It is a privilege to be asked for advice on what a church should do to include people with additional needs. To make them feel welcome, to make them be able to come along each week and it be a place of refuge and strength for them. The thing is, our church, like most others, are learners…we haven’t got all the answers or got everything right, so I turned to the lovely people of the Additonal Needs Alliance and asked them what advice they would give. This, along with a couple of blogs I have read recently, has helped me put together this post. So thanks to Beth, Mark, Ruth, Barbara-Anne, Anita, Fiona, Liz, Rachel and Bea!
- Have a designated person to oversee and coordinate the support and overall vision of the church for inclusion and practical implementation of support for people with additional needs. This is like a school has a SENCO. Mark Arnold from Urban Saints made this point. I agree, all churches should have a SENCO.
- Understand what having a child or adult with additional needs in your family is like. It is 24/7. It is an abundance of love for them standing alongside constant care, worry, sleepless nights and fear for their future. Every day is full on, no day is the same and parents and carers never switch off. They often don’t look after themselves too well (they don’t have time) and often give more of themselves to help others who are carers too. Sometimes they feel grumpy and can be short of patience with small minded things. Often they are sleep deprived and coming to church is not a break or a rest. It can be a minefield of fear, anxiety and stress.
- Listen to parents and carers. They know their child best. They may not yet be experts on the child’s condition, but they are learning. However, do not tell them what you know; as often what we know is a generalisation; but ask them if you can learn alongside them. Even though I am an autism specialist teacher, I will always ask a parent how autism looks in their child, because each autistic person is uniquely autistic.
- Listen to the child or adult with additional needs. They know themselves best. They know what they like and don’t like. If they cannot speak, spend time watching them and learning how they communicate. Think highly of what they can understand and achieve. They have gifts that the church can be blessed with. Jesus has a place in his body for them too and it cannot function well without them.
- Don’t let your congregation judge. Don’t even let one little “tut” come out of anyone’s mouth! Parents and carers of people with additional needs get plenty of that out there, in society. It has no place in Jesus’ church.
- When you have listened you can ask some practical and patient questions. What works for you? What works at their school or daycare centre? Is there any of these things that we could do to make church better and easier?
- Do….The things you can from the answers above. One small thing can make a huge difference to the child or adult with additional needs and to their family or carers. When you’ve done one thing, don’t think you have done it and can ignore them from then on…do another thing…and another.
- Consider getting good training for church leaders. (Everyone who leads or volunteers for anything!) Have speakers who have additional needs. Keep talking about diversity and learn together. Prospects, Through the Roof, Liveability, Torch Trust, and others can be found on the Churches for All website. Urban Saints do a great training course called All Inclusive and is highly recommended. All these will provide or find training for you. The local special school may have some Christian staff who would be willing to help or do some training for you.
- Keep reviewing how you are supporting the child/adult and their family or carer. Ask them how you are doing. Ask the people they talk to, just in case you get “I’m fine”. We all know “I’m fine” doesn’t mean everything is ok, it often means ” I don’t want to make a fuss”. Encourage them and a friend of theirs to be more honest.
- Set up some special activities that are preferred by the child / adult with additonal needs and for once in a while, get other children or adults to come alongside them in THEIR comfort zone. So whether it be a child who loves Lego, (have a Sunday School session based on Lego once a month) or an adult who uses Makaton (let them sigh the Lord’s Prayer in the service) bring their interests and strengths into how we do church.
- Teach the congregation about Jesus’ love for all people. Send them out to serve in daycare centres, do assemblies in special schools, visit people with additional needs in their homes or talk to families with additional needs in the supermarkets. Bring children up in the church to stand up for those who have additional needs at school. Show them how to approach and be friendly, make sure they know the names of any children with additional needs who come to church, however infrequently. Tell them to smile and say hello, when they see them, and not to stare when they make noises or behave unexpectedly.
- Have high expectations of God and his word. Find ways to open up the wonderful riches of the Bible. It may mean you do your weekly services a bit different. It may mean your preaching takes on a different style completely. You may need to use differnt forms of communication, like pictures, or signing rather than just talking for 20 minutes or more. Maybe all the church could learn some basic Makaton or BSL signs.
- Celebrate the diversity of God’s family. Watch and listen to people with additional needs and let them show us how they connect with God. I want to tell you about Becky who uses a special computer with eye-gaze technology to communicate. She drew this picture of the Easter story And another little girl who has autism, who danced around the cross on Easter Day, making people experience her joy and abandonment. I want to tell you about our adults with learning disabilities who pray for us, serve in the church and love Jesus.
