Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

Posts tagged ‘#gospel’

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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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.

Why we use drama with adults with learning disabilities.

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The best acting award…

All week at Keswick we have used drama in our meetings.  The Bible passages that we were learning from were from Luke and were excerpts from Jesus’s life and interactions with people he met.

All you need is a simple script (but be willing for participants ad-libbing),  a few bits of costume and the odd prop or two.  We also used the Accessible NIrV Bible all week.

On Monday we did two drama’s looking at Jesus and the sinful woman at the home of Simon the Pharisee and the parable of the two debtors – Luke 7:36-53

On Tuesday we looked at The 10 lepers who were healed – Luke 17:11-17

On Wednesday we looked at Zacchaeus  – Luke 19:1-10

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Zaccheaus and Jesus.

On Thursday we looked at Jesus calls Peter – Luke 5:1-11

On Friday we looked at  The Disciples on the Emmaus Road – Luke 24:13-35

Drama has many advantages.  First it slows down the story so that those who take longer to process information can do so.  It breaks down the story into chunks and adds action to the dialogue.   We show that the events happened to real people and that Jesus came to meet with and help people who had needs just as we do.

Sitting in an hour and a half long session could be really difficult and very boring if all we did was talk.  Concentration and attention may be difficult for some of our guests (and the team!) and breaking up the session with drama, songs and puppets helps keep everyone’s attention and interest.

Participation can be a really good way to make people with learning disabilities feel valued.  We believe passionately that we are all church together and giving the guests the chance to share the story telling with us is important too.  Even those who don’t want to participate enjoy watching others who do.  We were so blessed by all those who acted and brought their own expression and interpretation of the drama to our story.  Three memorable moments for me were on Monday when a shy guest did a fabulous job of wiping Jesus’s feet with her hair (it was a wig!) and the joy as she joined in the drama nearly every day.  Then the deaf/ partically-sighted lady who brought humour into the telling of our ‘parable of the debtors’ story.  And the visitor from the Carlisle group on Thursday whose expression of shock, delight and excitement when Peter caught the whole net of fish in our makeshift boat.  Here are some of the best photos.

So much happened this week that I have another couple of posts to do but I’ll get to them next week.  I’m at home now and feel like I’m still there.  I thank God with all my heart for a week of such blessings.

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.

So I get to speak at a couple of conferences!

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This is unashamedly a plug for the Enabling Church “No Limits” conference happening in less than 2 weeks from today – in London – so if you can come PLEASE do.

The Churches for All organisation has been set up to bring together those Christian organisations that promote inclusion and speak out as people with disability under one umbrella organisation.  To pool resources and work together is the aim, and the conference is born out of this.   But it needs supporting, people need to come so I’m asking you to please try.  And if it is successful, I and others are going to see if we can get some support and a venue to put a similar conference on up in the north of England.

I’m doing 3 workshops at the No Limits conference this time.  I’m busy planning them this week!  (Only left it this late because the Puppet Festival was first – see below!).  But I am happy that I am doing one workshop about helping teens with disabilities grow and flourish in church as they develop into adults.  The second workshop will be showing people how to tell a sensory Bible story and it WILL be interactive!  Thirdly I will be looking at behaviour management in a children and young people’s group.  Some children with challenging behaviours have additional needs, some undiagnosed but I do have a few tips and approaches that just might help.  There are lots of other workshops too as well as the Key note speeches – so do take a look (and book).  Looking forward to seeing some of you there!

The European Puppet and Creative Arts Festival

This was run by One Way UK was last weekend and along with my daughter, we presented 4 workshops over the two days.  The first was simply an introduction to autism, with some tips about how to support children, families and adults with autism.

 

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The second was a practical session looking at different creative ways of communicating the Bible.  We split into two groups and used puppets and sensory stories to tell about Moses and the burning bush and about Jonah.

The third session was an introduction to Makaton and using signing to communicate faith words, in songs and in prayers and was enhanced by the arrival of a newly qualified Makaton tutor…thanks Linda so much for your help!!!

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Finally, I led a discussion session about how inclusive are our churches.  But this being a puppet festival, we used the puppets to show how diverse our congregations are and to act out different ways we exclude people.  It was lovely to finish this session with a prayer time – using our prayer tree and symbols to show how we try to include everyone in our group of adults with learning disabilities.

