Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

Posts tagged ‘#inclusion’

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

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“My church is on Tuesday and we have a train set.”

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This is a guest blog from Elizabeth Mellor who runs an Additional Needs Ministry called “Take 5 take5& Chat”.  I thought it would be good for us to look at what kinds of Additional Needs Ministries were out there and give you some ideas about what you could do too. 

Whitley Bay is a small seaside town in the Far North East of England (FNEofE) and is famous for many reasons. We have St Mary’s Lighthouse, the Ice Rink – and the town has been used as the setting for many films and music videos. Whitley Bay is also the first town to run a Take 5 & chat Café Drop-in, supporting families who have children with additional needs.

It is a sad fact that many churches struggle to be a truly welcoming place for families who have children with additional needs. I know that there are many success stories but I have heard of so many families who take turns to attend church, look after their own children in church settings, or give up and do something more family friendly on Sundays instead.

So I wondered what the church could bring to the lives of families in our communities who face extra challenges? I wondered what ‘church’ could look like.

I thought about being the parent at the school gate whose child isn’t meeting the same targets as others. Perhaps their child isn’t invited to parties. Perhaps the teacher often has stuff to report at the end of each day. Perhaps their child is excluded by physical reasons from taking part in everything. When the other parents chat about the weekend, the holidays, the classroom, the reading scheme, this parent feels isolated and alone.

What about setting up something that meant these parents, from different schools in the area, could meet together, as if at the school gate? What might this look like?

It’s a while since my children were at school and my next step had to be to see if this was still needed. So on 9th March 2015, after much prayer and planning, I launched a Facebook Page www.facebook.com/take5andchat as a ‘place to just be’ for those caring for children with additional needs. The intention was to reflect a face-to-face Café Drop-in on a Facebook Page. It hit the ground running and I saw quickly that the need was still there.

We opened as a friendly, accessible café at Whitley Bay Baptist Church in June 2015 and the Drop-in now opens every other Tuesday afternoon, all year round. The parents asked that we stay open through the school holidays as most activities close.

We have hot drinks and homemade cakes. We have activities and some toys – and a play leader in the holidays, but the children remain in the care of their parents. We are a friendly café, not a play scheme.

Neither are we here to directly promote our faith or attendance at our church on Sundays. We open for the parents to have a safe place to be, “an oasis”, as one parent said. God walks amongst us whether or not we recognise him.

Once relationships were established and everyone felt safe together, a number of the parents asked if we could offer any parenting courses, which we could, and did. (I am a trained Facilitator for Care for the Family’s Time out for Parents… but maybe that’s another blog post!)

So now there are over 30 families who ‘drop in’ to a room at the side of our church. They have found support and encouragement. They come with friends, they make new friends, they share the names of helpful teachers at local schools and tell each other where to go for further support and advice. They keep in touch via a closed Facebook Group. Whenever our team is a bit stretched, these parents eagerly step up to help set up, serve at the ‘counter’, clear up or talk to new parents. Because Take 5and chat Café Drop-in is their place and they belong.

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Most of the parents have never been involved in any kind of church before.

Some ‘sign in’ on Facebook at the church.

Many now describe our church as their church.

On Tuesdays. With cake… and a train set.

 Our Founder & Coordinator, Beth, is available to talk with your team, or to your church/faith group, about setting up a Café Drop-in for those parenting children with additional needs. Sometimes having someone from outside explaining it can really help! (Fee is dependent on time and distance, and is to cover costs, please ask.)

If you would like to run a ‘Take 5 & chat’ Café Drop-in, using our name and logo, there is a one-off License fee allowing use of our name and logo to named individuals. We send you digital copies and a certificate. You can use this for your closed Facebook group, on mugs & aprons. (There is a good supplier!)

If you choose your own name, then please acknowledge us if you use any of our general wording or ideas. We can still help you get started!

Email    info@take5andchat.org.uk

www.facebook.com/take5andchat  

https://twitter.com/take5andchat

Website (coming soon) www.take5andchat.org.uk

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People with learning disabilities are scared about the news too.

