Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

Posts tagged ‘#adultswithLD’

Training the Team and a building a local Network

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It’s half term….phew! Well I used to think that when I was a teacher in school.  Although when my children were growing up it always felt like a busmans holiday, I’d still be surrounded by little ones demanding very minute of my time and who wanted entertaining.  In truth, I loved those weeks where we could go and learn through visiting museums, walks and journeying to anywhere we could get to on a train.  Have-railcard-will-travel.

A break and time to be refreshed is why we keep to term times at the Good News Group. It may seem strange when none of our members go to schools any more, but we have found that the break does help us all.  Some members do get a little anxious and need to know exactly how long it will be before the group starts again,  that is easily dealt with.  We give plenty of notice and visual or written reminders and each house gets a letter reminding them of the date we return.  These measures may seem simple but are vital to our group, many of whom are cared for in community homes, with a rota of carers and everyone needs to know what is happening and when.

Another reason we take a break is to look after the team of people who volunteer every week to support and teach at the Good News Group.  The first week of each new term we have a team meeting and along with prayer, sharing a meal together and planning all the practical things that help the weekly meetings go so smoothly (well, usually they go smoothly!) we get to learn about our members and share how best to support them.

This year our team asked if they could have some training about the different conditions that our members have.  So, I have trawled through the people I know and found some that will talk to us for an hour.  I started us off with a session about autism and the next session is about deafness.  After that I have lined up talks about Down’s Syndrome and Cerebral Palsy.  I am also talking to some of our members about their conditions and asking if they’d like to tell us about it. One or two have said they would but others have given permission for me to pass on what they have told me.

I think that training is really important and helpful in any ministry with people with disabilities.  I do believe in listening to the people who we are ministering with and learning about their abilities as well as their difficulties.  It is also helpful to have a wider overview of a condition.  We’ve had training in the past from http://www.prospects.org.uk which has been great and we highly recommend it.

We are also looking at what we can access locally.  This is a project I am starting, to build up a directory of people and organisations in our area that can offer training to church groups like ours.  We are partnering with http://www.throughtheroof.org to set up a North West Disability Network to try and bring people involved in supporting people with disabilties and people who are disabled together.  We want to see how we can encourage, support, share and build good inclusive ministries in the North West of England.

If you live in this area please consider joining this Network.  Our first meeting will be on the 25th of April 2015.  I will be putting a flyer on this and other sites as soon as they are ready, and you can also get in touch with me on Twitter @includedbygrace  or on my website  www.reachoutasc.com/churches. (The links and resources from my talk in Eastbourne last weekend are on the website too)

Consider the history of people with learning disabilities in discipling them

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Did you watch “Call the Midwife” over the Christmas break?  For those of you who didn’t, it’s a drama set in the 1950s and 60s about midwives in the East End of London.  This Christmas episode focussed on a group of unmarried mothers in a mother and baby ‘home’.  It was a bit (well, a lot) sanitised in the programme but reminded me of the way unmarried and pregnant girls used to be treated.  Their babies were often taken from them (whether they wanted it or not) and we can only imagine the effect on a whole hidden layer of our society – the mothers and the children, still alive and whose lives were forever changed by the decisions that were made.

My own grandmother was an unmarried mother in the 1930s. She had a terrible time as the family outcast, but the kindness of her sister and later reconciliation with her parents enabled her to bring up my dad as a single mum.  No wonder she was always such a fiercely determined woman!  Yes, things changed in society in the 1960s and 1970s but there are centuries of ill treatment and children being abandoned to overcome.  History is full of the illegitimate children of kings, but so many ordinary people must have been in the same situation, outcasts from the start.

The same attitudes went for those who were born with disabilities.  So many were outcasts and later in history shut away in large institutions. Some families bravely kept them at home, but education and employment were hardly options for these children.  Education and inclusion for people with learning disabilities, is a rather new concept.  In history we read about the ‘village idiot’ and the Victorian ‘asylums’, of homeless and neglected people with little opportunity in life but to rely on the charity of others.  Life expectancy was low for many people with learning and other disabilities.

