Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

Posts tagged ‘#disabilites’

Just do something…

imagesV38CCZFU          images

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.’


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.


  • 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:  – you can apply to join this group – so many great people to connect and share with.  – a charity our Good News Group is supported by.  – lots of good resources and is developing regional networks. – just full of care! – Kay’s blog which is very informative.   and their blog (do sign up for by email – daily encouragement!)!blogger-feed/cund  An American Special Needs Ministry that is amazing.  – just look at what they do!





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.


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  🙂

She danced for Him.

A short story by Lynn McCann



Susie didn’t like getting up that morning. It was cold and Ken was cross with her. She refused to get out of bed and short of pushing her out, there was nothing Ken could do.

By lunch time she was very hungry so she made her way in her pyjamas to the dining hall. Susie put on her fiercest face so none of the staff would challenge her to get dressed. She didn’t even like the thing called shepherds pie that they gave her but she ate, one mouthful at a time until it was cold and everyone else had left the room.

Susie didn’t like going to the lounge. Usually Ken or Sandra would try to make her join in something. Mostly she didn’t understand what they were saying and whatever they put in front of her, usually a piece of board with numbers or writing on it made Susie want to throw it across the room. She was getting good at aiming for certain people who might have annoyed her sometime. They stopped asking her to join in eventually. Susie preferred to sit in her room watching Strictly Come Dancing, over and over again.

It wasn’t Susie’s fault that she punched Kevin that day. He came far too close and she was fed up of him trying to touch her boobs. But Ken and Sandra hadn’t noticed that. As she watched Kevin fall to the floor in slow motion, the staff bounded across the room like superheroes blocking the baddie’s escape and holding Susie’s arms so tightly behind her back that the pain rushed into her head and screamed.

Susie couldn’t remember screaming hysterically or biting Sandra, but she could remember the way they pushed her to the floor and pinned her down. Susie might have been small and round but Susie knew what danger was and she was going to fight it. She was exhausted from the writhing, kicking and convulsing as they carried her to the punishment room. They didn’t even change her. She sat in her damp clothes, staring at the blank wall and retreated into Strictly Come Dancing land where Susie could dance in the pink sequinned dress she had always dreamed of.

Susie didn’t know why they came to get her. It wasn’t even night time. Sandra hissed at her to stop humming and Ken told her to behave for the visitor. Susie was too tired to fight but she wondered what visitor would ask for her especially and whether he would mind that she stank of pee.

Susie shuffled into the lounge and Ken and Sandra ushered her to one of the empty chairs at the back. Then they left her alone. The room was full. Everyone from every ward seemed to be there. No-one seemed to have noticed that she came in, their whole attention was focussed on the Man stood at the front of the room. Only he wasn’t stood still, he began to move towards the people sat at the front, touching each one and whispering to them. Susie wasn’t going to look but she found herself desperately wanting to hear what he was saying…and desperately wanting that look each person he touched displayed on their face.

The room began to buzz with humming, singing, laughter and conversation as the Man walked up and down the rows, missing no-one out. Susie was the last person, sat apart from everyone else.

She found herself unable to look at Him. She felt bad for all the times she’d hit out lost her temper. She felt dirty because she had wet herself and he smelled so lovely. Susie felt sure he wouldn’t speak to her. When she was bad, no-one did.

Susie, would you dance with me?”

In shock she looked up at the kindest most beautiful face she had ever seen. It was as if stars burst out of his eyes and the whole world was etched on his face. Without taking her eyes from His she nodded and He took her hands gently in His. Together they glided towards the front of the room and suddenly there was music. Susie felt as though a waterfall came down from heaven and washed her dirty, smelly clothes away and replaced them with a pink sparkly ball gown that swished and bobbed gracefully as she danced across the floor with the Man.

Susie, will you follow me?” He whispered in her ear.

Yes!” she squealed with delight, “I will.”

Will you teach others to follow me too?”


Show them how I danced with you, tell them I AM JESUS.”

The hospital found her a place to live, a lovely home with friendly house-mates and kind staff who take her to the dance school every week. Susie still dances for Him. And at the end of her dance she tells the audience how Jesus came to dance with her. People are amazed at her peace and joy.


This short story was inspired by a conversation I had with my brother about an old ‘mental hospital’ (that’s what it was know as) in our county that I had once visited as a student and he had once worked at. The way that people with learning disabilities were shut away and treated was quite appalling at times and we were both thankful that the old hospital had been closed and the residents moved into group homes in the community. My brother told me that patients were sometimes locked in the toilet, naked or in their wet clothes for the whole day as a punishment for needing more than one incontinent pad a day. I just wanted to remember that Jesus cared for those people too and what might have happened if he had visited it for one day.