- Know it is God’s work to save. Then pray, be mouldable and trust him. A willing heart can be used by God. He can change us to be his family together. Be willing.
- Finally (for now!) is to remember that you don’t need any qualifications or even experience with additional needs to be a church who makes people welcome and part of their congregation. All Jesus asks us is to follow him and do the things he did. I don’t remember him ever “tutting” at someone trying to come to him….do you?
This is just a guide and summary of all the great advice people who have additional needs or who have children with additional needs have given me over time. We have put as much as we can into practice in our church and are still very much a work in progress….like we all are. I hope you find this useful and encouraging….let’s all work together and let Jesus build his church for all.
I am finally ready to admit something that really bugs me…
It’s that each time we have needed training or wanted to go to a conference to support the ministry we have at the Good News Group, it has been ‘down south’…
Now, this is not a gripe about my lovely friends or the amazing people who live and work south of, say, Cheshire, but it’s just that I’ve noticed that in the North West of England, we MUST have a wealth of experience, expertise and resources right here that we can and should be using to support one another. I want to be able to build a hub of expertise, training and resources that we can call on locally and where people can visit each other’s churches easily and share good practice, or observe what is going on.
So that is why we are setting up the North West Disability Network. We are going to be connected to and supported by lovely people from various charities that support inclusive church. The group is facilitated by Through the Roof and Tim Wood is coming up (from ‘down south’) to start us off.
So if you go to a church in Lancashire, or knows someone who does, please pass this on to them. We will have a great morning at our first meeting. Some of the Good News Group are going to tell you how they learn about the Bible, and there will be tea and home made cakes as we work out how this Network can work best for us in Lancashire. Whether you are a church leader, a Sunday School teacher, person with a disability or parent of a child with additional needs, everyone is welcome.
If you can let me know you’ll be coming, (you can use the contact form at the foot of this post) it will be helpful, otherwise, come anyway. We’d love to meet you. Don’t forget to look at http://www.reachoutasc.com/churches-organisations/links-and-resources for some great free resources too.
Welcome to my website – please take a look. The information and resources I share on my talks about adults and children with learning disabilities in church are there and lots of other resources for autism. each week there will be something new… bookmark it and keep taking a look. www.reachoutasc.com/churches
If you think of something that could be added – get in touch! What do you think?
Here it is! we’ve arranged a meeting to draw together people who are disabled and/or involved in disability ministry in churches in our area. Lancashire and the North West of England is quite a large area and fortunately our church is right in the centre of it all, with easy motorway, rail and bus links. We’re hoping you readers will help us publicise this in your own networks so feel free to share on twitter, Facebook and to your friends by email. You can access the full flyer on my website www.reachoutasc.com
The vision we have is to link with churches, charities and individuals in our area with each other. We want to:
- pray for each other and our ministries
- listen to each other, give people with disabilities a voice
- promote opportunities for people with disabilities in our churches
- share good practice and resources
- look at how we can support one another in the future
- identify our training needs and develop a North West directory of expertise and trainers
- discuss how we can reach out to other churches and support them in including children and adults with disabilities or additional needs
I’m really exited! The Good News Group are going to do a little presentation too as our members are keen to get involved. Please come along if you can…
It’s half term….phew! Well I used to think that when I was a teacher in school. Although when my children were growing up it always felt like a busmans holiday, I’d still be surrounded by little ones demanding very minute of my time and who wanted entertaining. In truth, I loved those weeks where we could go and learn through visiting museums, walks and journeying to anywhere we could get to on a train. Have-railcard-will-travel.
A break and time to be refreshed is why we keep to term times at the Good News Group. It may seem strange when none of our members go to schools any more, but we have found that the break does help us all. Some members do get a little anxious and need to know exactly how long it will be before the group starts again, that is easily dealt with. We give plenty of notice and visual or written reminders and each house gets a letter reminding them of the date we return. These measures may seem simple but are vital to our group, many of whom are cared for in community homes, with a rota of carers and everyone needs to know what is happening and when.
Another reason we take a break is to look after the team of people who volunteer every week to support and teach at the Good News Group. The first week of each new term we have a team meeting and along with prayer, sharing a meal together and planning all the practical things that help the weekly meetings go so smoothly (well, usually they go smoothly!) we get to learn about our members and share how best to support them.
