteacher arranged for the whole year group to have free brass lessons for a year. The instruments were given out by size, so being one of the taller ones, our son got a trombone. A seed was planted that was watered and nurtured in him and still amazes us, his parents who are not musical at all.
The same sort of thing happened when I was a girl. It wasn’t music that someone planted into my life, but church. An elderly lady took my best friend to Sunday School with her every week. One week I was playing outside my house and she asked if I’d like to go too. Like the Pied Piper, she walked a long route to church, collecting various children, about 5 or 6 each week, and took them to church. None of our parents or siblings were interested in going and so, if she hadn’t have planted those seeds, I would have not have loved the Bible stories and Wesleyan hymns that still are the foundation of my faith.

‘My food,’ said Jesus, ‘is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, “It’s still four months until harvest”? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying “One sows and another reaps” is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labour.’ (‭John‬ ‭4‬:‭34-38‬ NIVUK)

spiritual-growth-header

In our ministry to adults with learning disabilities we planted cress seeds last week.  Some of the members came back this week very excited that their seeds were growing.  We want the seeds of the gospel to grow in their lives too.  We don’t always know what they already know.  Some have been to church with their families and tell us about their faith (such as Liz who wrote a blog post for us – https://includedbygrace.wordpress.com/2014/10/23/what-one-member-thinks-of-the-good-news-group/ )  Others are unable to tell us and others we know have never been to church before coming to our group.

A retired church leader once said to me “Why bother teaching the Bible to people with learning disabilities when they have the understanding of a three year old?” … after quickly composing myself, I forgave him his ignorance (we are all ignorant until God open’s our eyes) and talked to him about how this was a wrong assumption and asked him would he teach the Bible to a 3 year old.  He said yes, but not all of it as they couldn’t understand.  But for the fact that it is a completely wrong assumption, we talked about the power of God’s word and how we cannot limit it’s power by assuming someone can’t understand it.  It lead very well into the session I was delivering about how to communicate the Bible in accessible ways!!

We are farmers of God’s word, in this ministry and in all ministries.  We are sowing the seeds of the gospel to EVERYONE and we are harvesting the souls who receive it in faith.  But let’s not forget that God is the gardener, it is he who brings the water and the sunshine to nurture and grow those seeds and it not for us to exclude any people because we think they can’t understand it.   Let’s not be a barrier to God’s power and transforming Spirit. read this

I think we also need to be sowing lots of seeds to help others in the church understand that including people with learning disabilities in their fellowships is something they need to do, and have high expectations of how they can receive the gospel, be ministers of God’s grace and serve the church family just as we all can.   This is the purpose of this blog and why I’m so privileged to be involved with the Additional Needs Alliance, Prospects, Through the Roof, Urban Saints and Churches for All.  I’m privileged to speak about what we do, be interviewed and write about it…anything that will help and equip others to become involved in a fabulous, rewarding and amazing ministry.   I’m currently getting my talk together for the Additional Needs Alliance forum and Hand in Hand Conference in Eastbourne  http://www.handinhandconference.com/  and wondering if I can get one of our GNG puppets into my suitcase…

Me and a friend explaining the Bible to adults with learning disabilities

5 things to learn from the Parables

 

Singing and Signing "Come and join the celebration".

Singing and Signing “Come and join the celebration”.

The Good News Group’s Christmas service was amazing! We had lots of visitors and the members told the story of Jesus’s birth together, everyone doing their part so well. We were blessed to have the minister from our sister church at Buckshaw village, Who did a great talk linking it all together with the message that Jesus the baby grew to be the man who died for us on the cross….You should have been there!

This term we head back into the New Testament and are going to look at some parables we haven’t covered before, except one. As always we have chosen a main point for each session and all our teaching is about who Jesus is and why he came.

Jesus often used parables in his teaching. He taught them in a way which  people of the day could understand. Jesus used terms and pictures which his hearers would have been familiar with. His hearers would often be captivated by the parables and would then discover that they had been about themselves. So they are just as relevant to us today because they both reveal and conceal truths about God and ourselves. There are 5 sessions so, we are going to look at 5 parables. They are, THE SOWER, THE WICKED TENANTS, THE GOOD SAMARITAN, THE WEEDS, THE WEDDING FEAST.

Parables can be tricky for those of our group who only understand things literally. We also have members who can understand the meaning and will tell us what they think about it. By keeping things simple and direct, we are hoping that all our members and carers can understand the gospel. We want them to know they have a choice and that being accepted by God is as simple as accepting and believing his Son.  We will be using our usual communication approaches such as clear explanation, short sentences, repetition of key phrases, slower pacing, sensory engagement, signing and drama or puppets – not all at once of course!  So our 5 points are:

parable of the sower

  1. Jan 14th The Parable of the Sower (Mt 13:3-23)  Main Teaching Point: People treat the Good News of Jesus in different ways. 
  2. Jan21st The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Mt 21:33-41)   Main Teaching Point : We can’t share in God’s promises unless we obey Him.
  3. Jan 28th The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:30-37)   Main Teaching Point : Our love for God is shown by how we treat each other.
  4. Feb 4th The Parable of the Weeds (Mt 13:24-30 & 36-43)  Main Teaching Point : God will, one day separate the people of the world. 
  5. Feb 11th The Parable of the Wedding Feast (Mt 22:2-14)   Main Teaching Point : It’s foolish to refuse God’s invitation.

