Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

Posts tagged ‘#church’

5 ways we can trust God is changing despair into hope in additional needs ministry

Hope has been a theme God has been weaving into my life and prayers recently.  We are faced with the enormity of the task of making the church more accessible, of changing attitudes and wills, and supporting those who are struggling and hurt because these things haven’t happened yet.

I have been quite overwhelmed.  But God has reminded me that there is always something we can do…

1.  We can pray

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Give thanks no matter what happens. God wants you to thank him because you believe in Christ Jesus.                                             1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

This sounds obvious and I’m always reminding people to pray – but when despair and exhaustion comes, I do forget to heed my own advice.  I lose words to say because I am just looking at all the problems and all the people who need prayer.   I do believe Satan encourages us to despair – whispering lies and hopelessness into our minds.  But I have a Bible verse that crushes his attempts to keep me in this state for long…

In the same way, the Holy Spirit helps us when we are weak. We don’t know what we should pray for. But the Spirit himself prays for us. He prays through groans too deep for words. Romans 8:26

People now come to God through him. And he is able to save them completely and for all time. Jesus lives forever. He prays for them.  Hebrews 7:25

So when I don’t have words I give every groan, sigh and the tears I cry to him.  These verses remind me that these are legitimate prayers and that God hears them for both Jesus and the Spirit are interceding on our behalf.

But I also thank God for those he has brought alongside me as my partners in prayer and faith.  I’m part of a network of people who pray for each other’s ministry and lives each week.  These people are amazing in their faith and encouragement and work tirelessly to make the church accessible around the country.  They have held me up, prayed with me and encouraged me.  Thank you Lord for these people!

2.  We can remember

Lord, I will remember what you did. Yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.  Psalm 77:11

When the Psalmist was feeling down and under pressure, he declared that he was going to remember all God had done before.  I thought this sounded good advice.  So, I started to tell myself my testimony, how God brought me to him all those years ago. I remined myself of the times he saved my children’s lives, when he sent my hubby to Albania and so many more amazing interventions in ours and others lives.  So even though he seemed a bit quiet at the moment, I could see that he really had never let us go and wasn’t about to now.  I started to list all the ways God was working through the Additional Needs Alliance and through all the people across the world who are bringing the gospel to people with disabilities.  Remember how God has brought miracles into this world through his love of all people, bringing them to Jesus.

3. We can wrestle with it until we have what we want, and we can fight spiritually.

Genesis 32:28 Then the man said, “Your name will not be Jacob anymore. Instead, it will be Israel. You have wrestled with God and with people. And you have won.

Finally, let the Lord make you strong. Depend on his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armour. Then you can remain strong against the devil’s evil plans. Our fight is not against human beings. It is against the rulers, the authorities and the powers of this dark world. It is against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly world. Ephesians 6:10-18

It was only last week that we looked at Jacob wrestling with God in our new house group. We are starting to settle into our new church, and I feel like I am being slowly refreshed in my faith.  I had to be reminded that wrestling and struggling isn’t because I’m getting things wrong – but it is a real part of faith growing and us receiving the blessings God has promised us.  I know I need to regain the confidence I have in God’s promises and stand up for my right to have them.  It is a spiritual battle which I feel I’m going to have to relearn.  But it is so hopeful to know I can.

4. We can connect with others doing this work

God has given us a great blessing in being able to share in his work.  The most amazing thing is connecting with people who have been alone in doing these great pockets of good practice in their churches and now we are all able to connect with each other and see what is actually happening all over the country.  And the things that are happening are amazing.  I thank God for Mark Arnold (Urban Saints), Kay Morgan-Gurr, Christine and Pete Winmill  (Count Everyone In), the Through the Roof Team,  Beth (Take 5 and Chat), Disability and Jesus, John Williams (The Message Trust – Enable), all those working to make festivals, churches and the huge organisations such as Synod (especially behind the scenes) become aware and make their events accessible to all.  Anne Memmott, Bernice, Collette, and so many more that I haven’t spoken to yet. It is like God is joining all the dots!  Just this week I have had three conversations by email and Skype with people all over the country doing amazing things in their churches and with the wider church. God has lifted us up and blessed us with a simple message “I am at work”.

