Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

Posts tagged ‘#inclusivechurch’

Letting God build the ministry.

In January 2014 I wrote this post “ASC What’s That?”  about starting up my own business in supporting children with Autism in schools.   Part of my motivation was to get out of a stifling education system that crushed my ideas and creativity and give myself space to get involved in disability ministry more and more.  I was crushed, but not defeated; demoralised, but not without hope. I stepped out from all the pressure and condemnation into a world where all I had was a lot of ideas, buckets of enthusiasm and a need to start earning a wage very quickly.

My company – Reachout ASC

I hit the ground running and have hardly stopped for breath since.  I have learned how to actually think like a business, had a website made and am supporting nearly 20 schools regularly with over 500 people having attended training that I have delivered.  Not only to schools but family support charities, churches and a children’s work conference in sunny Eastbourne.   I was so keen to bring my ministry and work life together so that I could feel fully ‘me’ in all that I do.

I have been really encouraged by a Lou Fellingham song Build this House (listen here).  It says  “Unless you build this house, I am building it in vain.  Unless the work is yours there is nothing to be gained.”  (C) Lou Fellingham.   In any kind of job and ministry that is starting something, or moving something on, we can only build what God has planned.

Although God seems to be pressing on with things!  As well as my business growing so that I am taking on two more autism specialist teachers so that we can support more schools, I am whizzing around the county talking to Head Teachers, SENCOs, Speech and Language Therapists and teachers about our service and hopefully helping a few more children with Autism and Asperger’s have a successful time in school.   I now have a Facebook page here, full of articles and ideas about autism;  am active in the Twitter education and SEN community; (Follow me here @ReachoutASC ) and I am writing a book about supporting pupils with ASC in secondary schools.   I LOVE MY JOB!

My website! Please have a look.

My website! Please have a look.

I have always had a love of learning.  And I am learning so much that I am able to convert into action in church too.  I have set up a churches tab on my website and will continue to add new resources.

The Good News Group

We continue to run our weekly meeting for the adults with learning disabilities in our community.  We are seeing spiritual growth in so many as we let God lead us in discipling them.  We’ve had a brilliant Puppet workshop from One Way UK and a revamp of our activities during our social time (I think we were all getting a bit bored of the same things) and have just sorted a load of boxes with activities suggested by our members.  We weren’t bothered about age appropriateness when they asked for sensory toys, playdough and duplo!  It’s going to be fun for all of us to play together as adults.  We’ve also got some picture Bible’s to read, Bible colouring and some more crafts, jigsaws and games.   The group is just like I would love church to be for everyone.  Full of joy, love and freindship whatever your abiliity.   However, we have all the issues and trauma’s as any other ministry group might have and have recently had a bereavement.    We are feeling really sad about it, but we have hope in knowing that a lovely, quiet man who loved the Good News Group and liked to pray, is now with our Saviour Jesus.

One Way UK Puppet workshop

One Way UK Puppet workshop

This lady is our jigsaw whizz!

This lady is our jigsaw whizz!

Lancashire Disability Network

The Lancashire Churches Disability Network went really well.  With the support of Tim Wood from Through the Roof, we had over 40 people at our first meeting.  The buzz and enthusiasm was fantastic and we are praying once again….God build this house, or we are building it in vain.  The next meeting is in a couple of weeks and already, one church is making plans to set up their own group for adults with learning disabilities.  People want to find things out, share experiences and learn together.  I AM REALLY EXCITED AND GRATEFUL.  This group has been two years in the praying, planning and waiting.  I have learned some patience…………
I am grateful too for you who have read, shared and supported this blog.  Keep on sharing, commenting and looking where God wants you to build his house.  

15 ways to include children and adults with additional needs in church.

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!

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

  5. 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.
  6. 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?
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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    Becky's picture        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.                                                                                                        IMG_0237
  14. 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.
  15. 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.

We’re Better Together

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.

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We should be more flexible to include those with Additional Needs.

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I sometimes wonder who is more rigid…the child with autism that I am supporting, or the school system (and people in that system) that I am trying to support them in?

In my work with autistic children in mainstream schools, I have found that those staff and schools who are most flexible, are better and more successful for those who have autism.

For  example, writing… Our whole education system is based on children being able and willing to write.  One aspect of autism is the need to see the point in what they are doing.  (A logical strength) However, the amount of writing demanded in every subject is enormous, and only increases with each school year as the demands of the curriculum get harder.  This is all well and good but what if writing and composing what you want to say is really hard?  What if you have trouble organising your thoughts and imagining what something might be like? What if you don’t understand the point of copying something out of a book, or writing things in whole sentences instead of giving the actual answer?