This year our team asked if they could have some training about the different conditions that our members have. So, I have trawled through the people I know and found some that will talk to us for an hour. I started us off with a session about autism and the next session is about deafness. After that I have lined up talks about Down’s Syndrome and Cerebral Palsy. I am also talking to some of our members about their conditions and asking if they’d like to tell us about it. One or two have said they would but others have given permission for me to pass on what they have told me.
I think that training is really important and helpful in any ministry with people with disabilities. I do believe in listening to the people who we are ministering with and learning about their abilities as well as their difficulties. It is also helpful to have a wider overview of a condition. We’ve had training in the past from http://www.prospects.org.uk which has been great and we highly recommend it.
We are also looking at what we can access locally. This is a project I am starting, to build up a directory of people and organisations in our area that can offer training to church groups like ours. We are partnering with http://www.throughtheroof.org to set up a North West Disability Network to try and bring people involved in supporting people with disabilties and people who are disabled together. We want to see how we can encourage, support, share and build good inclusive ministries in the North West of England.
If you live in this area please consider joining this Network. Our first meeting will be on the 25th of April 2015. I will be putting a flyer on this and other sites as soon as they are ready, and you can also get in touch with me on Twitter @includedbygrace or on my website www.reachoutasc.com/churches. (The links and resources from my talk in Eastbourne last weekend are on the website too)
There is a reality in many of our churches – they are just not that physically accessible. This is the entrance to our church…
There’s another entrance, fortunately, but to get into the building, those who come in wheelchairs have to park on the church hall car park, come through the graveyard and be pushed up a wooden ramp into the building. (A good path, lit and smooth has been laid but it’s not much fun on a dark and rainy night…especially one like last week with hailstorms). Once inside we have only one toilet (it is disabled friendly) and from there in the building is level, we replaced the old pews with chairs a few years ago and so wheelchair users can sit wherever they like.
You see, the word “CAN’T” is not allowed to be a barrier to people accessing the church. On a Wednesday meeting at the Good News Group we may have up to nine people in wheelchairs joining us. The co-ordination and effort put in by the people themselves, the team and the carers runs like a military operation. I only realised this term as for a short time I seemed to be ‘in charge’ of making sure everyone got OUT of the building and to the right car, taxi or lift at the end of our meeting. I can’t wait until Bob comes back, he’s much better at the job than me!
Our building is old. It is beautiful, historical and listed. So we can’t put a ramp in by the front steps, apparently. We’ve had to find creative ways of meeting legislation for access and making the building accessible to all. It seems to work…even though we are aware that without all the help from others, our members who use a wheelchair might not get into church at all.
The problem of old, inaccessible buildings is a a reality for many churches. We have legislation to comply with but more than that we need to do all we can to make a church easily accessible for all. I’d rather tear down and rebuild a useless building…but that’s not always possible. (we had enough complaints when we took out the pews to put chairs in!) The alternative is to do church in another place that is accessible.
Saying we “CAN’T” isn’t an option…not because of the law, but because church is a family of all believers, not just those who can get there up the steps…
My name is Liz and I have attended the Good News Group for nearly 3 years now after hearing about it in December 2011. I became a Christian when I was a tiny baby, my mum and dad wanted me to be christened as I was very poorly and they wanted me in the protection of Gods love. All my family have always attended church and are devout Christians. For as long as I can remember I have joined them when they go to church and its a way of of life now for me, a life I love and cherish.
I enjoy going to Good News Group. I like the art sessions before we say grace and eat. I especially enjoy the service in the chapel, where we sing songs and say prayers. Also, we have a puppet show reenacting stories from the Bible which gives us a fun and visual way of learning about our Lord. I always like to get involved in the dramas that we do. While I have attended Good news group I have learned about the stories of Jesus in more depth. I enjoy all the stories about Jesus but the Easter story I find fascinating. The stories are always relevant in all aspects of our day to day lives, teaching us to always follow in the ways of the Lord with his wisdom.
I always get a chance to do readings at services and I’m included in the jobs rota, this includes the sound desk, saying grace and many more tasks. We join together in the summer holidays for BBQ’s and play fun game example, welly throwing. I’m given the choice to go on courses, days out and tea parties. My favorite is the Christmas period were we have a carol service and Christmas parties with games and prizes.
I will look forward to many more happy times with all my new friends at Good news group and I’d recommend this group to anyone who wants to celebrate knowing Jesus.
Liz very kindly wrote this for us. She also attends a local Torch Trust Group. Liz is wheelchair user and visually impaired, with a faith and knowledge of the Bible that contributes greatly to our meetings. She willingly serves and shares her gifts, prays with her heart and is such a blessing for us all.