Are you glad that you live in these times.  We have an imperfect but much improved education system.  It is enshrined in law that a broad and balanced education is a right for all.  We have social and national health services and community living.  There are some opportunities for employment.   Oh yes…there is far to go and much to complain about…but what if we start from a place of gratitude.  What we do have is a blessing and we can build upon the work of others and make it better in the future.

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In our churches, communities and towns are people with disabilities in their 40s, 50s, 60s and older who were born and raised when times were very different. In our group we have at least one person who grew up in a large institution… a large ‘metal’ hospital.  (As it was known). Now living in the community and well integrated into ordinary life, it is easy to forget how this early experience might have shaped his life.  Do we take the time to ask sensitively about the early lives of the people with learning and other disabilities in our churches?  it is easy to assume that they had schooling and support when they were younger…and maybe they did…but asking them about it might reveal some very interesting insights into the way they have been treated and brought up.  And be careful…we need to be very sensitive to safeguarding and respecting privacy.  Did you know that if an adult with disabilities reveals abuse or accusation to you, then it is their right to report it OR NOT?  This is the difference between adults and children, even if they are vulnerable.  I can cover this issue in another post if people are interested.

If we are to minister to the whole person and disciple them, then we do need to be aware of where they have come from.  I know from my own experience how Jesus ministers to the deepest and most vulnerable parts and heals what has hurt me or made me think wrongly.   People who have learning disabilities and maybe don’t have the words to say or work out what they need healing for, may be able to tell you about their childhood or early experiences.  A parent or carer may know some things that can help.  Then we must pray.  Only Jesus can tell us where to be sensitive and where to challenge.  Only Jesus knows each of us and all we have been through.  He knows what has shaped us for good or ill, and can heal….oh…he can heal…and make us whole in spirit.   It is how we are disciple and how we grow.  Praise God that none of us are different or excluded from this.

A Living Hope – 1 Peter 1:3-9

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God has great mercy, and because of his mercy he gave us a new life. This new life brings us a living hope through Jesus Christ’s resurrection from death. Now we wait to receive the blessings God has for his children. These blessings are kept for you in heaven. They cannot be ruined or be destroyed or lose their beauty.

God’s power protects you through your faith, and it keeps you safe until your salvation comes. That salvation is ready to be given to you at the end of time. I know the thought of that is exciting, even if you must suffer through different kinds of troubles for a short time now. These troubles test your faith and prove that it is pure. And such faith is worth more than gold. Gold can be proved to be pure by fire, but gold will ruin. When your faith is proven to be pure, the result will be praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ comes.

You have not seen Christ, but still you love him. You can’t see him now, but you believe in him. You are filled with a wonderful and heavenly joy that cannot be explained. Your faith has a goal, and you are reaching that goal—your salvation.

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News and Dreams!

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“Nothing about me without me…”

It’s something we really believe in our ministry with adults with learning disabilities.  As we get asked to speak and share what we do, here and there, we try at all times to make sure that a mixture of our members who have learning disabilities have the chance to come along and share in what we do.  We are a team.

However, my trip to London this weekend sees me travelling on my own.  Mostly due to logistics such as time and cost.  I have been very blessed with gifts that have covered most of my costs and a lovely new dress I found in a local charity shop!! Don’t tell anyone – it’s purple (my favourite colour) and lovely!

On Saturday morning I’m going to be one of the people interviewed about disability and the church on Premier Gospel’s Family Hour.  Here’s the link if you want to listen http://www.premiergospel.org.uk/shows/29  I’m so nervous and am hoping people understand my northern accent…I don’t have a posh version!

Then the afternoon will be spent at the Christian New Media Conference  http://www.newmediacentreofexcellence.org.uk/cnmac/conference ….and then… the awards evening.  Lots of people have asked me if I’ve prepared an acceptance speech, but I haven’t.  I’m really not expecting to win, but I might need to think of what I might say? Just in case?