I have had some success with persuading teachers to be more flexible and allow pupils with ASC to write about things that are interesting and relevant to them.  Along with being allowed to type rather than hand write, for some.  Often this provides the motivation and relevance to write that the child needs and they usually develop more confidence, skills and academic progress.  To be honest, teachers are often relieved that I have given them permission to be more flexible and thrilled when it starts to engage the child in writing.  I once had a child writing about BeastQuest for the whole of year 5. By the end of the year he had progressed two levels and was more willing to have a go at other forms of writing. From writing almost nothing, by the end of the year he was writing full BeastQuest stories that he sent to the publishers!

I get cross that our education system has so stifled teachers creativity and flexibility that I have to give them permission, written out in a way that justifies what we are doing, just to allow a child to work within their interests for a while! Teachers feel under pressure to be seen to be doing the right thing, can be criticised for being creative while at the same time criticised for not being! It is the sad truth of our education and inspection system.

 However much I could go on about this (and it is based on experience not just opinion!) it is to churches I want to apply it. 

The Gymnast/Yoga: Back Arch/The Wheel/Chakrasana

Why do you do what you do? Is it because you’ve always done it that way? Will someone criticise you if you be a bit flexible or change things?

When including people with autism or any kind of disability we need to stretch ourselves and really think about being flexible.  I’m not criticising any one church but just drawing together my understanding of the experiences that people with disabilities have had in churches.  As with schools, the most successful are those who look at their members and adapt to their needs.  We don’t need to change the gospel message or the Bible to do this, but the way we communicate, illustrate and welcome people into God’s family can be very flexible.

It is quite realistic to suggest that there might be people who are on the autistic spectrum in your church. Many of them could be undiagnosed adults. There will be people who have hearing difficulties, sight or mobility problems. People who are dyslexic, colour blind or have mental illness.  All of these could impact on the way they access the rituals and teaching in your church. I’m not just talking about a ‘traditional’ church either.  I visited a lively church recently that insisted everyone stood up, danced and waved their arms about. The noise from the band was VERY loud and they played background music over EVERYTHING. Even the sermon.  I was completely overloaded, but many others were having a great time. Conversely, a quiet, traditional service can be really hard to follow with the antique language and unspoken ‘rules’ of when to sit, stand, kneel, respond.

So how do we be flexible in our churches?  One thing I love is that there are many different styles to choose from in most towns and cities.  In rural areas there may only be one small church for miles.  So for a person with additional needs, or a family with children with additional needs, it can take them some time and stress finding one that is suitable and comfortable for them. I know many who have given up after visiting one or two churches where they did not feel welcome.  The place and people expected them to fit in with their rituals and systems. They were rigid.  The families and individuals with additional needs were expected to be the flexible ones.

But the emphasis should be on us, in our churches, being flexible enough to change things.  Take communion for example. Do we have to go up to the front? Even taking it to someone in a wheelchair makes them different.  What if we took it to everyone where they are sat, so the wheelchair user feels part of it too?

We are challenged by this ourselves, in the Good News Group.  Our members needs are varied and wide and making them part of the church is something we work on together.  We are open to challenge and to change in our practices and we grow together in faith and as a church family as a result.  The only thing we don’t change is the Gospel Message and the Bible.  We have a routine, which is important, but even that is flexible too.

I hope schools and churches will be more flexible.  Don’t hold on to things “just because”.  Question and challenge yourself…WHY do we do this, in that way? Could it be more inclusive, and more meaningful?

I sincerely hope this helps you think about this.  Please do comment and tell me your experiences.  It’s an ongoing issues that we all are continually challenged by.  In schools, churches and society.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds.”  Hebrews 10:23-24

And don’t forget to follow my new Facebook page, with lots of great autism and related articles  Reachout ASC – autism Support

And my website which is REALLY filling up with great stuff  www.reachoutasc.com  – like and share as much as you like!

Connecting people in disability ministry in the North West

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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

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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…

Training the Team and a building a local Network

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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)

Inclusion or separate provision?

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I’m writing this from the Hand in Hand Conference in Eastbourne where I’ve come to deliver two sessions about making the Bible accessible for children with learning disabilties and autism in churches.

Someone asked the question, “Do we keep all the children together even if they don’t seem to be accessing what we are doing, or should we set up a special class?”  Someone else asked, “What do we do if a child needs a lower level of teaching and would access what they do in the younger class? Do we keep them with their peers or let them stay down?”

My initial response is to say that inclusion means having the same opportunities as everyone else.  It is better for social inclusion for a child with learning disabilities to be with their peers.  It is also good for the peers of the child with learning disabilties to learn how to build friendship and include those who may see and experience the world differently to them. Relationship is two-way. Relationship is sometimes not easy. Relationship may take some effort.  But relationships that are two-way, where both learn ways of building that friendship can be wonderful.  Children with learning disabilties and with autism need peers that can include them, and adults need to facilitate that.  Especially in the church.