5. We can trust

Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Do not depend on your own understanding. In all your ways obey him. Then he will make your paths smooth and straight.  Proverbs 3:5-6

So that leads me to the last point.  I haven’t been able to see what God is doing for a while and couldn’t work out why he has taken me on this latest path.  But when I look at what I have been able to write here and what others are doing,  I am reminded that I can trust God and do need to be obedient to him.  He is at work.  Be encouraged friends xxx

Thank you to all those who have been in touch to remind me that they are following my blog and praying for the ministry of IncludedByGrace.

I have to thank God for you because when I have struggled and wrestled with what may or may not come next, with the frustration of doing nothing (although I rarely do ‘nothing’!!!)  and coping with the change of church I have been supported and prayed for.  May God have the Glory!

In the next few months I am working with my diocese children’s workers to start conversations about accessible church and how I could support them with training and whatever else they might need. Please pray these meetings will be well attended and that we don’t just talk about it – that real action comes from this that changes the way people do things in their churches. 

Building an Accessible Church 3 – Revival is coming.

This blog which is part of my series,  but a bit different.  I have been prompted to write about the wider church picture, addressing some issues that are going on in the world concerning the church right now.  Knowing that what we are doing is part of revival, can spur us on to get on with this ministry with and to disabled people.

A Story About People Invited to a Dinner

Jesus used some more stories to teach the people. He said,  “God’s kingdom is like a king who prepared a wedding feast for his son.  He invited some people to the feast. When it was ready, the king sent his servants to tell the people to come. But they refused to come to the king’s feast.

“Then the king sent some more servants. He said to them, ‘I have already invited the people. So tell them that my feast is ready. I have killed my best bulls and calves to be eaten. Everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.’

 “But when the servants told the people to come, they refused to listen. They all went to do other things. One went to work in his field, and another went to his business. Some of the other people grabbed the servants, beat them, and killed them.  The king was very angry. He sent his army to kill those who murdered his servants. And the army burned their city.

“After that the king said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready. I invited those people, but they were not good enough to come to my feast. So go to the street corners and invite everyone you see. Tell them to come to my feast.’  So the servants went into the streets. They gathered all the people they could find, good and bad alike, and brought them to where the wedding feast was ready. And the place was filled with guests.      Matthew 22: 1-10 Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)

 

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Painting graphic courtesy of Hyatt Moore.   https://www.smore.com/

There is change afoot in the church, especially the large established churches. For centuries, they have been run by men.  Many of them power hungry and dominating. There have been some amazing, humble and revolutionary faithful men throughout the history of the church.  Men who brought the word of God, men who brought revival.  I grew up going to a Methodist Church and was in awe of the Wesley brothers.  People talk about Luther and Calvin and lots of others.  Great.  Fab.  But where are the women in church history?    (My hero is Lydia.  She was the first to believe and be baptised by Paul as he visited Europe (God led Paul to a group of women – Acts 16) and started the first European church.)

The other thing you might have noticed about today’s church are the scandals.  In America, Australia, Rome and the UK, priests and Bishops have been accused and found guilty of child sexual abuse.  Others have been found guilty of covering it up. Even Prince Charles claimed he was ‘deceived’ to believe and defend the innocence of a leading Bishop, later found guilty.  Women haven’t come out of this unscarred either.  The nuns of long ago who took babies off young unmarried girls, sold the children and kept the women as virtual slaves in workhouses, just for their sins. The years we have shut disabled people away in institutions have been supported and sanctioned by the church – even in being silent about it for so long.

The powerful in the church are being held to account. The world reacts with horror and indignation and hates and blames the church.  The world mocks the church and it’s ‘standards’, telling it is irrelevant and a danger to even those in its care. They have used the Bible to subjugate, to oppress and abuse others for their own ends. Why would anyone want to join the church?