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This past month has been really difficult for me.  It was building up since before the Brexit vote, but that tipped the scales.  I’ve been worrying about even watching the news, wondering what horrible event will happen next.  I’ve been upset with the political situations in Britain, Turkey, America, and the middle east.  Upset about the violence, murder and persecution of people all around the world.  I’ve been trying to pray for those killed and hurt in attacks, not just in Europe, not just those splashed across the newspapers in our country, but the forgotten and ignored tragedies in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and other countries.

But I’m overwhelmed.  On top of the exhaustion that comes to every teacher at the end of the school year, I want to yell at God…”STOP THE WORLD…AND LET ME GET OFF!”  I’ve not been sure how to cope at all.

And it was in this state that I set up the ‘Day of Prayer for our Nation’ on Facebook. (Join me here if you still want to pray).  That did help a lot.  In searching the Bible for guidance and when a wonderful friend offered to help, we remembered our response to this world is to pray and to share God’s love.  Praying through those prayers as the day went on, really helped calm my troubled soul…and continue to do so.

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It is so important to include people with learning disabilities in our engagement with what is going on in the world. They worry too. They hear and are affected by what is going on, sometimes more directly than we are.  (Take the Government’s welfare reforms as an example). We can pray with them and give them access to praying with us if we help their communication.  The accessible prayers are just one example. Signing or pictures may help  some. I know L’Arche communities are wonderfully experienced in building the prayer lives of everyone in their communities.

On the Wednesday, at our usual Good News Group meeting we set aside some time to pray for our nation, using the accessible prayers that I had made for the Friday.  Each table had a set and the members and carers each chose a prayer to offer, in our usual ways of either reading it out themselves, a team member reading it for them or just by placing it in the centre of the table, showing that they are offering their prayers to God.

Everyone there took a prayer and offered it to the Lord. What really struck me was their real concerns and worries about Brexit and all that was happening.  People with learning disabilities hear things on the news and worry the same as the rest of us, we shouldn’t be surprised.  They too want to make sense of it all.  The comments I want to share with you show how much they care about this.

D, who isn’t a Christian but comes to the group every week, was really fascinated by the prayers we had set out on the table.  He said “I’m really glad you’ve put these out.  I don’t believe but I want you to pray about this…” and he passed a card to one of the team to pray. 

V said “I’ve been hearing about all this on the news. It’s terrible.  What’s going to happen, I don’t know.” and she chose a prayer for all the politicians. 

E said, “I’m worried about what will happen to my carer.  She’s not from this country.  I’m scared they are going to take her away, then who’s going to help me then? She’s lovely is my carer. I don’t want another one.” 

And all around the room, people with learning disabilities were joining in as prayer warriors for this nation.  Lord hear our prayers.  Lord have mercy.  Lord hear our prayers.

I’m hoping that others have joined us too.  I sent out the accessible prayers to a few people who asked for them, so if you were one of those, I’d love to hear how your prayer times went.

I feel that God has been sending me encouragement this week in two blogs I have read.  I am sharing them here and hope that if you feel overwhelmed and discouraged they will help you too.  Firstly Anthony Delany reminded me of the parable Jesus told us about how we should know that there is evil in this world. God is allowing the weeds and the wheat to grow in the ground together but he will protect his wheat and burn the weeds at the harvest.  It helped me.  And then Helen Murray encouraged me by reminding me of how Gideon felt when God asked him to fight the Midionites – and to go in the strength that we have because God is with us.  Thank you both.

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A very special talk, challenging how we ‘do’ church.

As promised, here is the full talk from Alma – her words are better than mine and so I am delighted that she has written this down for us. 

Last Weekend I was invited to share my thoughts about Mental Health and Church at a meeting of the Lancashire Roofbreakers.  Lynn has kindly allowed me to share the substance of that talk here.

How Safe is my Church?

It is interesting to consider how quickly our minds move towards physical and accommodation issues when considering this question. Or am I a minority of one?  I find it interesting when listening to others whose concern focuses on other disabilities. The need for ‘inclusion’ seems to equate to making sure people can all join together in one big crowd and how we manage to make it physically possible for that happen. This includes the size of our buildings, accessible doorways, seating etc.

