With 2017 just around the corner, autism consultant and trainer Lynn McCann challenges you to make room for resolutions that will have a positive impact on your church's inclusiveness in the new year.
It's that time of year. As I'm writing this it's full steam ahead with the Christmas preparations and church for the next couple of weeks is going to be busy. We are looking forward to many visitors and sharing the good news of Jesus’s birth. We’ll sing lots of carols and eat a few mince pies too many. There'll be candles and light and glitter and Nativity scenes. A typical Christmas.
If you're a church leader you'll be exhausted by now. Once the Christmas celebrations and multiple services are over, we face the cold, dark days and nights of the rest of the winter months. I don't know if you make resolutions, I have always tended not to as, along with most people, they tend to get broken two weeks in. However, it's never a bad time to think about how accessible to everyone your church is and a new year could see you make one resolution that could have a lasting impact on your church growth and your congregation. Resolving to make one change that makes your church more accessible can make a huge difference to who will come and who you can support in their Christian faith. If you are a church that wants to grow (is there any other type?!) then including the 1.4% of the population who has a learning or other disability, should be part of your agenda; I know it's part of God’s agenda.
King David resolved to find any last living relative of Saul’s and invite him to eat at the King’s table. His servants found Mephibosheth, who had a disability. In those days this was not a person who would usually be included in society, never mind being invited to the King’s table. We should be following David’s example and seeking out those in our communities who have learning or other disabilities and making sure they can come to the King’s table.
Here are 5 resolutions – I’d love you to pick one and make a start this next year:
1. Appoint a disability coordinator, or SENCO (Special Needs Coordinator) at your church
This person can be the link between people and families with disabilities and the leadership. They can get to know them and their needs and they can communicate to the family important things like which Sunday School teacher is on that week. They can be someone who lets the leadership know what the needs are in your congregation; it’s great if the person has a disability or direct experience but anyone who is a good listener can do this.
2. Pray for those in your community
Find out who is in your community and start to pray for them, then go and meet them. Find out what their needs are. Build relationships. Pray for social services and other providers that support people with disabilities in your community.
3. Be friendly
Sit next to a person with disabilities regularly and get to know them. Ask them how you can help rather than assume you know. You’d be surprised at the little things you might be able to help with. Offer to look after a child with special needs for 10-15 mins after the service so their parents can at least have a cup of tea. Befriend, don't patronise and smile don't tut.
4. Offer alternative reading materials
Alternative reading materials such as NIrV Biblica’s accessible Bible. https://www.biblicaeurope.com/our-work/the-accessible-bible or a large print Bible from Torch Trust. You could prepare pictures of the main points of the story or sermon to help people who can’t follow all the verbal communication, on a handout or power point. Get a group of people together to make bags of resources such as pictures, sensory toys or objects that will support the children’s teaching for the next term. Then they are ready and available.
5. Get some training
Look up Churches for All, join the Additional Need Alliance Facebook page and find out what you can. Visit the Churches for All Website where’s there’s a list of many organisations that support churches and people with disabilities.
I hope you can have a go at least one of these things. Do tweet me at @includedbygrace and share what your church is doing. I’ll be doing one of these too!