Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

Posts tagged ‘#hope’

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)

 

great banquet

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.

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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

Just do something…

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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.’

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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.

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  • 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:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/additionalneedsalliance/  – you can apply to join this group – so many great people to connect and share with.

http://www.prospects.org.uk/index.php/whatwedo/2/7  – a charity our Good News Group is supported by.

http://www.throughtheroof.org/ourprogramme/churches-inc  – lots of good resources and is developing regional networks.

http://www.careforthefamily.org.uk/Family+life/parent-support/parenting_additional_challenges/additional_needs_support – just full of care!

http://musingsofakidsworker.blogspot.co.uk – Kay’s blog which is very informative.

http://www.snappin.org/   and their blog (do sign up for by email – daily encouragement!)  http://www.snappin.org/#!blogger-feed/cund  An American Special Needs Ministry that is amazing.

http://www.acceptrespectconnect.co.uk/  – just look at what they do!

 

 

 

 

When we want to run away. (God and Elijah.)

Elijah_Fed_by_RavensWEB

Run away or stay and fight?

Elijah’s story is an exciting one. He stands up to the evil King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, who kill all of God’s prophets except him because he has run away in fear after declaring God’s judgement that a drought is coming. He is brought food in the desert by ravens, runs away again to a far away town, a widow feeds him and her jar of grain never runs out, then God brings the woman’s son back from the dead. In the nail-biting climax, Elijah goes back to King Ahab and challenges all the false god Baal’s prophet’s to a duel of fire…and the one true God of Elijah wins, hands down. Finally proving that Baal can’t do anything, the Israelites turn back to their God and it rains again.

We are always pleasantly encouraged by how our Good News Group of adults with learning disabilities love to listen to and join in the stories from the old testament. They seem to grasp the drama and the tension, learning the ‘Goodies’ and the ‘Baddies’ names and cheering when God steps in, intervenes and saves his people. We have explored some interesting, flawed and surprisingly ‘normal’ characters and I think we have learned a lot through their flaws and how God used them anyway. We are learning that God can use us, that we are not useless or broken even if society looks down on us and doesn’t realise what we are capable of. We are learning that we have Jesus as our saviour and to follow him means that God WILL use us. We are part of the body of the church that belongs to Jesus Christ and no disability excludes anyone from that.

Elijah’s story has spoken to me about what we do in the most difficult situations in our lives. I have had times when the situation has been so hard and threatening that all I have wanted to do was escape. Each day I have prayed for God to give me the ability to persevere and stick it out for my own spiritual growth and maturity. I have prayed for those who hurt me and for blessings upon those who present themselves as my enemy. I’m sure as Christians we all have been in similar situations. Jesus warned us that in this life we will have trouble. But he came to carry our burdens and rescue us for eternity.

But do you know what? I am a coward. In threatening situations all I want to do is get out. Looking back, I used to feel great shame and disappointment that I had given into fear and run away. But whilst studying Elijah I had a change of mind. See how God was with him when he ran away from Ahab and Jezebel. God didn’t reprimand him and send him right back in there to face the enemy. No, he tended to him, gave him a safe place to rest and renew his strength by the brook. He took care of Elijah’s basic needs by sending the ravens with food each day. When the brook dried up, he sent him to another place of safety and provision. It wasn’t until Elijah was fully restored, built up by the experiences of God’s power and miracles, that he sent him back to do the job of standing up to his enemies.

Elijah Prophets of Baal FINAL

Take heart, if you are in a place where you are struggling and want to escape. Do ask God to strengthen you each day and he will Often that will be good and get you through. But sometimes it seems that running away, leaving, failing even…is all we have left to do. Know that God, through the saving grace of his son Jesus, is able to restore us and lift us up. I have heard of marriages, families, drug addicts and lives restored by an awesome, amazing, faithful and kind Lord God of all creation. And once restored, we can fight the battles in HIS strength – and see HIS power just like Elijah did.

Amen to that!

 

I failed…

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This week  is one of my rare personal posts. I have always intended this blog to be about ministry to people with additional needs but as is often the case, I find myself learning and being challenged along the way.  Sometimes I am very challenged.

This week I have failed…and failed a lot. No matter how much time and effort I put into doing the right things, striving to do all that is expected of me and still have time for people, Bible study and prayer….I fail.

This week I have let people down.

I have forgotten important things…like a family birthday.

I failed to reach certain standards at work and didn’t get some things done by the deadline.

I have hurt people because I said the wrong thing, or snapped at them, or couldn’t spend enough time with them.

I couldn’t cope with other people’s problems so I hid away.

I didn’t do something I should have and caused a lot of upset to someone because of it.

This week I failed and failed and it made me feel crap.

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The way out of the pit.

One thing I have learned as a Christian is that God can truly meet all my needs. He promises me that if I trust in Jesus there is no condemnation from him for me.  I am set free from guilt and sin…..WOW!

I need to remember to go to Him in prayer and ask him for what I need. This week I need to ask for forgiveness, mercy, memory, the ability to sort out what is really important from what is not….and rest….yes…rest (PLEASE!). It is a lesson I have been learning for years and each time God takes me a little deeper into knowing and trusting him.

This week his answer to me is this….

2 Corinthians 12:9

But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
 Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
This week I will still fail, let people down, not be good enough, forget things and upset people.  But don’t you notice it too….we live in a world that is constantly judging, measuring and reporting on our worthiness.  And I bet that you sometimes don’t live up to these standards too.
But what about God’s standards?
His is perfection.
But we can’t live up to that if we can’t even live up to this messed up world’s standards.
Then we thank God that he sent his son Jesus. The only one who ever lived a perfect life because we cannot.  He died for our failures, sins and evil ways.  He died to be our saviour.
So next week I am going to remember that God sees me as perfect through Jesus, because when we put our trust in Jesus this is the promise we receive.
To my family, friends, colleagues at work and in ministry I am sorry when I fail you.  Where I can I will put it right.  Where I can’t I will ask you to forgive me and let God’s grace restore us and make our weaknesses show HIS strength and power at work in us.
Thank you for listening.

 

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