But at the same time there is a revolution happening…

Those who have for centuries have been excluded from the church are banging on its doors.  The disabled, the women, the poor, the mentally ill, the LGBTQ people in our society are asking to be included.

The reason – Jesus.  They know Jesus is Good News.  They know he is a saviour and bring forgiveness and hope in this dark world.  They have faith in Jesus, not the church.  They want the church to change to include them. 

And they are finding their voice.  Those who hold on to power in the church will resist.  The powerful have nothing to hope in except their power.  But look, God is revealing the truth behind the mask.  These scandals are showing us the real state of the church.  And just like in the parable of the great banquet – it’s those on the outside that are going to fill our churches.  We need to be full of faith filled messy people.  We need to welcome with rejoicing all those with messy lives who don’t look ‘respectable’ who challenge the status quo and our idea of who belongs on the church.  A time of great repentance is needed.  A revival is coming in a way those in power had never expected.

I am frustrated with the things happening and being reported about the church. It’s slowness to wake up and open its doors, primarily to disabled people as that’s the area I know best, but to all others too. I can see God working to clean up the church and my hope is to be part of that revival. A church that lives the banquet parable is a messy church.  It is a massive challenge to live Jesus’s radical open armed message of grace FOR ALL.  But the church belongs to Jesus.  No matter what we read in the press – He is working in the church to open the doors and fill up his house!

My hubby and I are spending some time visiting other churches. We want to feel refreshed by different preaching and teaching, as well as see what goes on in our area. We are visiting different denominations and congregations.  I am going with a view to observe and listen to the messages about disability and inclusion. I’m going to observe the demographic of the congregations and how people relate to us as strangers. I’m going to look at the place of women in the church.   Already I’ve visited churches where it doesn’t even occur to them, and women are partnering with men as vicars, leaders and preachers and not just children’s or disability workers.  We all want a church that lives the banquet.  We all want to be in church with many people of all ethnicities, disabilities, sexualities, family types and mental health.  We want to worship together, discover each other’s gifts and open the Bible together.  Jesus knows everything and he loves us.  That’s should be the standard we all live by.

So let’s pray for revival.  Let’s pray for repentance and change, for those in power to let go and let Jesus’s love, (his radical, messy, perfect love,) bring those left outside, in to the church.  I’m excited because church like that is going to be exciting and relevant to our broken world. 

 

NB. “The church” refers to the big established church institutions such as the CofE and Catholic church structures of power and priesthood. Other denominations have these power structures too.

When you can’t do it all and God brings others alongside…

I’m going to be blogging less.  I’ve been struggling to maintain writing this and my autism teaching blog because of other commitments.  I have eventually realised that I don’t need to feel so stressed or guilty – that the Lord is taking me on a different path for now.  I also have a job which is ministry in itself, the Roofbreakers Network to organise and my educational writing projects.  I need to be kinder to myself and take a break now and again, as well as realising God isn’t asking me to do any of this alone.  Only in his strength but also with the teams of people he is connecting me with.  Thank you Lord!

What’s happening?

  1. Since I wrote this blog about putting together an “Included by Grace” book   that work has been steadily going on in the background.  I’ve enlisted my daughter and my dad to help me and we are putting the content together so I can edit it.  images
  2. But also there’s another couple of projects starting to take form.  One of them is a long held vision I’ve had to share our Bible teaching materials online so people with learning disabilities themselves can access the teaching and people who want to plan for groups like ours can also access that teaching and planning.  Well, despite being terrified  (of all the things I don’t know) God has brought alongside me people who get it,  people who are doing similar things and people who want to help.  So our plans to have an accessible Bible teaching website are in the early planning stages but at last seem to be a possibility.   One real encouragement recently was to be put in contact with two other women doing something similar.  One is doing this for children, one for teenagers.  That fits in perfectly with my plans to do this for adults.   Thanks to Mark Arnold from Urban Saint’s Additional Needs Ministry for connecting us!     4 pieces
  3. Finally, it is also a dream to enable the members of our Good News Group to share the gospel with others and we are going to try putting a team together to do assemblies in some of our local special schools.  It would be great for our members to be role models for the children in those schools.  Again, God is good,  I have people who get it, who want to help and even some links with people who have done this before and will share ideas (If you know of anyone else who has done this please ask them to get in touch with me).