Other events

Three of us from the Good News Group, including a lovely young woman who has Asperger’s Syndrome and loves to help people understand how disabled people can do anything other people can do, went down to Walsall this week.  We did a short presentation as part of the Churches for All training course http://www.throughtheroof.org/enabling-church-training-course/ and had the pleasure of learning from the other presenters there too.  We concentrated on showing as well as telling the participants how we make the Bible accessible to adults with learning disabilities.

Dreams and Ambitions

We can be very motivated when we have a dream.  I have had many dreams in my life but at the moment I am trying to work out which are my dreams and which are God’s.  The truth is only HIS dreams will be the right ones and often they don’t come easy.  What seems exciting on the outside can be risky, challenging and cause difficulties in other areas that we may not anticipate.  It is easy to make a dream our idol, focussing on that rather than the author of the dream.   We should keep in mind how many unlikely people God used to fulfil his plans in the old and new testaments and throughout history.  It is more likely that God will use one of the disabled people from our group to reach out, touch the hearts of others and complete God’s plans, rather than me or any other of the leaders.  That is why as a team, we are committed to prayer and looking out for the gifts and dreams of our group members so we can allow and help God’s plans rather than hinder them.

If you are a member of a church that does not yet include people with learning disabilities – thank you for even reading this blog and please do look at some other posts I have written to see what else I have to say.  I want to encourage you to dream.  A church with the whole body complete – a place that includes ALL people is God’s dream. If he has shared that dream with you – be honoured and humbled – and pray it into being.  Trust him and seek him, so that you will not be surprised who and what he uses to bring that dream into fruition.  Try not to use the word ‘BUT…’

God Bless you and do get in touch if you need help or support http://www.includedbygrace@talktalk.net

 

We’re in Christianity Magazine!

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We are very excited. The buzz of anticipation has been growing for weeks as we knew it was going to happen! And today it did!
Back in February, Sarah Lothian, journalist and writer, travelled up to attend one of our Good News Group http://wp.me/P2MVJu-6n meetings and interviewed some of our members and serving team.
And now, in the August edition, her 1000 words about our ministry has finally appeared and we couldn’t be more pleased. You can find it here…http://www.premierchristianity.com/Current-Issue

So if you have read this and decided to investigate the link to this blog here are some of my favourite posts that I think give an overview of our passion to teach the Bible to adults with learning disabilities well, to build our members up as disciples of Jesus and contributors to the body of Christ and to deal with some of the difficult issues that this and any ministry might come across.

You can get in touch with comments and questions at includedbygrace@talktalk.net

  1.  _45233302_f238da6b-d622-47fe-9753-72aba54ab2c3I did a series of posts about the different BARRIERS people with learning disabilities can face    “Barriers” http://wp.me/s2MVJu-barriers  “Barriers 2” http://wp.me/p2MVJu-4t  “Barriers 3” http://wp.me/p2MVJu-4C  “Barriers 4”  http://wp.me/p2MVJu-4H  “Barriers 5”  http://wp.me/p2MVJu-8I
  2. IMG_0223 This lead to a couple of posts about how we can communicate well to people with learning disabilities: “A model of God’s communication” http://wp.me/p2MVJu-4U , “Explaining ‘sin'” http://wp.me/p2MVJu-8y
  3. IMG_0214 I’ve done some posts about our teaching the Bible sessions and topics.  From creation to revelation we don’t want to leave out any part of the word (although we haven’t got through all of it yet!!!!)  Judges: http://wp.me/p2MVJu-80  Creation: http://wp.me/p2MVJu-8q  Christmas: http://wp.me/p2MVJu-mb  Noah to Jesus: http://wp.me/p2MVJu-ok  Peter: http://wp.me/p2MVJu-p1
  4. MP900390083 These post cover some of the issues we’ve had to deal with such as discipling, prayer life and discord: “Washing up and a one-legged puppet”  http://wp.me/p2MVJu-bC  “Enabling PLD to be active in prayer”  http://wp.me/p2MVJu-8b  “Age-Appropriateness” http://wp.me/p2MVJu-5e   “Adult’s behaving badly”  http://wp.me/p2MVJu-mD  “Whose choice is it?” http://wp.me/p2MVJu-oP
  5. gold-panning I write a lot.  Here are some articles and stories I have written… “Life’s not fair…Ecclesiastes and Wisdom”  http://wp.me/p2MVJu-p8  “Panning for Gold and being honest with God” http://wp.me/p2MVJu-oF  and finally my short story,  “She danced for Him.”  http://wp.me/p2MVJu-m6

