Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

Posts tagged ‘Christianity’

I don’t want to do the ‘judging others’ thing anymore.


Deep in my spirit I’m feeling very uneasy.  There’s thoughts bubbling around in my brain that I keep trying to pop, to push down into the recesses of my mind so I can get on with life ignoring them.  But bubbles rise to the top. And so do these thoughts. 

They concern judging.  Humans have ALWAYS judged each other. The constant power struggles, the instinct to belittle others so that we come out on top is innate in all of us. Just ask yourself who you are jealous of? For me it’s the people with hundreds of thousands of pounds to buy a house in the country on my favourite programme ‘Escape to the Country’.  But I criticise them too easily.  I reveal my jealousy every time I watch the programme. I’m not happy for them when they buy that lovely house in the country.  I’m finding lots of reasons why they don’t deserve it and I do. 

Judging is endemic in the church. However much we try not to, as soon as we say that who someone is, is wrong or that someone can’t because of who they are…we’ve made a judgement about their worthiness. And that’s the root of judgement that I see.  Who’s worthy and who isn’t. And logically, we fall into the trap of thinking that if some people are worthy and some are not…well then, I must make sure no one thinks I AM UNWORTHY.  So we work hard, try our best and put on a show.  We act our way to being seen as worthy.  

And boy do we act. We pretend that we’re trying to pray more. We pretend we’re trying to read our Bible every day (and don’t we feel good when we get the chance to say ‘when I did my quiet time this morning…). We pretend we’re reviewing our giving so we can be just over that 10% gold standard (so we’re better than those who aren’t giving regularly.)  We pretend that going to three evening meetings a week doesn’t hack us off and we wouldn’t rather sit veg-ing in front of the TV after a hard day at work. We pretend we must be a good and faithful servant when the umpteenth rota pings into our inbox, (well we tick the ‘serving in church’ box at least). We try not to ‘tut’ along with the church leader who says they know some people aren’t giving/serving and what a burden that puts on everyone else.  And we all know people that just wouldn’t be welcome or ‘fit in’ at our church. We probably ‘tut’ at all the dirty, poor, criminal, sinning people in the local newspaper.  Well, we wouldn’t do those things, we’re Christians aren’t we? 

You can pretend you don’t (that’s up to you) but we are constantly comparing ourselves with others. We are constantly judging whether others are as worthy as us or whether we’ll ever be as worthy as them.  We are judging using the Bible, of all things, as our justification.  We say these people or those people are not worthy because this or that is sin – and they do that thing so they are sinners.  They are judged.  

But who gave us the authority to judge others in this way. Surely we’re all sinners?   That means we are on a level playing field here. We’ll all stand before God one day and face the ultimate judgement, by the One who IS given the authority to do so.  The Bible is very clear that Jesus, the Son of God, who died on the cross and was raised to life, is the only one with the authority to judge.  

To me, it seems that we must be claiming we are Jesus if we judge. We are usurping him. We are doing what Adam and Eve did and saying we know as much as God. We don’t need him. We can do the judging and tell God who’s in and who’s out….we’ll save him the bother. 

I’m tired of all this.  I’ve listened and struggled with the churches judgement on women, LGBT, disabilities and so many other ‘unworthy’ peoples.  I never saw Jesus turn anyone away from him.   People came to him and he ministered to them.  He changed people, yes….But it came out of their relationship, their surrender to him.   It came out of his compelling kindness and compassion.  Some walked away from him.   And many of those were those who thought they were already worthy.  

I repent of my judging others. I repent of not being brave enough to write this blog before or speak up for those being judged by the church.   It was an interview with a Bishop on local radio this morning that prompted this response in me. It was a masterclass in avoiding the question.  I suddenly thought how tired I was of these games.  I surrender.  To Jesus I surrender.   He’s the one I love because he didn’t judge me, he forgave me and for all these years of being a Christian I’ve known nothing except his kindness and grace. I don’t deserve any of it.  And for certain, no-one, absolutely no-one deserves to be judged by me. 

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All can pray.

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

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

The Lord’s Prayer signed by the Good News Group

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

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

So here are our stations and how we did it.

IMG_3053.JPG Station 1

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Station 2

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

Station 3

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

Station 4

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

Station 5

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

 

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And here are a few AFTER photos…

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

In Jesus Name…always and forever…Amen.

Can we all be a bit more like Angela please?