All that and it’s the Christmas season so our group is gearing up for it’s annual outreach Christmas service on Wednesday.  They are all so excited.  And then on the following Wednesday, 5 of the group have been learning a puppet dance to “Celebrate the Child” by Michael Card.  I led a workshop about teaching puppets to adults with learning disabilities at the One Way UK European Puppet Festival in October.  This is us putting our words into practice… I might write a post about how we did it and what the challenges were another time.  I know its going to be fabulous and everyone will enjoy it.

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So for blogging…

I hope if you follow my blog you won’t forget about us.  I will repost some of my old blogs, especially the practical advice ones and share them on FB and twitter.  Includedbygrace now has a FB page if you’d like to follow it.  You can comment on there and keep in touch.  And I’m on twitter as @includedbygrace   And pray.  We’d appreciate that a lot.

If you will share includedbygrace blog, FB and Twitter pages on your own network it will help me build and audience for the book, website and whatever else comes from this.  I’m still available for training in churches across the North West and the Additional Needs Alliance Network can find you trainers elsewhere.

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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. 

Looking at another Group for Adults with Learning Disabilities – Part 1.

Helen Philip SHINE group

Photo from Helen Philip: The Shine Group

When I went to Keswick, one of the joys was meeting people who went to other Prospects (now Livability) groups and talking about how we all do things similarly or differently.  So I thought that you all would like to hear what goes on in other groups too.  We at the Good News Group have developed our own way of doing things but anyone who runs a group or wants to set up their own can develop their own routines and styles.  We all use accessible communication, inclusion and Bible discipleship as our basis.

Our first interview is with Helen and her team at the group, called SHINE, that meets in Worthing on the South coast.

  1. Who are you and how did you come into this role of supporting adults with learning disabilities in church?
    I’m Helen – I first came into this role when I was part of a church in Milton Keynes. I returned from 3 years away working for a Christian organisation in another part of the country and found that we had been joined by a lady called Debby with a learning disability who had recently moved to the UK from South Africa following the death of her father, to live nearer to her mother. I noticed that, while Debby had been welcomed into the church she had no Christian friends who shared her challenges, while having many friends at College who did not share her faith. I knew about Prospects, having prayed for many years right from the time when David Potter was setting up the charity, and contacted them to see if there was a group in our area. The nearest at that time was in Bedford, so for ten years Debby and I commuted each month to their meetings. I had the joy of seeing her grow in her faith and in her confidence as a member of the church, meanwhile I was learning how to support people in church, and in particular helping to lead worship in the group. After ten years of prayer, we were both part of the team which set up a group in Milton Keynes – still going strong today. I went on to be involved in Prospects team at Spring Harvest, and in the team leading the weekend at Highleigh every other year. So naturally when I moved to Worthing on retirement, I became involved in the group here, and now lead the team.
  2. What is your group called? How long has it been going?  When, where, how often does it meet?  How many people come?
    Our group is called Shine. It has been going for 13 years and meets monthly at Worthing Baptist Church in Christchurch Road, usually on the 3rd Sunday afternoon of the month, at 3pm. Around 20 people usually come, most with some form of learning or other disability, others just wanting to support us while enjoying an accessible meeting.
  3. What do you do in a typical meeting?