Do take the time to look at some of these, make comments and please do return.  We’d love comments about the article and to know about your stories of working with people with learning disabilities in church too!   We are putting together our teaching materials to publish and share with others so if you are interested in learning about these, get in touch.

God bless you all.

Rejoice in the Lord, good people!
    It is only right for good people to praise him.
Play the lyre and praise the Lord.
    Play the ten-stringed harp for him.
Sing a new song[a] to him.
    Play it well and sing it loud!
The Lord’s word is true,
    and he is faithful in everything he does.
He loves goodness and justice.
    The Lord’s faithful love fills the earth.
The Lord spoke the command, and the world was made.
    The breath from his mouth created everything in the heavens.
He gathered together the water of the sea.
    He put the ocean in its place.
Everyone on earth should fear and respect the Lord.
    All the people in the world should fear him,
because when he speaks, things happen.
    And if he says, “Stop!”—then it stops.[b]
10 The Lord can ruin every decision the nations make.
    He can spoil all their plans.
11 But the Lord’s decisions are good forever.
    His plans are good for generation after generation.
12 Great blessings belong to those who have the Lord as their God!
    He chose them to be his own special people.
13 The Lord looked down from heaven
    and saw all the people.
14 From his high throne he looked down
    at all the people living on earth.
15 He created every person’s mind,
    and he knows what each one is doing.
16 A king is not saved by the power of his army.
    A soldier does not survive by his own great strength.
17 Horses don’t really bring victory in war.
    Their strength cannot help you escape.
18 The Lord watches over his followers,
    those who wait for him to show his faithful love.
19 He saves them from death.
    He gives them strength when they are hungry.
20 So we will wait for the Lord.
    He helps us and protects us.
21 He makes us happy.
    We trust his holy name.
22 Lord, we worship you,
    so show your great love for us.

Psalm 33 – Easy English Version    https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=psalm+33&version=ERV

All about Peter.

I’ve been eager to tell you about our teaching programme this term as we are having fun learning about different characteristics of being a Christian through the life of Peter, Jesus’ friend.

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Week 1
The first week we looked at ‘humility’ through the story of Jesus washing his disciples feet and examining Peter’s reaction. We had fun washing some feet and Bob asking us if we’d be humble enough to give someone our last Rolo!

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Week 2
The next week Gill invited us all to be on Team Jesus (well it was the start of the world cup!) We listened to what loyalty meant as we dramatised Peter’s denial of Jesus. We learned about Jesus’ forgiveness and love when we let him down. This was through learning about how Peter was able to affirm his love for Jesus 3 times.

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Week 3
This week Dave invited us to see how we can trust Jesus because he does what he promises. Peter found out that he could trust Jesus when he rose from the dead and saw him, spent time with him and ate with him. We know we can trust Jesus because he keeps his promises.  Peter visited us with his friend Mary (puppets) to tell us the tale.

IMG_0356(Our puppeteer aprentice and me!)
A prayer a day
We have put together a pray sheet of 7 prayers for our group – a prayer for every day of the week. A simple and symbol supported sheet has been given to every one of our members and a copy emailed to L who is blind so she can ‘read’ it on her speaking computer. Prayer is central to all we do at the Good News Group and we encourage and practice prayer with our members every week. I LOVE the way more and more of them are contributing through vocalisations, amen’s, choosing symbols and speaking their own prayers.