As someone who has grown up in churches of all shades and opinions and who lives with a complex mental health condition the focus on the physical surrounding is irrelevant to me in helping me to feel included within the Church Family.

My biggest problem with Church is the people.  Not the attitude I encounter (although stigma remains a massive issue) but the fact that Church by its nature forces me to spend time with large numbers of people.  Let me explain why this would be a problem to me.  I have a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. It is sometimes now referred to as either Emotionally Unstable PD or Emotionally Sensitive PD.

Marsha Linehan, an American Clinical Psychologist who has created an effective therapy for BPD called Dialectical Behaviour Therapy and who finally admitted she herself shared the diagnosis, has summed up the experience of living with BPD as follows:

 ‘Borderline individuals are the psychological equivalent of third-degree-burn patients.  They simply have, so to speak, no emotional skin.  Even the slightest touch or movement can create immense suffering.’

Let’s just pause for a moment and imagine that the presence of other human beings, of any number can feel excruciating, then let me ask some questions about ‘how safe’ the way we do church, especially on Sundays, feels to me.

How Do We ‘Do’ Church?

  • Medieval

If you spend any time visiting the large spectacular buildings of our historic churches and cathedral, we can observe how the medieval church gathered.  It was often the largest building towns and villages and therefore was used for mass gatherings, there was no seating.  As a modern church we have inherited buildings from earlier generations.  From a purely appreciative perspective, it is fantastic to know that there is such a ‘Cloud of Witnesses’ who have gone before us.  Have they always worshipped solely in large spacious buildings, in large crowds, or has there been a different way of gathering together?

  • Victorian

If we have a legacy of physical spaces which force us to look at numbers over quality of relationship…What then of the timetable of fellowship in each week? The Victorians put pews into the large medieval structures, or mimicked them by building huge structures in the medieval image.  That means that it would feel like a waste if our main meeting together didn’t make use of this accommodation.  What about two large gatherings every Sunday?  Evening services effectively developed when Sunday Schools were at their height and churches needed to feed their Sunday School teacher spiritually. Is the way we plan services on a Sunday effective for today’s needs?

  • Big Crowds

When I am invited to join in with my church family I am caught in a conundrum. I know that the Bible exhorts us to ‘not give up meeting together’, but why do our gatherings focus primarily on large groups of people?  We like numbers, in a society where Christianity faces many challenges, sometimes our need to gather in large numbers can feel like a form of defence.  It’s okay if our large Victorian building is full, especially every Sunday.  We feel safe in large groups.  They’re anonymous.  If the presence of people inspires anxiety and panic in me, is it safe for everyone? What would happen if our focus moved from joining together as the whole church body (particularly in large and growing churches) and looked at how well supported our small groups are?  It’s easy to escape the challenges of living in fellowship if you only attend the large, well-attended meetings particularly on Sundays.  It also allows us to absolve our responsibility to be an inclusive church to the Welcome or Leadership Teams.

  • Family Focused

For many with Mental Health issues families are not safe places.  I need you to teach me and model for me what a loving family can be.  Is the emphasis on children, and the importance of family in the way you do Church, or hurting people who have internal wounds which need to be healed?  I found it interesting at our meeting of Roofbreakers how much time was spent discussing the needs of children in church with Learning Difficulties and the practical solutions offered to help them stay in Church.  Many of the solutions were on drawing people into the larger group.  The prospect of only being able to access Church if I am prepared to manage my emotionally responses enough to ‘cope’ with being in groups of 100+, terrifies me so much, most Sundays I either have to put in all my energy to staying there, or I opt out.

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How Can We Do Church?

  • Redefine

Can we redefine church from being the gathering of EVERYONE in our circles on a Sunday to a broader definition?  How often do enjoy being able to share in the Spirit with the struggles of the church worldwide, while we neglect the regular remembrance of those who are housebound, or unable to join with us due to disability of any kind.  For me, the ability of friends in ones, twos and small groups to meet together and support me spiritually is vital to me feeling a part of the church.

