Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

Posts tagged ‘#Makaton’

High Expectations

inclusive church
“Disabled people are not incomplete examples of so called “normal” humanity but complete persons before God. Their impairments and disabilities are part of their human identity…God has called each of us into being. None of us is a surprise or an accident or a mistake and certainly not an embarrassment to God. He has called us into being and each one of us has a vocation.”
Bob Brooke p28 in “Enabling Church” by Gordon Temple and Lin Ball (2012)

What do you really think of people with disabilities? Are they people we care for or minister to? Are they numbered amongst your friends or in your family? Do you see having to make accommodations for them as a chore? Are they a part of the church that can’t serve but need people to serve them? Are they receivers rather than givers?

The language we use about people with learning and other disabilities in society and in our churches reflects and informs our attitudes. Currently there is a new Children and Families Act going through parliament which sets out a new SEN code of practice. It is all about meeting the needs and providing the services children with SEN and disabilities need from others. The media has been full of negative reports concerning the assessment of people’s disabilities for benefits and whether they deserve housing benefit if they have a room in their house that is necessary or not. Attitudes, comments and beliefs that inform people’s view of people with disabilities are becoming more negative…so much that I wonder what happened to all the positives of the 2012 paralympics.

The Bible states:
“For it was you who formed my inward parts;
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
That I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
When I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes looked upon my unformed body.
In your book was written
all the days that were formed for me,
When none of them as yet existed.”
Psalm 139 verses 13-16

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.”
2 Corinthians verses 4-7

An inclusive church is one that sees each person as having equal worth and as having something to contribute. The trouble is that we often deliver a ‘one-size-fits-all package that means that some people are excluded. We use complicated language, we ask people to stand to sing, we ask people to serve and then expect them to do it in a way that lives up to someone else’s strict expectations. This leaves many people feeling a failure in the church, not just those with disabilities. Only this week I was speaking to a friend who is a new Christian. She has joined a good church but already finds the language and expectations confusing. How can we talk about a God of grace when they are trying to fit people into a mould she doesn’t understand, or feel that she can never fit into?

We are trying to address this at our Good News Group. First we have to establish a right attitude…God loves us all equally. We are all his children and all have a purpose in his plans. We can all receive and serve.

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In reality it means flexibility….In how we do things and expect things to be done and in how we teach the Bible.
In how we do things we have to look for ways the people with disabilities can use their interests, gifts and willingness to serve the group and the wider church. Therefore we started asking for volunteers to do many of the weekly ‘jobs’ that enable us to function. It has been very successful in that the team feel less pressured and have more time to build relationships with the group, some things are done slower or differently but they get done with a sense of achievement we can all appreciate. The members of the group are active and not passive and are learning new skills. There is a greater sense of ‘oneness’ in the group rather than ‘us and them’ and it is beginning to feel more like the kind of ‘real’ church we see the Bible asking us to be. We are looking to find ways in which the members can be involved in contributing to the leadership of the group. We already seek their views and take on their ideas but how about seeking to find those with leadership potential and giving them a place and voice on the leadership team?

In teaching the Bible the early leaders made a declaration not to treat these people like children but to aim to give them access to the Bible as adults. This is what I first admired about the group when I joined. The challenges have been that those preaching have had to learn new ways of communicating and making that teaching accessible. We have had to learn about our members and how they learn. We watch their responses and reflect on what works well and what doesn’t. We bought a symbol package, learned Makaton and puppeteering, and found sources of good pictures that weren’t childish. We learned to explain complicated and academic words clearly and step by step. We learned how to address challenging concepts such as sin, salvation and reconciliation. We explore the old and new testaments and don’t rule any part of the Bible out because it is unpalatable. We have learned to see Jesus in the whole Bible and help our members see Him too.
I have been delighted and amazed at the response to our Bible teaching but I know we cannot rest…

Where we in our group have high expectations of what our members can do and can access in terms of understanding the Bible, we know this is a small and insignificant part of the whole church in this country. I long to take what we have learned and talk and equip other churches to see how people with disabilities can make the body of Christ whole. So many churches are lacking because they don’t have people with disabilities or if they do, don’t know how to really include them. Those of us who do must speak up more and reach out. We should be sharing and challenging and equipping others to be inclusive church. I long to see a shift and change that moves us away from rituals and specific ways of doing things and instead be real families that love and serve Christ Jesus our Lord.

Thanks to those who are already doing this – I know some of you and you inspire and encourage us all at GNG and me personally. Here’s a great resource to start you off:
http://www.livability.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Life-to-the-Full-Church-resource-booklet1.pdf

Please do comment –  I love it when you do  🙂

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Christmas Outreach

Singing and Signing "Come and join the celebration".

  Singing and Signing “Come and join the celebration”.

Actors and Readers

  Actors and Readers

The Wise Men visit the stable.

The Wise Men visit the stable.

As promised here are some pictures of our Christmas Carol Service. All our members took part and really enjoyed themselves.  Even those who didn’t want to come out to the front still dressed up or put tinsel in their hair!

The purpose of this service is for us to encourage our friends and families to join us in learning the message of Christmas – that Christ was there in the beginning and came into our world so that he could die, rise to life and open up the way for us to be friends with God once again.

Thank you to everyone who prayed for us and everyone who came along and supported us. The church felt quite full and so many of you even joined in with the signing of our carols.  You all did great.  We are hoping we may get a couple of new members which would be so wonderful.

Now just the Christmas party to go this Wednesday…apparently I have to take a photo of me as a baby and someone is making rather a lot of pass the parcels…going to be fun!

Have a wonderful and blessed Christmas all of you.  If you are sad or happy, lonely or overwhelmed by family, full of joy or struggling…take a little time to remember our Saviour who has come for us all and know that he loves you very, very much x

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