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Three more weeks to go about Peter and my teaching session is the last week – better get on with my preparation…

Whose choice is it?

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As a church group for Adults with Learning disabilities, the Good News Group includes a wide variety of members like any other church congregation. Some of our members come to us independently, some have lifts and others are totally reliant on the carers who are employed to look after them to bring them along.

I have been looking around at the various Disability legislation, Human Rights Acts, reports, studies and recommendations about the right to have a spiritual life. There is very little explicitly said and it is an on-going search so I won’t be quoting legislation here, but it IS a right and a choice that all people with disabilities should have and those who look after them should give them choices to exercise that right.

I am writing about this now because in the past we have had members of our group stop coming. As we investigated we have got the impression that a change of carers seem to be a frequent factor in the decision not to come to church.  Now, I cannot get solid evidence but maybe you who read this might have something to add.  I just find it curious that a change of staff can suddenly see the person with disabilities changing their mind about wanting to come to church and have a spiritual life that is connected to learning about the Bible and faith in Jesus.

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I have found that there seems to be a distinct lack of training for care staff about the spiritual needs and choices for people with disabilities…and those who are non-verbal, physically dependent on those who do care for them, then having that choice and acting on it is reliant on the carer being willing to go along with them.  Here’s one report I am looking at…

Claire Wilson, (2011) “Is there a case for community learning disability teams considering the spiritual needs of people with learning disabilities?”, Tizard Learning Disability Review, Vol. 16 Iss: 3, pp.31 – 40

Purpose – National guidance in Scotland says that spirituality is part of healthcare. This paper aims to review some of the evidence that this is a relevant but neglected topic across the lifespan for people with a learning disability (PLD) and their families, rarely addressed by healthcare professionals.

Findings – There was qualified support for the first and third questions and little awareness of any training for health staff on spiritual matters.

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I love the carers who do come to our meetings. They are focussed on the needs of the people they are caring for, and do recognise the right for them to have a spiritual life.  They help them respond to our activities and some have been quite honest in the fact that they don’t share our beliefs, whilst others have responded to the gospel while they have been part of our group!

As followers of Jesus we are charged to spread the gospel.  I have been challenged for some time to look beyond the walls of the church and explore where Jesus might want us to go…reaching out to those who are not aware of the choice they have to have a spiritual life, to know Jesus and choose to follow him.  It depends on people like us getting out there, communicating, going to the places where Jesus would send us.  I am glad there are others with the same desire…and excited that many of them have disabilities themselves and want to share their faith with others, with anyone who will listen.

I’m just not sure where to begin and how I’m going to get there…but I know God does!

 

Having choice was felt to be important because it helped improve health, maintain independence and retain chosen identities. However, exercising choice was meaningful only if available options met individual preferences and people had access to relevant information; accepting the ‘least bad’ option did not feel like a ‘real’ choice. In practice, most participants thought their desired options were either limited or not available. 

Click to access 2011-04June.pdf

 

 

From Noah to Jesus

This is our puppet stage for our Noah series – thanks to Bob and Amanda for their creative work!

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At the Good News Group we want to help our members understand that the whole Bible leads us to Jesus and this term we have been studying Noah. It being a short half term of 4 sessions the story of Noah just happens to take up 4 chapters of Genesis…so that was helpful – one chapter a week!

As usual we tell each part of the story in different ways so that the wide variety of people we have coming to our group can hopefully access the story on a level that is appropriate for them. Again, pictures, Makaton, sensory experiences and objects, repetition, simple and clear verbal language, puppets and drama have been used. Here are some pictures…

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We have been through the story and not shied away from the harsh facts of people’s SIN (ignoring God) caused God to want to destroy them. I think our group are getting used to the concept of SIN (and GRACE!) as we tell the gospel through all our teaching – not to make them feel dammed – but to explain that we cannot earn our approval from God…and that wonderful glorious gift of GRACE that came through Jesus.

