What have other churches done? – Livability

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The difference Ability Sunday makes – Churches tell their story

Giving everyone the opportunity to share their gifts, strengths and talents is something that Livability passionately believes in – and something that comes into sharp focus on Ability Sunday. Ability Sunday invites churches to celebrate the gifts of all – with a special focus on disabled people. It’s about enriching the life of the church and creating a stronger community that everyone can be part of. Since the day has been running, hundreds of churches have taken part. In this article some of the churches tell their story of why the day matters.

Jubilee Church – East Grinstead

The event gives churches the opportunity to consider if someone living with disability would truly feel included if they walked into church. ‘We had become aware of how many people were missing from church,’ says Sarah Wallis, additional needs coordinator at Jubilee Community Church, East Grinstead, who coordinated Jubilee’s Ability Sunday. ‘The church is in a good position to do something about including isolated people because we’re used to volunteering and have a heart for other people.’

Ability Sunday’s impact can be powerful, in Sarah’s experience: ‘One man, a new visitor who told me he is someone living with autism, said it was amazing to just hear someone speaking in church about including everyone with different abilities’.

Supported by additional Livability resources, including community engagement conference and dementia inclusive church training, the church’s outreach programmes now include Jubilee Hub – ‘a place for people who might be isolated to come and belong’ – and the Sustain café for parents and carers of children with additional needs. As well as art and games activities, the Hub offers advice on benefits and other needs, from a support worker provided through a partnership with local commissioned services for adults with intellectual disabilities. Using the Ability Sunday resources ‘helped me to raise the profile of disability and helped people in the church understand why we have started programmes like Jubilee Hub and Sustain café,’ says Sarah.

St Andrew’s in Leyland

Like Jubilee, many churches are building on the positive impact that previous Ability Sundays have made on the church community. Since taking part two years ago, St Andrew’s in Leyland now gives increasing opportunities to their group for people with intellectual disabilities – the Good News Group – to serve across church services, with welcoming duties, reading the Bible and leading services. ‘We are working towards every week becoming Ability Sunday,’ says Lynn McCann, a Good News Group leader.

Lynn and St Andrew’s members have no doubts about the joy that including everyone brings to the church family. ‘The feedback from the congregation at our first Ability Sunday was overwhelming,’ says Lynn. ‘People got the message and loved seeing what people with intellectual disabilities have to offer the church.’ At Lawn Church in Swindon, one member described the service as ‘all in all a wonderful morning – it was a privilege to have worship led by this talented group of lovely people’.

Working for more accessible church

Although it may be that Ability Sunday prompts churches to think about the structure and language of a church service through a disability lens, very often a more accessible approach has wider appeal. ‘Ability Sunday makes church think about language, being less word-based so that literacy isn’t a barrier. We get comments like “you’ve made church more accessible for all of us”’, says Gordon Gill, Livability’s Head of Church Giving. Lynn from St Andrew’s agrees: ‘Using a short-sentence style for the sermon, supported with images, worked very, very well for a family service.’

‘Ability Sunday was created to celebrate what people can do, not what they can’t do,’ says Gordon. ‘When churches give the opportunity for things to be done a bit differently, and are often profoundly affected by the contribution that disabled people make.’

This results in barriers coming down and friendships growing, Gordon observes, something which can be of particular value and significance to disabled people who may spend most of their life with those paid to care for them. It doesn’t stop there – what happens through Ability Sunday reaches the wider community outside the church, Gordon says, ‘because we are demonstrating that the Church is truly accessible and inclusive’.

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