Washing up and a one-legged puppet.

washing up

Well how do you get a wheelchair in a kitchen the size of a toilet cubicle?  How messy can washing up get in said-miniscule kitchen?   How can someone with a visual impairment control the sound system?  What do we do when the wrong button is pressed on the computer and the screen goes blank?  Why is M upset and refusing never to come again because she’s not giving the badges out when she signed up to do that job in 2 weeks time?

These are some of the challenges we have faced in the first couple of weeks that we have been ‘mucking in’ all together at Good News Group.

And we are loving it!

I did end up taking on a role of puppeteer instructor after one of our members expressed a great desire to learn and perform with the puppets.  Now, I’ve only been on a one-day course myself – so it may not be the most polished professional performance – but as promised, today I gave G her first puppeteer lesson.  Here is her lesson learned – how to make the mouth work and angle your hand so that the audience can see the face of the puppet.  She did a great job as you  can see!

Gemma puppet lesson

Now I just need those writing a puppet script to remember to add a couple of lines for G!   By the way – the puppet’s leg fell off today too.  G said it was like us now – it had a disability but could still do it’s job!  I love the fact that she has grasped what we are about.

The vibrancy and atmosphere at the group since we started up again has been great and the conversations that were started on the first week have continued.  We have welcomed three new members and prayed with and for others who are ill, in hospital, having family and financial difficulties.  More and more people are speaking out loud when they pray in our small groups.  We have said a sad goodbye to three of our fantastic team members and embraced the brave woman who has stepped in to fill their shoes!

We are learning about Elijah this half term.  We are trying to learn how God looks after us and wants us to worship only him.  I’m looking forward to the Prophets of Baal story as it’s one of the funniest stories in the Bible, especially when Elijah makes fun and taunts them.  “Is your god Baal on the toilet?”  This week we learned about the famine and how God provided for Elijah and the widow and her son.  It was a great link to the harvest that we will be celebrating on Sunday…

oct 2nd

Working together to read the Bible

…and I have good news to report on our prayers that two of our members could get to some Sunday services – we have a volunteer driver and wheelchair pushers! Praise God – he is SO GOOD!!!!

Thank you to all who read this blog. Your comments and interest are very much appreciated and when I tell our group that people read about us they are very excited!


“Nothing about me without me!”


Group prayer at one of meetings.

Does she take sugar?”

Where shall we sit him?”

I know what will be best for them.”

Too often our society and maybe our churches think we know what people with learning disabilities and other additional needs want. We assume so much and then make our plans and programmes based on what we think. Sometimes we might just get it right. Sometimes we might end up alienating and patronising the very people that we are trying to include.

This difficulty can be compounded when we work with people who cannot speak for themselves. It demands a different kind of communication and is a challenge we ‘typical’ people face if we are to build a truly inclusive church and society.

I have been reading a lot of blogs and books about inclusion recently. Some have been from parents with children with additional needs like Jeanette and her story of trying to get the right inclusion for her children @autismmumma I have been reading information and blogs from additional needs ministries in America (Snappin Ministries, . And in Britain – Liveability blog  A lovely young woman from Manchester University came to ‘study’ the Good News Group for her dissertation about inclusion in churches for people with learning disabilities. I have read her report this week too. I hope Donna doesn’t mind me mentioning her here as her dissertation was brilliant.

All this has challenged me greatly. It is too easy to think that because we have a big group that meets each week and who seem to have a great time – that means we are inclusive. But what if we slip into doing something ‘FOR’ the people instead of ‘WITH’ the people. What if we become self-righteous in thinking we are serving God well and here is the measure of our success *holding up the register full of names and ticks*.

Don’t get me wrong – I would still have our group – it works well and people are learning about God in a meaningful way…what is important is that it is open to everyone and welcomes all – we are to be as inclusive as possible too.

Nothing about me without me

That is the challenge for our group this year. We have always tried to listen, ask and learn with our group, but there is so much more we could do.

It is a challenge for our whole church to be more inclusive. Is a separate meeting once a week with only a fraction of our group getting involved in other church activities really inclusive?

In Donna’s interviews with our group they expressed their desires to be more included, have better opportunities to lead and serve in the wider church. One lady is currently very upset because she can’t get to church on a Sunday. Her carers think she is too disruptive and it makes her tired and cross if she goes to the regular service. We really need to work this out.

I am excited – I love a challenge and think God expands us by challenging us. He loves us and I am sure he has blessed our Good News Group beyond all that we could have asked for or imagined. Now it is time to discover the views, ideas and gifts of our group even more and find ways they can serve in the wider church as well as at our weekly meetings. I know the ‘team’ and leaders will embrace this with all the love they have for Jesus…as they always do.