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Just before Easter as our teaching on the Easter story came to a close we set up a way for our members to respond to the gospel. This is not easy when we don’t know what our members understand but we trust the Holy Spirit to do His work and want to give a clear opportunity for everyone to come forward and receive Jesus as their saviour.

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We use a set of dark and white cloths. The dark cloth represents our living in darkness when our SIN means we ignore and say ‘no’ to God. Each person is offered one of these (with added visual symbols to help them remember what it means) and then invited to come to the cross and exchange it for a white cloth which represents our SINS being forgiven and forgotten. We pray with our members in small groups or individually and always respect their choice of whether to respond or not. We tell them that a Christian is someone who has said ‘YES’ to God and believed in his son Jesus.

Like all analogies this isn’t perfect, perhaps a bit messy, but it is about empowering our members (and their carers) to make a decision about whether they want to be a Jesus follower or not. We cannot make that decision for them but are endevouring to present the Gospel in a way that they can understand and respond to if they wish.  (And many of them have…)

 

Just do something…

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Hello Faithful blog readers and new-to-this-blog visitors.

I have been thinking about who you might be, apart from comments, me reading your blogs or if I know you on another media there are very few clues as to who you are.

All I hope is that the insights, thoughts and advice I can share will help someone somewhere feel more confident and able to reach out to people with learning disabilities in their life and church.

Have you ever taken time out of your busy life just to reflect, pray and contemplate with God?  Was it last week, or last year, or even years ago?  There is great value in doing this but then there is the hurdle of actually doing it – organising work, family, life – to make a bit of space for you…and then we feel guilty.

But we mustn’t feel guilty…

This week I have made some space to reflect, seek God and to chat to people I trust about trying new things, dealing with hurdles and what seem to be huge mountains in the inclusion of people with learning disabilities in our churches.  I am fortunate to have two very supportive leaders at church who both are very encouraging, willing and wise in working towards a more inclusive church.  Both realise that we have a long way to go and both realise how far we have come.

The conclusion I have drawn from their wisdom is that we must not give into fear.  When we don’t know what to do, fear can imprison us and we end up doing nothing. Therefore as one of them so wisely put it ‘what ever we do will be something this time next year we weren’t doing already.’

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So my plea and encouragement to you is to just do something…anything…that makes a small faltering step forward. And here are just a few suggestions…

  • Say hello, introduce yourself and ask their name to someone who has learning disabilities in your church, supermarket, street, any place.  Adult or child. Then pray for them.
  • Offer to do something practical at a group for people with learning disabilities – make the tea, clean up, put the tables out…anything really that helps and gives you chance to acclimatise to being around people with learning disabilities. you can then watch how others speak and interact with them and learn from their example.
  • Meet with parents of a child with additional needs for a tea and cake session.  Just listen and maybe ask them what THEY would like you to know and how could you pray for them. Then keep in touch and do what you promised – pray!
  • Ask God to take away your fear and bring opportunities to try out the new courage he gives you…
  • If you are a church or Sunday School leader use more visual images, slow down, break things into chunks and use objects that stimulate the senses.  You’d be surprised at how many more people would engage with your talks – not just PLD!
  • Think of where you’d like to be, what you’d like to be able to see in your church or group to make it inclusive. See it as a step on a tall staircase and then step onto the first step no-matter how far away the goal seems to be.

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  • Don’t think you are alone. We Are the Body of Christ and we were meant to work together. Network via social media, blogs and other people in your church, diocese, look at inclusive church websites and email them for a chat…I would support, help and encourage any of you and I know many others would too – just look at some of the people and organisations I have linked up with below.

Finally – who are you?  What are you doing reading this blog?  What are your simple ideas that would help others JUST DO SOMETHING?

