Every community has people with disabilities: young or elderly people who have poor sight, hearing or mobility, children with physical or learning disabilities, wheelchair users or people who are autistic.
Training and its benefits
In my town, there are now church services in Chinese, Indian and Polish languages, and you can find Christian Unions, Street Pastors and homeless shelters in the area too. There are groups for Muslims who have converted to Christianity, prison Alpha courses, drug rehabilitation centres, Christians Against Poverty job clubs and debt counselling and so much more- all run by Christians; sharing the gospel in practical and prayerful ways.
Something many of these ministries have in common is training. To serve in these ministries, a Christian is trained so that they understand the needs and how to communicate and serve the particular group they are supporting. Many groups offer training and talks to churches so that they can support those people in their church families. And that is why I and others are building up training courses about including and supporting children and adults with disabilities in your church. Understanding and being aware of a person’s needs (and how to respectfully ask them about their needs) is very important. Knowing how to read the Bible with someone from a Muslim background, or with someone serving a prison sentence, can make all the difference in building their faith. In the same way, knowing how to communicate the Bible and gospel truths to someone with learning disabilities can make all the difference to their faith. In the same way, knowing that a person with autism may very well take things literally, means that when we explain the figurative language of the Bible and Christian theology, we need to do so in a way they can make sense of it.
One size doesn't fit all
Understanding people makes a lot of difference. In this family of God, we are all different, but we seem to have developed church services and liturgy that expects everyone to be the same. If we are going to be able to preach the gospel in a way they can access, and then make sure people with disabilities are able to be part of our church family, we should have some training to do this.
"This is just as important as having a ramp or wider doors for wheelchair access. Or maybe even more important."
I would really recommend Urban Saints “All Inclusive” training for Sunday School teachers, Youth Workers and Church leaders in particular. This course covers some of the many different disabilities that children may have and gives some good, practical advice about how to organise support in your church and how to help with specific strategies. You can also get in touch and request an “All Inclusive:2U” visit. Which is when one of their specialists will come and visit your church to help you audit and plan for supporting an individual or group of children with different needs.
Prospects and Liveability have training courses aimed more at including adults with disabilities. These include support to set up a special group for adults with learning disabilities (such as the “Good News Group” at my church - you can find out more about it on my blog.) They also provide resources and run groups at the main Christian festivals such as Keswick, New Word Alive and Spring Harvest.
There are many other opportunities to get some training at a conference, or to invite someone to do training at your church. It is also a great idea to get churches and the community together for training. You may find someone local who might do some training. Remember, whoever you use should cover how to access the Bible. As Christians we are about making disciples and opening up access to God’s Word, prayer and servant-hood. This is just as important as having a ramp or wider doors for wheelchair access. Or maybe even more important.
Interested in gaining some training?
Here are two conferences I’d like to invite you to this autumn. There will be some great people who have some excellent advice and experience to share. I am speaking at both events and will be touching on the different aspects of inclusion and I would love to meet those of you who might be reading this article.
First, I will be doing workshops at the One Way UK, European Puppet and Creative Arts Festival on 28th and 29th October 2016 in Rugby. These will include lots of practical ideas exploring different ways of communicating to children with disabilities using puppets, sensory experiences, Makaton and drama.
Secondly, I highly recommend the Churches for All conference in London on the 12th November 2016. This is a whole day with some fabulous speakers, all of them with specialist knowledge and experience in including people with disabilities in churches – and many of them are people with disabilities; therefore they are experts in this subject. I will be doing workshops looking at supporting behaviour, sensory Bible stories and developing the gifts and discipleship of teens with additional needs in your church.
Lynn McCann is a wife and mum to two young adults. She runs an autism consultancy and training business.