Our meetings take the form of a simple service, with the format having changed little over the 13 years. We start each meeting with the lighting of a candle and singing our “theme” song Shine, Jesus, Shine. We sing other songs through the meeting, including at least one which those who wish can do a simple dance to, and also sing the Lord’s Prayer each time using Ishmael’s version “Dear Lord, our Father who’s in Heaven”. As well as an opening prayer, often led by a group member, we have a time for members to share news or concerns and to be prayed for. We have a reading – if from the New Testament, we now use the new Accessible NIrV version, bought for us by a group member. A recent “innovation” for us is the introduction of an offering – the group have really appreciated the opportunity both to give as part of their worship and to play a part in the support of the activities in this way. Teaching may take the form of a short talk, a drama, or a combination of the two and, following a relevant song, we will then take a few minutes to consider how we can all apply what we have learned in our daily lives – this may take the form of a short talk, or interactive whole group discussion, or where appropriate there may be an active response such as bringing items symbolically to the Cross. Before our final song we celebrate any birthdays happening that month with a card and a song. Our meetings finish with afternoon tea together – our sandwiches and cake are legendary!

  1. How did you or others go about starting up the group?

The group came about when Marilyn Reading (now Marilyn Yarwood) moved to Worthing on the appointment of her late husband Samuel as Minister of Worthing Baptist Church. Having worked with Prospects at Spring Harvest and Keswick, Marilyn was keen to get involved with a local group and asked Tony Phelps-Jones and Pete Winmill if there was a group in Worthing. There was not, and so the suggestion came back – “why don’t you get a meeting together to see if you can start one?”. So Marilyn wrote to all the local churches to ask if anyone would be interested in starting a group. The Minutes of the WBChurch meeting of July 2003 record that she had been asked to call a meeting – those of September 2003, that 20 people attended, and a training day was to be held, and in early 2004 it was recorded that this had also been well attended and the group was to start that year (it started in May 2004).

  1. How do you enable people with learning disabilities to understand the gospel / Bible?

Simple teaching, aiming at short, clear and specific delivery of talks; drama; use of relevant songs; clear reference back to the reading – and encouraging people to ask questions both in the meeting and one-to-one afterwards.

  1. What can you tell us about the faith of PLD in your group? Are there examples you’d like to share?
  • Growing! As we have over the last couple of years encouraged more of the members to play a bigger part in aspects of the meetings “delivered” by the team, so we have seen them spontaneously gather round someone who is distressed or concerned about something and pray for them, rather than call one of us over to do it. We also hear reports of them praying for each other when they meet at other groups!
  • One member, who has severe dyslexia as well as other learning difficulties, and fragile mental and physical health, spent two years working through the Salvation Army’s “Battle Orders” course (challenging for anyone!) in order to qualify to become a Soldier (full member). She achieved this this year, and was commissioned in a wonderful service attended by our team, and by Pete & Christine Winmill. Already a member of the local Night Shelter team, she has now become a member of the Shine team, having met all the criteria of our safeguarding policy as well as clearly being a great role model and mentor to others in the group.
  1. How does your church family support the group?

The group is not formally part of any particular church family as team members come from a number of local churches, as do those members who are part of a church – most are, and we are encouraging the rest as they become more confident to link with a church near them. Having said that, Worthing Baptist Church, our host church provides meeting space, and all other facilities we need free of charge (we do make sure we give them a love offering each year!) – and the support for myself as leader, and the other team members and group members who are part of the church is fantastic – we ask for prayer through the church news sheet each month, and many members ask for prayer needs in between, group members who attend the church are specifically encouraged in their faith, and the ministers seek to make their preaching accessible to all by keeping terminology as simple as possible, and explaining clearly when less clear terminology is needed.

  1. What could your church do to support your group further?

We do hope to have some younger team members join us – most of the team are over 70 years old, so the question of succession is a real one! Our church is very open to encouraging those who sense a call to join us, and we hope over the next year to have the means in place to seek the same support from other churches in the area – while not wishing to lay ourselves open to the issues which can arise from launching a “recruitment campaign” of any sort! We believe our safeguarding policy will help in this – and here I must pay tribute to help received from the local Baptist Association safeguarding Lead who has been incredibly supportive and helpful.

  1. What is your church like for accessibility? What are they wanting to improve?

In terms of welcome, support, care with language etc very good. Physically we have issues in that our halls are not accessible to anyone who cannot manage steps, and so activities are limited to the sanctuary and welcome area (which thankfully does include loos!). This is an issue for the church as a whole and one of many building-related challenges we are seeking to address as a church.