However, sometimes the needs of the child are causing them to be overwhelmed and going into the group can just not be working.  It is them that sometimes taking them out of the group, working with them 1:1 or in a much smaller group can be helpful.  There should always be a plan of how to work towards getting that child back into the group.  Sometimes that means changing how the group is organised and what they do.  In the work I have done with autistic children in churches there are some simple things that have been really effective…

1.  Talk to the parents, ask them what their child likes and what works for them. Find out all the things the child likes.

2. An hours training about what autism/ learning disabilty is for adults involved.  (A similar session aimed at the children can be done as well)  Parents or the child’s teacher might do this for you.

3.  Simple visual structure so that they child knows what is happening and in what order. (A visual timetable)   Include some of their favourite activities and if you can find Bible related versions of these, great.  E.g. Bible jigsaws, the brick Bible Lego pictures.

4.  Look at simplified versions of the main teaching session. Think of one sentence you could focus on.  Use visual pictures to sequence a story.  Let them take home one sentence or Bible verse to focus on.

There are lots more things you can do.  I have put my Eastbourne slides and resource list on my website (www.reachoutasc.com) so do take a look under the “churches” tab.

The aim should be to establish what does work and them move it into the main group – and the peers of the child themselves should be involved in the inclusion.

I have pondered the same question with our adult group too.  Why have we set up a separate group in our church?  One of the reasons is that Sunday Church has been inaccessible for a lot of our group.  For many of the reasons I have discussed on this blog, there are language, sensory, physical and cognitive barriers in the main church service.

Our aim IS to have fully inclusive church, but just as there are midweek groups for ladies, men, the more mature, children’s groups and so on, the Good News Group is a focussed group where people with learning disabilties can come and meet other people like them, they can have teaching and nurturing that is built around their needs and where the pace and communication is tailored totally to being as accessible as it can be.  I can say that the Good News Group is fully church to me too. We work as a congregation, serving one another, finding our gifts and developing them and knowing one another so well that we carry each other’s burdens, pray and praise together.

We run our ‘service’ part of the evening like a regular church service.  We do this because ultimately we want to draw our members into the main church and allow them to feel familiar, comfortable and that they understand some of it.  Our church will need to play its part and be supportive and welcoming.  It is.  Our ministers preach with pictures to illustrate their sermons a lot of the time. This makes Sunday church more accessible for our members.  We have a long way to go but we are not saying “we can’t”.  We might say “We don’t know how?” but I think God can work with that.

The same is with your children with learning disabilties.  Work with them and their families to make them feel safe at church.  Then work to include them.  Then work to disciple them and show them that with God there are no limits. Remember all the other children need to be part of the inclusion process.

If you think you don’t know how, then that’s okay.  Just don’t say “we can’t”.

Remember what I said in my talk… “If children can’t learn the way we teach, then let us teach the way they learn.”

Access issues for the disabled at church

There is a reality in many of our churches – they are just not that physically accessible.  This is the entrance to our church…

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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.

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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.

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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…

You do not know the seeds you plant?

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    Leyland Brass Band were amazing last night. A world class brass band who happen to come from our town and doing a concert in our church. I never thought I would love brass bands so much, but then I never thought our 15 year old son would be playing trombone in another local brass band, either.
It was at primary school when a brass playing headteacher arranged for the whole year group to have free brass lessons for a year. The instruments were given out by size, so being one of the taller ones, our son got a trombone. A seed was planted that was watered and nurtured in him and still amazes us, his parents who are not musical at all.
The same sort of thing happened when I was a girl. It wasn’t music that someone planted into my life, but church. An elderly lady took my best friend to Sunday School with her every week. One week I was playing outside my house and she asked if I’d like to go too. Like the Pied Piper, she walked a long route to church, collecting various children, about 5 or 6 each week, and took them to church. None of our parents or siblings were interested in going and so, if she hadn’t have planted those seeds, I would have not have loved the Bible stories and Wesleyan hymns that still are the foundation of my faith.

‘My food,’ said Jesus, ‘is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, “It’s still four months until harvest”? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying “One sows and another reaps” is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labour.’ (‭John‬ ‭4‬:‭34-38‬ NIVUK)

spiritual-growth-header

In our ministry to adults with learning disabilities we planted cress seeds last week.  Some of the members came back this week very excited that their seeds were growing.  We want the seeds of the gospel to grow in their lives too.  We don’t always know what they already know.  Some have been to church with their families and tell us about their faith (such as Liz who wrote a blog post for us – https://includedbygrace.wordpress.com/2014/10/23/what-one-member-thinks-of-the-good-news-group/ )  Others are unable to tell us and others we know have never been to church before coming to our group.

