Sarah has Downs Syndrome and tends to stammer. Sarah is a full member of her church. Sarah reduced the congregation to tears when she read about Jesus weeping following the death of his friend Lazarus; she read with intense feeling and heartfelt pauses.
Two members of the Doorway group at Grace Community Church, Stevenage have recently been baptised. There was careful preparation by those who know them best, plus a few tweaks to the sermon and the worship. For many years the church has been pleased to welcome people with learning disabilities. It isn’t just a case of making a decision for Christ but becoming His disciples and being encouraged to use the gifts God has given them.
Church is an alien place for most non-Christians, even those without a learning disability. If they dare to venture inside one of our meetings many would struggle to understand the rich language of our faith, they may find our worship sessions full of unfamiliar songs, lengthy and repetitive, not to mention the embarrassment of the ‘Christian hug’. Add to that a learning disability and your attention span may be short, your speech incoherent, you may struggle to read and sometimes you may just want to get up and move around or make a noise, what then? Is your church ready to welcome in the outcast and marginalised whom God sees as beautifully made in His own image? If your church is accessible to people with learning disabilities, it is likely to be more accessible for everyone.
Pete and Christine Winmill of Count Everyone In have nearly 20 years’ experience of supporting churches that want to be more welcoming and relevant to adults with learning disabilities through offering advice and training. They run parallel streams at the UK’s major Christian festivals, including our own Catalyst Festival, for which they have pulled together a team of volunteers from Catalyst churches in Reading and Stevenage. On one day only, Sunday 27 May, there will be two celebrations on the theme of ‘Friends of Jesus’. The sessions include sensitively led, joyful worship, interactive Bible teaching, prayer, optional craft activities and much more. If you know people with learning disabilities, why not invite them to come along – admission is free for carers. There will also be an afternoon seminar for people interested in enriching their church through developing a ministry for people with learning disabilities.
Join Count Everyone In in bringing the kingdom of God closer to people who are so often left out. If not at the festival, why not get in touch with Pete and Christine via the website www.counteveryonein.org.uk
Written by Pete & Christine Winmill