Do we need to look again at where the church started?  3000 were suddenly added to the church at Pentecost, where did they all end up meeting?  They didn’t have large buildings, nor did they have the ‘evangelical timetable’.  You know the one: Sunday is Church, Monday is Ladies’ Prayer, Wednesday is Small Groups, Thursday/Friday is Youth.  Where is the idea that Church is ‘where one or two are gathered in my name’, or ‘Whenever they met together’…. If Church is only Sundays (I know and have heard many times, ‘Church is not the buildings but the people’) then is the way we define Church out of sync with what we believe about what Church should be?

  • Break Down the Numbers

What would happen if our focus was more on organising ourselves as mainly meeting as church in smaller groups?  What if our gathering of the ‘whole’ congregation became less regular, on a monthly basis, and the main point of teaching was within smaller groups? What if we sold our buildings off, or changed them to be an essential resource for the community, thereby having a daily presence of the Church in witness to the world?

  • Challenge Stigma

The best way to challenge any prejudice is to introduce the bigot to a real living person with whom they have to interact.  If you want to know how my experience of life and faith differs from yours, ask me.  In smaller groups it is easier to break down barriers.  Again if Church only means the big Sunday Services, it becomes very easy to pat me on the head and distance yourself from what I’ve been banging on about at the front.  Especially, if you misunderstand what Mental Illness is and how it affects people.

  • Relationship

My understanding of the gospel is that relationship is central to it.  In the beginning, God established that ‘it was not good for man to be alone’.

Before we are in relationship with God there is a vacuum.  Emptiness and isolation are common symptoms of a number of complex and more common mental illnesses.  It follows then, that the Church has hope to offer to people with Mental Health issues.  God understands that we were made for relationship.

Is the way we do Church at the minute designed to help us develop effective and satisfying relationships with one another?  I often have conversations with people about how dissatisfied they are with the lack of depth in their Church friendships.  That’s because we fail to apply God’s principles to our Church relationships.  We emphasise our relationship with God, rightly and stress the importance of time spent learning more and more about Him through prayer and Bible Study.

The Church is Christ’s Bride, that means that everyone of us form a part of one body, we are all united to one another in Christ.  Somehow, I think we have decided to accept that this mysterious, spiritual union, somehow negates the necessity to learn more about one another, in fellowship.

How do we do that? By spending time with one another, for me the most effective and safest way to get to know my Church Family is in ones and twos.  When I spend more time with you during the week, then there is a shared understanding when we come together for worship and fellowship as part of the wider family.  If I can see that I am accepted, that there are reliable relationships and true friendships, then it makes the struggle to get to the bigger meetings worth it.  How important, really is relationship and enabling the building of in-depth relationship, in the way we currently do church?

I am not offering any answers. I recognise the inherent challenge in much of what I have said.  However, I hope it helps us to engage with the thorny issues around probably the most isolated disability group in our churches.  Solutions and hope for relationships are welcome.

 

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.

People, Puppets and Praise – Day 3

Today I am going to let the photos show you what a fun day we had.  In the morning we had a group from Kendal join us.  They brought a drum and a guitar and lots of enthusiasm too. We continued to learn about Elisha and Naaman, through drama and had a great telling of the ten lepers story from Janet (who is a person who tells stories really well!)

In the afternoon I ran the puppet workshop and around 36 people turned up! We learned some basic principles of puppetry such as keeping your puppet looking at it’s audience, how to do different movements and emotions.  Then we put on some praise songs and put it all into practice.  I’m going to let the photos tell the story…Puppet Workshop wed 22.7 (11)

The two types of puppet we used.

‘Talking Puppets’ and ‘Dancing Puppets’ Me and Karen the signer.

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Two girls holding puppets.

Sio and Frazz my two assistants and our performance to the group.

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The guests having a go.

The guests having a go.

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More guests having a go with the puppets

More guests having a go

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All the room was full of people using puppets

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

Hope you enjoyed our pictures.

I’d love to recommend a couple of websites / resources for learning how to use puppets. This book by Amy Robinson with accompanying DVD is brilliant to teach anyone about puppeteering and One Way UK do courses and sell puppets (although puppets can be bought anywhere of course.)

Recommended book by Amy Robinson

Recommended book by Amy Robinson

 

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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