We are beginning…in a couple of weeks, two of our adults with learning disabilities are helping out at the church holiday Bible club for children. They are very excited and so am I…

Explaining ‘sin’…


This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”  Romans chp3 verses 22-24.


Week two of our ‘Two Ways to Live’ teaching was taught by Chris. It’s a difficult subject but very important. He used a very funny video of a man doing everything for his dog (a person dressed up as a dog) and then in the end the dog just ran off to do his own thing. With the Benny Hill theme tune in the background it played like a silent movie, but it was well received and a really good illustration to start our session off.




These days ‘sin’ is unfashionable.  People don’t like to admit they are in the wrong with each other, never mind with God.  We live in an age that says whatever is right for you is OK. Clearly the consequences of this are reported in our news every day.


‘Sin’ is not a word people outside the church are familiar with, but if pushed they would probably say it meant judgement, a word to make people feel guilty, bad and worthless. A word to condemn people to hell.


Sin, however, is God’s way of showing us that we ignore him. As he made the world, all the world rightfully belongs to him.  Even as a parent I can appreciate how angry it would make me if my kids ignored me, refused to do anything I said and acted as if I didn’t exist while taking every good thing from me.


Explaining ‘sin’ to our Good News Group is important. At the heart of the Christian gospel is the message that we have sinned at God and that we need his forgiveness. As Romans 3 says – there is no difference. We are all able to receive his grace (undeserved acceptance).  We need to explain ‘sin’ before we can tell them the fantastic, wonderful, exciting news about Jesus saving us.


Therefore we begin with explaining that we have IGNORED God. Ignored is a simple and effective word we can demonstrate through drama and illustrations that mean something to the people in our group.


We have developed this by introducing the word (and sign) for ‘sin’ and explaining it with this mnemonic.

  • S = Shove off God
  • I = I’m in charge
  • N = no to your rules


With a lot of reinforcement we are finding that many of our group are taking this on board and now are showing us that they are gaining an understanding of sin.  What is wonderful to note is that when we began, some of them thought that sin was about doing ‘bad’ things. That could easily lead to people thinking that if only they did more good things they would be OK with God on their own efforts. To explain the saving grace of Jesus – we all need to know we can’t save ourselves. As Romans 3 says; “ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Building a Team


Pentecost by Chinese artist He Qi

Before anything is begun we pray.  Then, guided by God we act.

I love the way Jesus showed himself as the risen Lord, gave his disciples a commission and then told them to wait until the Holy Spirit came to give them power to do what he had asked them to.

Our Good News Group was started by people who prayed, waited and then acted.  I wan’t part of that but I am eternally greatful to those who set up our group.  (If you are reading this – thank you x)  I joined it as a helper about a year later and two years ago joined the leadership team.  I am the one who writes this blog but I need to stress that very few ministries work with people acting alone.  It is easy to become overwhelmed and burnt out unless we work as God said…The body of Christ…each part doing its bit.

Each church has leaders, usually a leadership team. It is the vicar, minister, pastor and the PCC, Elders (or whatever they are called in your church) who need to support any drive towards a more inclusive church.

However, before you go to speak to your leaders it is a good idea to do some homework.  don’t just go with a long list of complaints and problems stating why church is impossible for your child with additional needs, or that people with additional needs generally don’t come to your church.  Church leaders are often bombarded with problems, complaints and criticism and everyone looks to them for all the answers.   You are much more likely to get support by setting out a general overview of the situation nationally or locally (for example how many people with additional needs live in your area. Try local council website for statistics.  The government website will have national statisitcs.) This will identify the need in context rather than being specifically critical of your church.  Many Church of England Diocese (and other church organisations that you may belong to)  have papers and reports on their website such as  the ‘Opening the Doors Report’ on

If you can then set out what other churches are doing and bring articles and examples to their attention, it will help church leaders see that it can be done and where they can ask for support. I have mentioned and before.  I will also recommend and   –  if you have anything going on nearby, go and visit them if you can.   Come with testimonies, reports and examples of how people and families with addtional needs CAN be included in any church and are an important part of the body of Christ.

Draw up a list of what you have seen and what you think could be done at your church.  Be reasonable and realistic at first, but be open to a God who can do much more than we can ask or imagine!

Keep praying. I will make no apology for repeating this a lot…nothing worthwhile or eternal will happen without our complete reliance on God.

It may be that you are not the person who will take on and move the ministry forward.  The Lord may be using you as the catalyst and others will come on board with their gifts.  Pray for a team of godly and willing people who can work together to do this work.

Preparing something before you talk to your leaders, (it will be very difficult to do anything without their support) will help them see the bigger picture and grasp your vision.  Don’t give up and know that the Holy Spirit will work, speak and act thorugh all who are willing to wait and listen.

Let me know how you get on – or if you have done this already, what advice have you got to share?

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