  1. What advice would you give to someone wanting to set up a Livability type group in their church or area?

Based on my earlier experience, I would definitely advise visiting other groups in your area – at least one, but if possible more than one to get a sense of the range of approaches out there. Indeed, if you have the patience and the ability to travel, it is good to get involved in helping with another group for a period – particularly if, like me, you have no previous experience of interacting with adults with learning difficulties (you don’t have to do it for ten years!)

Thank you Helen and the Team.  We pray that your group will grow in love and fellowship, knowledge and grace.  In Jesus Name.  Amen.

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Photo from Helen Philip – Some of the SHINE Team

Being included in the mainstream @Keswick Convention

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Our week at Keswick is separate from the main meetings of morning Bible Study.  There is a very good reason for this – many people with learning disabilities that come to our meetings find the main meetings inaccessible.  The language is too complex, it’s talk based and it is a long time to sit still and listen.  There are Bible passages to read and follow – not easy if you can’t read well or at all.  And so our meetings do provide access to the teaching in a way that is visual, explains complex or ‘religious’ words and concepts and allows the congregation to interact, join in and have their Bible teaching in more manageable chunks.  We have used the NIrV Accessible Bible all week and the easy access language in this version has been easy to use and well received.

Keswick Convention are very supportive of the work we do.  Providing these sessions allows families with adults with learning disabilities to access the Convention as a family.  Some can come to our meetings on their own while their parents and carers are able to go to the main meeting.  Others need the continuing support from their parents and carers but they are able to join in something together…rather than feeling that they are having to ‘entertain’ their son or daughter in a meeting that is too complex for them to access.  (It’s not surprising they get bored in a long meeting they cannot understand so well – I do!)  What it does is allow families to feel that all their needs are met in one place, that they can holiday together at the Keswick Convention and feel that all are spiritually refreshed.  I think there may be more we can do to develop this in the future.  More support for the often elderly parents still caring for adult children might be helpful.  We do a lot of praying for and with the guests themselves and a lot of encouraging them to use their gifts in the sessions.  We come alongside them and talk with them, and often find we have a lot in common.  Our love of Jesus is the most amazing thing we share and the Holy Spirit moves amongst us in this week.  You can feel His presence even in the simplest conversations and things that we share together.  But after Keswick, many are going back to complex or difficult situations and it would be good to spend more time praying with and supporting them more individually.

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Another thing we do at the Keswick Convention is go up on main stage on the Wednesday evening meeting.  These seven minutes are a wonderful time for the group and a chance for the other visitors to the Convention to see what we do.  We usually interview one of our guests, giving their testimony.  This year a young woman called Lisa, who is from Glasgow talked about her faith in the wake of having 17 major operations in her life and another one soon to come.  She talked about how she loves working with the children in her church and we could see what a delight she is to her church and they to her.  We then led the congregation in singing one of the songs we had been learning all week “What can I do to be like Jesus?”.  Singing and signing so that everyone could join in.  I took Molly, my puppet up on stage and one of our guests also brought her puppet (Molly’s twin we reckon!) and her confidence as we sang and danced with our puppets together was wonderful.  Instead of being at the back of the group, hiding her face, she was at the front, sharing the limelight with her puppet!

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Being part of the mainstream, even for those seven minutes is important.  I thank the Keswick Convention because they see it as something very important to include in their programme.  Its not to ‘show us off’ or say ‘Arn’t we good to have this here?’ – but they see the Livability/Prospects sessions as an important part of the programme and a way to make the convention accessible for families with adult children with learning disabilities.  I’m looking forward to finding out more about their accessibility for children with additional needs as one of my daughter’s friends was a ‘buddy’ for a child with additional needs all week.  So I will report on that when I find out.  If you were there and want to tell me about your experiences, I’d be really grateful.