A retired church leader once said to me “Why bother teaching the Bible to people with learning disabilities when they have the understanding of a three year old?” … after quickly composing myself, I forgave him his ignorance (we are all ignorant until God open’s our eyes) and talked to him about how this was a wrong assumption and asked him would he teach the Bible to a 3 year old.  He said yes, but not all of it as they couldn’t understand.  But for the fact that it is a completely wrong assumption, we talked about the power of God’s word and how we cannot limit it’s power by assuming someone can’t understand it.  It lead very well into the session I was delivering about how to communicate the Bible in accessible ways!!

We are farmers of God’s word, in this ministry and in all ministries.  We are sowing the seeds of the gospel to EVERYONE and we are harvesting the souls who receive it in faith.  But let’s not forget that God is the gardener, it is he who brings the water and the sunshine to nurture and grow those seeds and it not for us to exclude any people because we think they can’t understand it.   Let’s not be a barrier to God’s power and transforming Spirit. read this

I think we also need to be sowing lots of seeds to help others in the church understand that including people with learning disabilities in their fellowships is something they need to do, and have high expectations of how they can receive the gospel, be ministers of God’s grace and serve the church family just as we all can.   This is the purpose of this blog and why I’m so privileged to be involved with the Additional Needs Alliance, Prospects, Through the Roof, Urban Saints and Churches for All.  I’m privileged to speak about what we do, be interviewed and write about it…anything that will help and equip others to become involved in a fabulous, rewarding and amazing ministry.   I’m currently getting my talk together for the Additional Needs Alliance forum and Hand in Hand Conference in Eastbourne  http://www.handinhandconference.com/  and wondering if I can get one of our GNG puppets into my suitcase…

Me and a friend explaining the Bible to adults with learning disabilities

5 things to learn from the Parables

 

Singing and Signing "Come and join the celebration".

Singing and Signing “Come and join the celebration”.

The Good News Group’s Christmas service was amazing! We had lots of visitors and the members told the story of Jesus’s birth together, everyone doing their part so well. We were blessed to have the minister from our sister church at Buckshaw village, Who did a great talk linking it all together with the message that Jesus the baby grew to be the man who died for us on the cross….You should have been there!

This term we head back into the New Testament and are going to look at some parables we haven’t covered before, except one. As always we have chosen a main point for each session and all our teaching is about who Jesus is and why he came.

Jesus often used parables in his teaching. He taught them in a way which  people of the day could understand. Jesus used terms and pictures which his hearers would have been familiar with. His hearers would often be captivated by the parables and would then discover that they had been about themselves. So they are just as relevant to us today because they both reveal and conceal truths about God and ourselves. There are 5 sessions so, we are going to look at 5 parables. They are, THE SOWER, THE WICKED TENANTS, THE GOOD SAMARITAN, THE WEEDS, THE WEDDING FEAST.

Parables can be tricky for those of our group who only understand things literally. We also have members who can understand the meaning and will tell us what they think about it. By keeping things simple and direct, we are hoping that all our members and carers can understand the gospel. We want them to know they have a choice and that being accepted by God is as simple as accepting and believing his Son.  We will be using our usual communication approaches such as clear explanation, short sentences, repetition of key phrases, slower pacing, sensory engagement, signing and drama or puppets – not all at once of course!  So our 5 points are:

parable of the sower

  1. Jan 14th The Parable of the Sower (Mt 13:3-23)  Main Teaching Point: People treat the Good News of Jesus in different ways. 
  2. Jan21st The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Mt 21:33-41)   Main Teaching Point : We can’t share in God’s promises unless we obey Him.
  3. Jan 28th The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:30-37)   Main Teaching Point : Our love for God is shown by how we treat each other.
  4. Feb 4th The Parable of the Weeds (Mt 13:24-30 & 36-43)  Main Teaching Point : God will, one day separate the people of the world. 
  5. Feb 11th The Parable of the Wedding Feast (Mt 22:2-14)   Main Teaching Point : It’s foolish to refuse God’s invitation.

We are looking forward to this term and can’t wait to see our members after the 3 week break.

IN OTHER NEWS

On February 6th -8th I’m travelling all the way down to Eastbourne to speak about ways to make Bible stories and worship more accessible for children with disabilities.  This is at the kind invitation of Kay Morgan-Gurr and Mark Arnold who run the Additional Needs Alliance (join their page on Facebook – it’s great).  I’ve never seen my photo online as a conference speaker before and it all seems quite surreal – but I’m looking forward to the adventure (no least the actual travelling, and praying for no snow or delays!)

http://www.handinhandconference.com/conferences-training/2015-timetable/  – if you are there and have read my blog – please do come and say hello!

God Bless you

Lynn

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