We are looking forward to this term and can’t wait to see our members after the 3 week break.

IN OTHER NEWS

On February 6th -8th I’m travelling all the way down to Eastbourne to speak about ways to make Bible stories and worship more accessible for children with disabilities.  This is at the kind invitation of Kay Morgan-Gurr and Mark Arnold who run the Additional Needs Alliance (join their page on Facebook – it’s great).  I’ve never seen my photo online as a conference speaker before and it all seems quite surreal – but I’m looking forward to the adventure (no least the actual travelling, and praying for no snow or delays!)

http://www.handinhandconference.com/conferences-training/2015-timetable/  – if you are there and have read my blog – please do come and say hello!

God Bless you

Lynn

Face to Face…

This week I’m very excited to have my first ever guest blogger!  Maureen Chapman has been commenting on my posts for some time and this week I challenged her to contribute from her own perspective as a deaf person.

deaf persons hand demonstrating

The challenges faced by the deaf and hard of hearing in both church situations and the wider society!

Believe me, they are many and frustrating too. So where to begin?

Deaf people are human beings, with just one part of their bodies not working properly.

Deaf people are not all the same. I will use mainly my own experiences here. You are face to face with me.

So who am I? In my seventies, ex mission nurse/midwife working in Nepal in the 1960‘s, married and with my husband, ex-hotelier and mini -market owner.

I was born into a deaf family, my father, his brothers, my own brother and his two daughters have all been deaf from birth. We have varying degrees of deafness, mine was slight as a child, and then nosedived when I reached my forties, partly due to Meniere‘s disease which destroys hearing.

Deafness is not just absence of sound, though some are born without any ability to hear and some completely lose any hearing they have for various reasons.

Most deaf folk do hear some sound, but what exactly do they hear? The times people have repeated something to me and then triumphantly said, well you heard that, so you are not deaf!

play piano

Think of a piano, the black and white keys each responsible for giving a particular sound. When all is in tune and played by a pianist, the music is great, moving engaging our emotions with joy and delight.

But now imagine a scenario of a piano where some keys don’t work at all, other keys give reduced sounds and more keys make distorted, out of tune, noises. The result when a pianist tries to play would definitely not be sweet music.

Or perhaps you are familiar with people getting agitated while using a mobile phone and the signal fails. ‘Its breaking up, I can’t hear you are you still there?’

Or perhaps you are familiar with the kind of quiz where you have to identify words, which have no vowels eg c–c- -t- f-s- what does that phrase mean? (catch the fish)

That’s how I hear. People become impatient with me because I am slow to respond, but my brain is working overtime trying to fill in the gaps, make sense of a gobbly-de-gook mish-mash of noises and come up with a sensible answer. When I get it wrong, I am judged as stupid, not suitable, a person the be side-lined. ‘Oh it doesn’t matter,’ they say and move on without me. It hurts.

Deafness is a hidden, invisible disability. Couple that with poor or limited sight and the problems pile up.

Deaf people live with this problem all the time, and the concentration needed to interpret what they are mis-hearing is intense. That’s why many of us have scowly faces! We are concentrating so hard we forget to smile and laugh.

Face to face is essential. We ‘hear’ through lip-reading, watching the body language and the unconscious signals people make as they talk. If I can’t see, I can’t hear.

Phone. The first point of contact with most authorities such as banks, the doctor’s surgery, making appointments etc is by phone. What if you can’t use a phone? I can’t.

A friend of mine, called Joanna, recently gave birth to a baby girl, who needed her first heart operation at the age of 3 weeks. The first four months were spent in hospital. Then the great day, take the baby home! But Joanna is profoundly deaf, and has a cochlear implant. She left hospital with needing to make 9 appointments with hospitals/medical workers in London, Bristol and the West Country where she lives, for the baby. Every appointment needed phone calls. Why could not a ‘helper’ come alongside her and help with such vital phone calls? Why expect her to hear over the phone when she can’t? Would you expect a blind person to read forms and fill them in? Would you expect a paralysed person to walk somewhere?

So face to face is vital for clear communication. Friendship is even better. Understanding is like pure gold.

woman-cant-hear-her-phone

About Maureen Chapman

I officially became a Christian at a Billy Graham rally at Wembley Stadium in the 1950’s, but with hindsight, I think I came to faith as a small child.

At the age of 5 I told my teacher I wanted to become a missionary, and I did become one, a nurse/midwife serving 4 years in Nepal in the 1960’s despite my mild deafness as it was then.I passed my language exams in Nepalese.

I have always seen God as my father and friend. He has never let me down. Even now, at my age, he is more real to me every day.

The church I attend now in the Swansea Valley, is very much a mission minded church, with lots of young people and contacts world-wide.

I hope you enjoyed this post from Maureen.  It is a useful reminder to me to think about my friends and family members who have trouble hearing.  Not to be impatient with them and to understand how much being face to face with them will help us both have a great time of communication.  Thank you Maureen x

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