Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

Posts tagged ‘#adultswithLD’

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!

 

 

 

 

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High Expectations

inclusive church
“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:
http://www.livability.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/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!

Angel Messages

d0066The first thing I love after a break from Good News Group is the greetings I get as I walk through the door. After a long day at work and a staff meeting I rush to church to stumble in with my bag of admin and resources…to a warm and wonderful welcome from our group members. No matter how stressful the day – two minutes after arriving at Good News Group I feel like I’ve been sat in a large armchair and given a hot mug of tea and a soothing shoulder massage…

This term everyone is gearing up for Christmas. We have decided to look at John the Baptist and how God gave the message loud and clear…JESUS IS COMING!

IMG-20131112-00849I think I got the easiest week to deliver…How the angel Gabriel came to deliver the messages of the birth of John to Zechariah and Elisabeth and then of Jesus to Mary.

Again I tried to include sensory experiences, visual and drama. The smell of incense was a good element to use as Zechariah offered it up to the Lord in the temple. We had a married couple whose anniversary it was that day so they were an obvious choice to play Zechariah and Elisabeth which they were both delighted to do.

One aspect of the story I wanted to show was that angels are not the fluffy, fairy-like people we often associate them with. Fortunately the video clip I found had a ‘real’ looking angel on it and we talked about how angels are God’s soldiers and messengers. It was fun dressing up one of our male leaders as a soldier. To finish off I asked two of our members to come and be God’s messengers. We spoke about how God sent a message to Zechariah, and then to many people through his son John…and the message that JESUS IS COMING is still the message he gives us today.

The ‘messengers’ gave out a little envelope to everyone and inside was one of these…

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(This is a red heart Christmas Tree decoration with a heart shaped message that I printed off onto sticky label paper on my computer.)

Remember everyone…JESUS IS COMING and we hope and pray that message brings joy to your life.

Amen

 

A trip to Keswick

photo from Keswick Convention website

photo from Keswick Convention website

It started out a few years ago when our group was much smaller.  Prospects (www.prospects.org.uk) run a week for people with learning disabilities at various conventions and Keswick  http://www.keswickministries.org/convention/special-celebrations  is our nearest one…although still a good hour and a half drive away.

So this year despite schools finishing too late for us to go on our usual day (Tuesday so we could join in the workshop too), we are taking nearly 40 people up to Keswick on the Friday to celebrate with our brothers and sisters from other parts of the country.

The Good News Group members are VERY excited.

I and the other leaders, on the other hand,  have needed to plan this carefully. You can’t just take 40 people, including 8 wheelchair users, a few more with limited mobility, autism and other needs on a trip without some careful thought towards their safeguarding and well-being.

So as, with a school trip we have written a risk assessment, had it ok’d by our PCC, sent out letters, collected money towards transport costs and will collect any medical and contact details for the day that we need. Some of our leaders are already in Keswick for the week and will have all the details too so they can support us if an accident happened on our travels (please, if you pray, pray for our safe travel!)

We have borrowed a minibus from another church which I can drive (having a minibus test certificate) and we have hired a community transport minibus which can take wheelchairs. Added to that will be 3-4 cars, some carrying people with wheelchairs too.

PHEW!

I will also prepare a visual sheet to explain where we are going and what we will be doing there, using pictures from previous years, for those who have not been before.

I am so grateful to all the Team members and carers who are helping to make this possible.

All I can say now is : “WATCH OUT PROSPECTS! THE GOOD NEWS GROUP FROM LEYLAND ARE COMING TO WORSHIP,  PRAISE AND FELLOWSHIP WITH YOU AND WE ARE VERY EXCITED!”

I hope to be able to post some pictures with permission, when we return.

If you have a group or support people with additional needs in church, please don’t be afraid of going out and about. A risk assessment and preparation is worth all the hard work – and for us meeting other groups like ours is so encouraging.

Left-handed, woman, God tester…anyone can be used by God

 

An 'actor' playing Gideon

An ‘actor’ playing Gideon

We have developed a pattern in our Good News Group (for adults with learning disabilities) of spending a term looking at the New Testament, followed by a term looking at the Old Testament.  This way we get to learn about the whole Bible and connect it all together with one central message – Jesus is our rescuer.

Tackling the Judges!

