Conference News stream
Press release #4 – 22 May 2014
Is disability the elephant in the church?
The truth is, many of us just don’t know what to say when we meet a disabled person, particularly when we know that the disability is permanent, chronic or life-limiting. The light social chitchat we normally adopt for encounters with people after the morning service somehow doesn’t seem appropriate. How do we approach someone with dementia? How can we engage in conversation with an autistic person? Or with someone in a wheelchair? Just what is an appropriate pastoral response towards someone who has just told you that they are going blind? How can we say something meaningful to an overwrought carer? Will I say the wrong thing, provoke an angry response or accidently say something that will cause hurt or upset? If I offer help will I appear patronising? And if I don’t, do I appear uncaring – and leave the disabled person feeling unwelcome?
It’s easy to see why some of us find reason for a hasty retreat, or make an excuse to leave – or stick to benign remarks about the weather! Disability can certainly be the elephant in the church!
The Enabling Church day conference won’t give you pat answers to these genuinely challenging issues. But it will give you the insights and confidence to talk to people with disability and chronic illness. It will give you some pastoral understanding of what’s involved in being a disabled person in a world focussed on achievement and physical perfection. It will begin to equip you to engage with a largely-overlooked but growing section of the community who all too easily find themselves isolated, lonely and frankly marginalised. It will give you the courage to communicate with people humiliated by popular misconceptions about benefits scrounging. It will help you take a big step forward in valuing people who need to know that God loves and cares for them and that their disability is no barrier to them becoming valued and contributing members of their local church.
Enabling Church: Everybody in!takes place onJune 3rd at Bethel Convention Centre in West Bromwich, just off the M5 and near central Birmingham. For more information about the programme and the line-up of speakers, go to www.churchesforall.org.uk/EnablingChurch .
Disability affects the lives of more than one in six people in the UK – a number that’s on the increase. The simple truth is that most of us are going to experience disability or disabling illness at some point in our lives – and we’d like to be talked to, wouldn’t we?
Press release #3 – 22 April 2014
Can the Church lead the way to a more caring society?
‘Our society often pushes people with disabilities to the margins – but not Jesus! Two thousand years ago Jesus welcomed everyone – and he still does!’
Revd Jonathan Edwards, former General Secretary of the Baptist Union and now the Executive Ambassador for Prospects, the Christian organisation working with people with learning disabilities, is a keynote speaker at a major conference in June on how the Church engages with disabled people.
‘We all confidently sing about the Gospel of Jesus – but we don’t always live it,’ says Rev Edwards. ‘The Enabling Church conference gives us the opportunity to reflect deeply on how we can become a more truly Gospel Church where everyone is welcome.’
Sharing fully in the life of the church
‘About one person in 50 has a learning disability – both a challenge and an exciting opportunity for almost every church. People with learning disabilities, often quiet and compliant, can easily get overlooked. I am keen for every church to reflect on the way in which they minister to people with learning disabilities to ensure that they are sharing fully in the life of the church.’
The Enabling Church: Everybody In!conference will look at the challenges faced by the UK Church in welcoming and including people with all kinds of disabilities – including dementia, sight loss, hearing loss, autism and loss of mobility; and it will also discuss how the Church supports carers. Roy McCloughry, newly appointed Disability Advisor to the Church of England, is among an impressive line-up of Christians with relevant experience in different fields of disability.
‘People with disabilities are just like everyone else in that they want to be loved, understood and included,’ says Rev Edwards. ‘Everyone with a disability is unique and it is vital that churches value them and imaginatively include them in their life.’
The Church can lead the way
‘Eleven million people in the UK have a limiting long-term illness, impairment or disability – that’s one in six of us, and that number will continue to rise,’ says conference organiser Dr Gordon Temple. Dr Temple is the executive officer of Churches for All, a network of 14 Christian organisations working alongside disabled people, as well as being CEO of Torch Trust, serving people with sight loss.
‘It’s a very live issue for the Church to consider and to prepare for,’ adds Dr Temple. ‘We need to become a more caring society – and the Church can lead the way.’
Press release #2 – April 2014
Conference looking to create ‘dementia- and disability-friendly’ churches
In 20 years’ time, there’ll be more than half a million people in the UK aged 100 or over. A new report by the Alzheimer’s Society points to the ‘loneliness, alienation and segregation’ of many of our elderly people. But Professor John Swinton, minister of the Church of Scotland and chair in Divinity and Religious Studies at Aberdeen University, argues for a response to be found in the ‘key motifs’ of acceptance and belonging to be found in community.
‘A person’s spirituality has nothing to do with what they may or may not know. It has everything to do with who they know and how they relate to them,’ Professor Swinton writes in Friendship and Community in the textbook he has edited, Spiritual Dimensions of Pastoral Care.
The inclusive community of love
Professor Swinton will be a keynote speaker at a national conference in June which will address the Christian approach to a wide range of disabilities and disabling conditions. He describes the need for ‘the open, inclusive community of love and acceptance which we find revealed and lived out in the ministry of Jesus.’