Also the Keswick Convention give us a slot to do a seminar on the Thursday morning. Andrew and I delivered a talk on making a sermon/talk accessible through using different forms of communication and visuals etc (based on one of my previous blog posts).  There were only a few people who turned up so I do think there is a lot we can do to advertise and organise this better.  I’d love to offer a whole week of seminars – we in the additional needs stream have a lot to say! From theology to practical tips – every church has something to learn about accessibility.

Puppet skills workshop for adults with learning disabilities.

All the room was full of people using puppets

What a great workshop we had. Everyone engrossed in activity.

Two years ago I introduced puppets to the Keswick Convention Prospects sessions and they were very popular.   Molly came to ask lots of questions and we held a puppeteering workshop on the Tuesday afternoon.  Here’s a reminder:  People, puppets and praise.

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These two ladies are very good puppeteers!

Last year my daughter and her friend, who both are on the team of our Good News Group,  took a similar workshop.

This year I wanted to move the puppet skills on and teach something more useful for those who had done puppets with us before.  We also had to make sure that the language and processing levels were right for the group too.  So this is what we did…

First we taught the whole group the basic puppet skills such as making the puppet look at the audience, how to use their wrist and arm for different kinds of movement, how to show expressions and character traits.  My daughter then taught us all some basic dance moves such as ‘the walk’,  ‘the slide’, the shimmy’ and ‘the bop’!

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We then split into two groups and I took my group to a classroom to learn how to have a conversation between two puppets…using ‘knock, knock’ jokes.  I was thrilled that this worked really well.  Participants were able to practice their lip-syncing and puppet eye-contact and taking turns in a simple conversation.  Followed by a hearty laugh at the end!

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My daughter taught the other group a simple co-ordinated dance to the song “Happy” by Pharrel Williams.  They worked in pairs to make their puppets dance together following the sequence she had devised.  Again, this worked really well.

Feedback.

  • Two years ago one woman loved the puppets so much that she got her mum to buy her a puppet just like Molly.  Since then she has been almost inseparable from her puppet, called Jessica, and she uses Jessica to be her communication and confidence support.  This young woman has grown in confidence a lot since she bought Jessica.
  • An older woman with dementia had come along with her family.  She held a teddy bear puppet all through the session and learned to make it dance.  When she came to our meeting this morning, she asked for the puppet again so she could sit with it.  It made her smile.
  • A woman from Malaysia visiting the Convention said she had been taught how to make puppets and had made many…but hadn’t been sure how to use them.  This session gave her lots of ideas and the confidence to develop some ways of using the puppets in her setting in that country.
  • The whole afternoon was such a delight.  Everyone who came was involved, engaged and was able to access the session.  Special thanks go to Karen, our signer, who enabled one of our deaf guests to access every part of the dance teaching session through using some very inventive and imaginative strategies!  She also made very good use of my signing puppet and named him “Hans”.

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Why use puppets?

Puppets seem to appeal universally to all ages and abilities.  We’ve always find that most adults with learning disabilities find them fascinating and enjoyable.  And they can be age appropriate by the actions and content you use with them.  For example, we often use our puppets to bring a Bible character to life.  Our puppets can also cover current affairs, discuss difficult issues and ask all the questions you often wish you could.  They also are a great source of humour and can easily be cheeky which often makes the listeners laugh and be on the puppets’ side.

Puppets can also be used for ‘singing’ along to a song or dancing to it.  This can enhance worship and sometimes provide a reflective visual performance for people to engage with.

Puppets can be the ‘voice’ of someone who is shy or finding it hard to communicate.  Like the young woman in our group, the puppet can build a character that they wish they were able to be, and in time, build their own confidence so that they can do things they wouldn’t have done before.  For example, that same young woman now sits with different people in church apart from her mother.  This is helping her learn to become more independent.

There are lots of other things too which I can write at another time.  I’m so tired today as we had a party after being on the main stage on Wednesday (I’ll write about that next!) and I didn’t get to bed till 1.00am.  I never stay up that late!!!

Oh, and my daughter and her boyfriend got engaged here in Keswick yesterday…. 😀

 

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