I must admit, though, that this terms’ theme of Judges gave us quite a challenge! We had 5 weeks to fill and so choose 4 stories from this chapter that seemed the ‘easiest’ to contain in a short and easy to understand talk…..Ha!…Simples????

It looked like this:

Week 1 – Ehud (the left handed assassin)

Week 2 – Deborah (a woman!)

Week 3 – Gideon (the God-tester)

Week 4 – Samson part 1 (the hero)

Week 5 – Samson part 2 (the fallen)

pictures courtesy of The Brick Testament

pictures courtesy of The Brick Testament

Deborah

Resources

Two resources have helped us manage these stories into talks that our Good News Group members can access and understand:

1) http://www.thebricktestament.com/    somehow the gory details we HAD to include were easier to show in Lego. (especially the nail in the head from Jael in week 2!)

2) Drama – setting out the story characters and events with real people and props, and asking everyone else to join in by being the army or crowd – meant that we were engaged in the stories together – actively not passively.

In the Gideon story one side of the room played the fierce Mideonites while the other side were the Israelite army being whittled down to a small group who then were given torches and horns to go and scare away the Mideonites!

Sensory Engagement

My week was Deborah.  I wanted to try a more sensory-story approach so that some of our less able and less-verbal members could get the chance to be up at the front telling the story.

For each part of the story I found sensory experiences, set them out on the table and then as I spoke the story, those up front were involved in smelling, waving, tasting, making sounds and feeling things.  Those watching seemed really interested too.

  • Eg. Deborah sat under the palm tree – waving large leaves and smelling coconut hand cream.
  • Army fighting – banging sticks together to make swords clashing noises.
  • Sisera running away and hiding in Jael’s tent – a large fleecy blanket to hide under.
  • Jael giving him milk – we poured and drank a cup of milk.
  • Jael driving a nail into his head – a real hammer and nail was tapped together by two people (but in a piece of wood NOT a head!!!)

The Message

We have tried to develop a central message to tie all the stories together and quite simply we repeat this every week…

1.  God’s people ignored him and needed a Saviour.

2.  We need a Saviour too.  It is Jesus.

3.  God can use any of us and all of us to do his work.

4.  The work we can do for God each day is to love him and love others.

Great message – especially as I’m a left-handed, God-testing woman who ignores God sometimes too! 

One more week to go – Samson part 2.  We had a fantastic ‘actor’ who played Samson last week (Well done S!).  This week I’m going to play Tom Jones’ ‘Delilah’ as we go out – Shhh, don’t tell anyone….Tee Hee!

Additional Needs Ministry – Local Needs

As I attempt to add my advice to the other good advice that is out there – I was thinking about how ministry for people with additional needs may be quite diverse. It is a good idea, even once you have collected lots of good ideas from other places to then stop and reflect on the needs in your locality.
If you have spent time praying and getting your leadership on board there is further research you can do.

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What are the needs in your local community?

Who comes to your church? If anyone comes with additional needs talk to them, get them on your team and ask them what works and what does not in your church.

Are there families with children with SEN? Do you have a special school near by? Are there support groups, or other services in your area?

Are there homes for adults with learning disabilities? Is there a day centre? Try contacting the local social services and ask them what services they provide.  If you can make contact with someone and meet them for coffee, outlining what you are doing, it can be a very useful contact indeed.  Our Good News Group has been advertised on social and other services websites.

Do the people who come to your church know anyone with additional needs?  Families? Neighbours? Friends?

Do you have anyone who works with or is knowledgeable about any kind of additional need? (Especially if the person has that need. They can be invloved in awareness training and equiping others to meet needs effectively).

This is a good time to get all your church involved.  You could do a talk (or get your pastor / vicar to do it!). I once did one to recruit new team members and used a great DVD clip from Prospects where adults with learning disabilities talked about their faith.  You could use a parable, for example the Good Samaritan. Be creative and be visual to help people see as well as hear what you are talking about.

I would ask the congregation to do the detective work with me.  All of them could look something up on the internet, speak to their family and neighbours or investigate where they live. Do a survey of your local needs and provision together and collate this so that you can see more clearly what there is and who there is.

When you have all this information collated you are then ready for the next step…

…deciding what your church should do first.  Brainstorm and prioritse…

Then pray.   And see what the Lord will guide you to do.

Hope this helps someone out there. Do let me know how you’re getting on or if you have done this kind of activity before – how useful was it?

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