The impressive line-up of Christian experts in different fields of disability also includes leading Christian psychotherapist Louise Morse, who believes that the secret of more contented ageing is found in the Bible.
‘Living by scriptural wisdom prepares us cognitively, emotionally and spiritually for contented old age,’ says Louise Morse. Ms Morse is media and communications manager for the Christian charity Pilgrims’ Friend Society and the author of books on dementia (published by Lion Monarch).
The Enabling Church: Everybody In!conference will look at the challenges faced by the UK Church in welcoming and including people with dementia, sight loss, hearing loss, intellectual disabilities, autism, loss of mobility; and it will also discuss how the Church supports carers.
The bigger picture
‘One in three of us will live with dementia in our later years,’ says conference organiser Dr Gordon Temple. ‘And when we look at the bigger picture we see that already 11 million people in the UK have a limiting long-term illness, impairment or disability – that’s one in six of us, and a number which will continue to rise.’ Dr Temple is the executive officer of Churches for All, a network of 14 Christian organisations working alongside disabled people, as well as being CEO of Torch Trust, serving people with sight loss.
‘So it’s a very live issue for the Church to consider and to prepare for,’ adds Dr Temple. ‘How effectively does the local church reach out, connect with, welcome and include Deaf people or people with autism, for example? The latest Alzheimer’s Society report talks about people with dementia needing acceptance and understanding in the community to achieve a good life. That’s true for many people with different disabilities. There are people living nearby most of us who feel desperately lonely because they are losing their sight and there’s no one to take them to the local shops. There are mothers who feel isolated because they feel there’s little tolerance of their autistic children. We need to become a more caring society – and the Church can lead the way.’
‘The conference seeks to be unashamedly transformational as we bring these issues into the light. We hope that many churches will send representatives to listen and learn,’ said Dr Temple.
Enabling Church: Everybody in!takes place onJune 3rd at Bethel Convention Centre in West Bromwich, just off the M5 and near central Birmingham. For more information about the programme and the line-up of speakers, go to www.churchesforall.org.uk/EnablingChurch . ‘Early bird’ tickets (£13.50) can be booked now.
Press release #1 – March 2014
A church for all – bringing two worlds together
A woman who is a wheelchair user is accustomed to others treating her as if she is only half there. People often talk over her head to the person pushing her wheelchair. Then one day she breaks her leg. She is still in her wheelchair but now has her leg visibly in plaster. Everything changes. People now assume that she is a ‘normal’ person who has broken her leg and will be walking again soon. They treat her entirely differently. She is one of ‘us’. They talk to her and treat her as a ‘real’ person. After a few weeks the plaster cast comes off and within days she returns to her previous experience of being overlooked. She is one of ‘them’.
Roy McCloughry, who has had epilepsy since childhood, is a major speaker at Enabling Church: Everybody In! a national conference taking place in June on how the Church responds to disabled people – a topic he describes as ‘urgent and important’.
‘The problem that arises between the abled and the disabled person is one of power,’ he explains. ‘People who are abled and who hold positions of power make many of the decisions that affect disabled people. Yet politicians and policymakers rarely see the world through the eyes of disabled people even if they appoint them to committees to advise them. Disabled people have to live in a world made by and for abled people.’
Roy McCloughry, who lectures in Ethics at St John’s College, Nottingham and who is vice-president of the disability charity, Livability, was advised as a young man not to apply for training as a priest in the Church of England, as it would not ordain an ‘epileptic’. Now he is engaged in making the Church’s training fully accessible to disabled ordinands.
The Enabling Churchday conference will bring together Christian people with a wide range of disabilities or disabling conditions – sight loss, hearing loss, dementia, intellectual disabilities, autism, loss of mobility – and carers too, to discuss how the UK Church faces the challenge of a society in which the incidence of disability is increasing.
‘There are over 11 million people in Great Britain with a limiting long-term illness, impairment or disability,’ says conference organiser Dr Gordon Temple, CEO of Torch Trust, the Christian organisation for people with sight loss, and leader of the Churches for All partnership of Christian disability organisations putting on the conference.
‘That’s one in six of the population – and growing,’ Dr Temple adds. ‘And the Church needs to apply itself to enabling disabled people to participate and share their God- given gifts. The conference seeks to be unashamedly transformational as we bring these issues into the light. We hope that many churches will send representatives to listen and learn.’
‘What God wants is a church for all,’ asserts McCloughry. ‘It is not a church for disabled people, nor a church which includes disabled people. It is a church for all. It is for anybody who is willing to love and be loved, discovering in the process that they are, and have always been, God’s gift to the world.
‘It is all too easy for the local church to become a club. We invite friends for dinner and they invite us back. But, Jesus says reciprocity is not the basis of the kingdom of God. We are to love those who do not love us back. In that way we create community rather than merely maintaining it.’
Enabling Church– June 3rd at Bethel Convention Centre in West Bromwich, just off the M5 and near central Birmingham. ‘Early bird’ tickets (£13.50) can be booked now (www.churchesforall.org.uk/EnablingChurch). And Churches for All is also on Facebook and Twitter.