 

Thanks One Way Uk!  We appreciate the new puppet skills we also learned and I’m looking forward to seeing how we can develop some puppet activities in the Good News Group ministry.

Three amazing talks at our Network meeting.

On Saturday 30th April we met for the fourth time as the Lancashire Roofbreakers network.  Over 20 of us met, and listened to 3 great talks that prompted a lot of discussion and questions, which was fantastic.

Talk 1 – setting up an additional needs ministry for children and the wider church

A small tent with sensory toys inside

James and Sarah talked to us about how they had planned to put provision in place for children with additional needs in their children’s activities on a Sunday morning. But more than that, they had put together a 3 part plan to develop awareness and engagement from the wider church, with the ultimate aim of getting everyone aware and equipped for including children, young people and adults in their church.

James had put together a training evening for the children’s workers, (which was very similar to the All Inclusive training done by Mark Arnold from Urban Saints) and has rolled up his sleeves to get involved in the Sunday children’s work each week. From there, he and Sarah can implement the advice, support others doing so and speak to parents of children with additional needs.  I was very impressed by the lengths they had gone to in order to listen to children and parents so that what they needed was made available. Sarah showed us some of the resources they were using and gave us chance to look at them through the morning.

Secondly, James and Sarah have attended leaders’ meetings and presented their vision and plan so that the leaders understand, know and can support what they are trying to do.  They have spoken to smaller committees and leadership teams and are hoping to speak to every group in the church.  This is a good approach…communication and having everyone be aware means that what they are trying to do will be understood, supported and hopefully adopted by others.

Finally, James and Sarah shared a wider vision…to reach out to the community. To tell them through the community newsletter what they are doing and what is available at the church for those with additional needs and disabilities.  We all know families and individuals that find church hard, or who came once and felt that they weren’t going to fit in, and they want to make a way for people to come back to church, or come for the first time, feeling that they will be understood and supported with care and acceptance.

Talk 2 – Disability and Jesus

Dave, Bill and Jarvis the Guide dog

We were excited that Dave, Jarvis the guide dog and Bill had travelled over from the North East to join us and grateful that the snow earlier in the week hadn’t stopped them coming.

They came to tell us about how and why Disability and Jesus was set up, what they believe about disability and about their conference in June.

First they talked about how they want to develop a Relational model of disability. Our society looks at disability as a medical (disabled by medical causes) or social (disabled by society excluding or not valuing) issue.  Relational is about that we are all this together – all of us.  As Christians, and human beings we are all in relation with each other and should be journeying together towards our goal of being more like Jesus.

Bill said that we are all made in the image of God.  A God who doesn’t make mistakes. They also spoke about Jesus how exercised an inclusive ministry. He drew in those who were excluded. His ministry was one of incredible inclusion and welcome. They then went on to talk about the difference between healing and cure.  Healing being, coming to terms with your disability and being at peace with who you are with that disability. Cure is taking that disability away. God can do that but the healing is the most important thing.  The important part of healing is peace with God.  It gave way to lots of interesting and important discussion about healing and the wants and hopes of different people.  Disability and Jesus will be giving people an opportunity to look at the Biblical basis of disability, healing and inclusion at their forthcoming conference https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/towards-a-theology-of-disability-tickets-24367371464?utm_term=eventurl_text

The practical application of being relational with people with disabilities in church is about stopping people building walls between groups of people. They suggested we ought to be radical about hospitality, inclusion, welcome.  Asking why do we segregate people? How can we all come together and make it accessible for everyone.

We should be doing what Jesus did and going out and finding disabled people, sharing the gospel and bringing them in from where they are.  Making sure that what they encounter is the right ATTITUDE.

It’s not the church building – it’s the welcome and attitude that speaks more than any ramps or accessible toilets.  It goes beyond ACCOMMODATION – providing separate access.  It’s about INCLUSION in what everyone does.

Being community, all flourishing TOGETHER is what God wants.

Talk 3 – Alma Johnson

Alma with her question that says, Is my church a safe place?

Alma began with a startling question…

“Is my church a safe place?”

She then shared some of her own testimony and challenges of having a personality disorder to challenge us all about what made church safe for people like her and other conditions, that meant being in one place with large crowds of people were just too overwhelming and therefore made church unsafe and inaccessible.

Alma herself has written a blog post about what she shared and so I will post it as the next blog so you can read it from her own words.

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