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Church, cake and community: How Southwick Baptist Church made everyone welcome on Ability Sunday

Giving everyone the opportunity to share their skills and talents is at the heart of Livability’s work – and nowhere more so than on Ability Sunday. Celebrated by churches of different denominations, sizes and traditions, this annual event (this year held on 9th September 2018), founded and resourced by Livability, is all about running a day of inclusion and participation in the community, with special consideration for the needs of disabled people.

This year’s theme – ‘More Than Welcome’ – enabled churches to highlight how being authentically inclusive makes their community richer and stronger. Churches were supported by specially written, free resources from Livability to help them plan their Ability Sunday.

The welcome message came across loud and clear at Trowbridge’s Southwick Baptist Church, which was packed out as family and friends joined in this service led by members of the No Limits group. One of Livability’s ministry groups, ‘No Limits’ supports people with a learning disability in their spiritual journey.

‘People just kept on arriving at church on Sunday morning,’ says Jacky Newman of Southwick Baptist. ‘We’re usually a small congregation of about 25 people [but] the chapel became full as members of No Limits brought their friends, carers, parents and grandparents.’

In Shrewsbury, people from Livability York House took the lead in the service at Christ Church, as they welcomed the congregation at the door, took part in prayers and reading. The church’s clergy, Revds Rachael Farnham and Peter Hubbard, worked with York House residents to plan the service on the lead-up to Ability Sunday.

Churches used creative ways to make sure everyone could share in the worship, including crafts and creativity, with flags, impromptu drama and signing. Using the Accessible Bible, which was co-published by Livabiity and Biblica, the International Bible Society, in 2017, Southwick’s No Limits group read scripture verses and led the prayers.

Being inclusive doesn’t have to be complicated, says Jacky: ‘Every person in the church was asked to tell us one thing they can do well and everyone had something to say.’ Southwick’s welcome even extended to absentees, with the congregation creating handmade bookmarks during the service which were sent on to regular members who couldn’t attend on the day.

People at Livability York House kept the welcome theme going by providing homemade cake, ‘with fruit from the York House orchard’, adds manager John Roberts, for everyone to enjoy with coffee at the end of the service.

‘Understanding how we can limit the opportunities of those around us may be challenging, and finding solutions often takes a whole community to see differently,’ suggests Corin Pilling, Assistant Director of Community Engagement at Livability.

‘This can be particularly true when it comes to disabled people in our churches. For many disabled people, gifts may be unexpressed or are undiscovered by others. Yet a church where all of our gifts are present is one which is richer and more authentic. Ability Sunday results in a joyful celebration which points to the welcome for all that is at the heart of the Christian message and Livability’s ethos.’

‘Every person in the church was asked to tell us one thing they can do well and everyone had something to say.’

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