My networks:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/additionalneedsalliance/  – you can apply to join this group – so many great people to connect and share with.

http://www.prospects.org.uk/index.php/whatwedo/2/7  – a charity our Good News Group is supported by.

http://www.throughtheroof.org/ourprogramme/churches-inc  – lots of good resources and is developing regional networks.

http://www.careforthefamily.org.uk/Family+life/parent-support/parenting_additional_challenges/additional_needs_support – just full of care!

http://musingsofakidsworker.blogspot.co.uk – Kay’s blog which is very informative.

http://www.snappin.org/   and their blog (do sign up for by email – daily encouragement!)  http://www.snappin.org/#!blogger-feed/cund  An American Special Needs Ministry that is amazing.

http://www.acceptrespectconnect.co.uk/  – just look at what they do!

 

 

 

 

High Expectations

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“Disabled people are not incomplete examples of so called “normal” humanity but complete persons before God. Their impairments and disabilities are part of their human identity…God has called each of us into being. None of us is a surprise or an accident or a mistake and certainly not an embarrassment to God. He has called us into being and each one of us has a vocation.”
Bob Brooke p28 in “Enabling Church” by Gordon Temple and Lin Ball (2012)

What do you really think of people with disabilities? Are they people we care for or minister to? Are they numbered amongst your friends or in your family? Do you see having to make accommodations for them as a chore? Are they a part of the church that can’t serve but need people to serve them? Are they receivers rather than givers?

The language we use about people with learning and other disabilities in society and in our churches reflects and informs our attitudes. Currently there is a new Children and Families Act going through parliament which sets out a new SEN code of practice. It is all about meeting the needs and providing the services children with SEN and disabilities need from others. The media has been full of negative reports concerning the assessment of people’s disabilities for benefits and whether they deserve housing benefit if they have a room in their house that is necessary or not. Attitudes, comments and beliefs that inform people’s view of people with disabilities are becoming more negative…so much that I wonder what happened to all the positives of the 2012 paralympics.

The Bible states:
“For it was you who formed my inward parts;
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
That I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
When I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes looked upon my unformed body.
In your book was written
all the days that were formed for me,
When none of them as yet existed.”
Psalm 139 verses 13-16

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.”
2 Corinthians verses 4-7

An inclusive church is one that sees each person as having equal worth and as having something to contribute. The trouble is that we often deliver a ‘one-size-fits-all package that means that some people are excluded. We use complicated language, we ask people to stand to sing, we ask people to serve and then expect them to do it in a way that lives up to someone else’s strict expectations. This leaves many people feeling a failure in the church, not just those with disabilities. Only this week I was speaking to a friend who is a new Christian. She has joined a good church but already finds the language and expectations confusing. How can we talk about a God of grace when they are trying to fit people into a mould she doesn’t understand, or feel that she can never fit into?

We are trying to address this at our Good News Group. First we have to establish a right attitude…God loves us all equally. We are all his children and all have a purpose in his plans. We can all receive and serve.

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In reality it means flexibility….In how we do things and expect things to be done and in how we teach the Bible.
In how we do things we have to look for ways the people with disabilities can use their interests, gifts and willingness to serve the group and the wider church. Therefore we started asking for volunteers to do many of the weekly ‘jobs’ that enable us to function. It has been very successful in that the team feel less pressured and have more time to build relationships with the group, some things are done slower or differently but they get done with a sense of achievement we can all appreciate. The members of the group are active and not passive and are learning new skills. There is a greater sense of ‘oneness’ in the group rather than ‘us and them’ and it is beginning to feel more like the kind of ‘real’ church we see the Bible asking us to be. We are looking to find ways in which the members can be involved in contributing to the leadership of the group. We already seek their views and take on their ideas but how about seeking to find those with leadership potential and giving them a place and voice on the leadership team?

