Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

Posts tagged ‘disability’

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

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! 

Being an Advocate in your church

I suppose you might be reading this because you have some interest in making your church more accessible for people with disabilties. I don’t know if you are disabled yourself, or are a parent or carer, or maybe you just see that there’s a part of God’s family missing in your church.  I don’t know what term you prefer, a label or none. I use different terms on purpose, but most of all, we are God’s children in Christ.  So welcome, brother or sister!


I asked the wonderful people in the Additional Needs Alliance what they thought made a good advocate.  Anyone speaking on the behalf of others is essentially an advocate.  It had me thinking about the nature of advocacy and how it might work.

  1. The first and most important point was to be a good listener.  To be able to speak on the behalf of others, you need to be able to know what they would say. BEWARE….this is where we face the ever present danger of ASSUMING.  We patronise people if we assume we know what they would want or say without really knowing.  Even if people cannot use words, there should be opportunity for them to make their thoughts known through other communication methods. Sometimes just being with them, seeing how they respond to different situations can give us all the clues we need to understand what a person likes or doesn’t.
  2. Relationship is at the heart of advocacy.  If we wish to speak on the behalf (or even better…alongside) people with disabilties, then we need to build friendships and give them our time.  If you want to suggest changes in church, set up a ministry or change attitudes then relationships give us the foundations for real action for real people.
  3.   Is it because they cannot speak for themselves?  Going back to point 2,  why are we taking on this role of advocate?  It is better that we open up the way for a person to speak for themselves, supporting and enabling them rather than speaking for them.  I would love to take some of our group to a PCC meeting and let them use symbols and Makaton to tell everyone there about their experience of church! (They’d all be up for that!)
  4. Knowlegde is useful too. We have an amazing resource in the Internet, social media, blogs and access to research at our finger tips. This too comes with a BEWARE warning…each article or blog is an individual experience and we need to take a wider view, bringing all aspects together.  For example, I have learned so much about what it is like to have autism from many fantastic articles and blogs,  that I now understand how faith develops and can be understood despite some of the differences in thinking and processing in autistic people. I know that some don’t mind being called autistic, that it is their identity.  I would really recommend the Oxford Diocese advice on supporting people with autism in churches. Written by an autistic person, the lovely Ann Memmott. http://www.oxford.anglican.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/autism_guidelines.pdf
  5. Be gracious. As soon as people start to feel threatened they get defensive and we end up in a cycle of bitterness. I have found small steps work best, especially if you are suggesting a change to a well established way of doing things.  Even if it seems like it is a long hard struggle, get people around you who will pray and remind you of grace.  In all things, Christ will be our greatest advocate.  And pray. And forgive. And pray.
  6. Be bold. Pray first. Speak up when something is clearly unjust and damaging to a person with additional needs. They often can’t or feel able to speak up for themselves, especially if they feel very hurt or excluded by the actions or attitudes of the church.  This bit scares me a lot.  But an important part of advocacy is not to let wrong things continue.
  7. If possible preach inclusion, preach the gospel in as many ways as all people can access it. Make discipling and enabling people with additonal needs part of what the church does.  Leaders who do this will be great advocates and role models for their congregation.
  8. There is another kind of advocacy I have come across more and more, that is speaking up for people  with additonal  needs in society. Since the general election there has been a lot of fear about how further cuts will affect vulnerable and disabled people. Christians are speaking up, organising protests and pleading with the government to look after, not make life harder for disabled people to access what the rest of us take for granted.  Look at the campaign by Compassionate Britain http://compassionatebritain.org.uk  if you are interested in this.

It seems that the key to advocating is definitely getting to know people with additional needs, and much of it is done by people who are family members. That places a great burden on them, having to advocate and care for their families. No wonder church becomes such a difficult place to be for them. There must be a better way. When I look at how Jesus cared for and welcomed people who were weary and had all kinds of needs, then coming to him was a gentle and wonderful experience. I am just thinking aloud here. so many of us want to see inclusive churches. Some are and we praise God for them. I am struggling to understand how people have been hurt, turned away and ignored in the one place they shouldn’t be. I am so glad for the wonderful pastors, vicars, youth leaders and other Christians who love all people and will do all they can to include them.  I’d recommend to all of you to look at becoming a Roofbreaker, with Through the Roof Charity.  Here is a structure and resources to help you become an effective advocate in your church.  http://www.throughtheroof.org/info-and-resources/be-a-roofbreaker/

But don’t forget….it begins with listening….

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