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Psalm 131 (NIRV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A bit like the Jesus I know.

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

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

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

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

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

Multi-Ethnic Group Of People Holding The Word Welcome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some ‘sign in’ on Facebook at the church.

Many now describe our church as their church.

On Tuesdays. With cake… and a train set.

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

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

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

Email    info@take5andchat.org.uk

www.facebook.com/take5andchat  

https://twitter.com/take5andchat

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

lego-builders

It’s ok to ask big questions, but darned uncomfortable

Are you a leader?  Do you ever have doubts? Do you dare admit you have deep questions for God?  Do you believe but find it difficult to see what God is doing in this world? 


Yesterday was my first day of not going to the Good News Group…but of course, the wonderful people there have been on my mind all summer and yesterday I found myself fretting all day. Not because they can’t all manage without me, but because I wouldn’t be there to talk and fellowship with them. 

The thing about taking a sabbatical is that you are supposed to take time to think, reflect and listen to God without the distractions of busyness.  And what you forget when you haven’t done this in a while, is that it’s quite an uncomfortable and dangerous thing to do.  

I like to go to a special place not far from where I live.  It’s a small country park nestled in the midst of the motorways and residential areas.  There’s a bench in a wooded part of it, that is raised up and makes you feel that you are sitting in the trees themselves (see picture above). They put out bird feeders and food for squirrels and I sit and just watch the nature around me, doing its thing.  It helps me calm my hyperactive mind. And it’s a lot easier to listen to the Lord in that place.  

However, I have felt the Lord uncovering some big holes in my faith that I had carefully covered over.  My faith in who Jesus is and what he has done for the world is secure.  I know he loves us and has saved me.  But I’ve been trying not to think about things that underneath my veneer of trusting him for everything – I have no real foundations.  “Everything?  You trust me in everything?”  says the Spirit to my soul.  

And then I started to ask some questions…”Yes, but…”  I want to know if I can trust him  for the salvation of friends and family who I’ve prayed for constantly since I first became a Christian 27 years ago and who seem so far from him right now.  I want to know why people are disabled and some get healed and some don’t.  I want to know what he’s doing in this messed up,  stupid world where leaders are more concerned with their own reputations than actually doing things to help their people.  Where religion is used for an excuse to kill and enslave people…including Christianity.  And while we are on that…why DO churches exclude people because they  have a disability, are different or because they don’t fit a certain stereotype?  Why are so many people sharing with me that churches were places of pain and rejection for them because they or their children have a disability?  

It feels like I’ve opened a Pandora’s box!  My carefully constructed lids have been blown away!  And I’ve only just started, just a few little sessions sat watching the birds and trees and the Holy Spirit smacks me with this lot! Woah! My instinct is to stop this right now and put those lids right back on!!! 

But…..what if God wants to answer those questions?  What if he wants to teach me and show me what he is doing and can do?  

I believe it is good to ask our Heavenly Father those big questions.  I believe he is just waiting for us to ask them so he can begin to teach us new and wonderful things.  It makes us so vulnerable before him to admit we haven’t a clue where to start or how to figure it out.   It make take a lifetime to just learn some basics,  and a lifetime of continually asking him for more understanding.  We really won’t be able to grasp the answers because God and this world is far beyond what we can understand.  I know  we can learn to trust him better and that he can give us the gift of faith to do so.  I believe he can use our faith to make a difference to people’s lives and bring his love into the dark places.  And if you are a leader, I believe your greatest strength will be found in opening up your vulnerability before God  and asking him to build your trust and faith in Him.   He is active in so many ways we often can’t see,  but already I am being drawn to stories and testimonies where God is at work in this world, mostly in individual lives, transforming them into lives of faith.  

Leaders can think they have to have all the answers when really our job is to lead people to Jesus.  We shouldn’t be afraid of uncomfortable questions and times of desert or valley experiences.  I was thinking about Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones and Moses or Elijah in the wilderness and how much God taught them there.  They were places of meeting with God and places of miracles.  I’ve learned not to panic or try to avoid the difficult things through those stories. 

Leaders, take off those lids and expect God to teach you new things.  But be open to being surprised, challenged and even disciplined for the wrong assumptions you might have about things.  Its going to be worth it.  He has promised.  And those you lead will certainly benefit. 

And please remind me of my own advice when things get a bit challenging for me! 

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