In teaching the Bible the early leaders made a declaration not to treat these people like children but to aim to give them access to the Bible as adults. This is what I first admired about the group when I joined. The challenges have been that those preaching have had to learn new ways of communicating and making that teaching accessible. We have had to learn about our members and how they learn. We watch their responses and reflect on what works well and what doesn’t. We bought a symbol package, learned Makaton and puppeteering, and found sources of good pictures that weren’t childish. We learned to explain complicated and academic words clearly and step by step. We learned how to address challenging concepts such as sin, salvation and reconciliation. We explore the old and new testaments and don’t rule any part of the Bible out because it is unpalatable. We have learned to see Jesus in the whole Bible and help our members see Him too.
I have been delighted and amazed at the response to our Bible teaching but I know we cannot rest…

Where we in our group have high expectations of what our members can do and can access in terms of understanding the Bible, we know this is a small and insignificant part of the whole church in this country. I long to take what we have learned and talk and equip other churches to see how people with disabilities can make the body of Christ whole. So many churches are lacking because they don’t have people with disabilities or if they do, don’t know how to really include them. Those of us who do must speak up more and reach out. We should be sharing and challenging and equipping others to be inclusive church. I long to see a shift and change that moves us away from rituals and specific ways of doing things and instead be real families that love and serve Christ Jesus our Lord.

Thanks to those who are already doing this – I know some of you and you inspire and encourage us all at GNG and me personally. Here’s a great resource to start you off:

Click to access Life-to-the-Full-Church-resource-booklet1.pdf

Please do comment –  I love it when you do  🙂

ASC? What’s that?

This is the most common question I have been asked since setting up my own freelance specialist support service. At first I thought “Oh no! Maybe I should have called myself something else so people won’t be confused?”

But actually, that question has led me to have some great conversations with people.  I have been able to tell them about Autism Spectrum CONDITION, (ASC) and why I have chosen to use this definition over the word ‘disorder’ or even ‘disability’.  I was even blessed enough to then outline my service and my vision for supporting, training, advising and making resources for all kinds of organisations and individuals so that they can include and support someone on the autism spectrum in what they do.

So…here I am. Newbie business woman as from Jan 1st 2014! And here’s my logo!

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I had to think of a name to work under and choosing one is not as easy as you think.  However, I do go on the premise that simplicity is best (and the ‘Ronseal’ principle of it does what it says on the tin!) and chose REACHOUT ASC as my name.  That’s what I want to do…reach out and help people understand ASC.  And this will definitely include churches, so if you want training, help and support for your church do get in touch. There will be links, events and resources that I will post on my blog in the future so do look out for them.

Starting up on your own is a bit like stepping off a cliff and hoping someone might catch you…

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As a person who has faith in Jesus Christ, I am expecting Him to catch me and take me where he leads.  Now that is scary but gives me a real positive outlook on everything (including my car dying in the first week of business!) and tons of hope for the future. I know he will be there when things go wrong, work is slow to come in, I get lots of work and need wisdom to make decisions, say the right advice and support children and adults at very vulnerable and difficult times.  I day this because all through my Christian life (and even before this – when I didn’t realise at the time) Jesus has been faithful.  I have grown so much as a person through the most difficult times and will always trust him because he has proved so many times that he is who he says he is.

And for those of you who read A Bigger Vision wall http://wp.me/p2MVJu-a4 and Running away – God and Elijah  http://wp.me/p2MVJu-bY posts thank you for your prayers, they have helped me take this leap and realise I wasn’t running away from but to something. I really appreciate strangers who care enough to pray. God Bless you.

Good News Group News

For those who want to know – Good News Group starts back up again this Wednesday (15th January).  See main page for times and structure. https://includedbygrace.wordpress.com/the-good-news-group-2/

This term we are learning about Saul’s conversion and his life as Paul, preacher to the gentiles. We are learning how it wasn’t always easy, sometimes dangerous, often turned out very differently to what he expected and sometimes amazing.

Through all this Paul is a person we can look up to. He was humble, fiercely passionate about the gospel, always prayed for others and never gave up, no matter what happened.

I’m looking forward to learning about him too!

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