Representatives from churches across the diocese have been meeting together to examine ways to help churches become more welcoming to families with additional needs.
A ground-breaking gathering of disability representatives at Church House, the Leeds office of the Diocese of Leeds at the weekend (Saturday 4 November), heard some of the difficulties facing families who have children with disabilities and additional needs and how sometimes churches are ill-equipped to offer support.
The meeting at Leeds was led by Fiona Hill, the Diocesan Disability Officer and Children and Families worker, Anne Carter. Fiona said, "The atmosphere was positive and encouraging. It was fabulous to see Anne at work, filling the room with fun fidget toys and interactive activities and the volunteers did a wonderful job of welcoming delegates with conversation, refreshments, and practical help - and that's what it's all about - welcoming people. Not only do we have a legal obligation to ensure that our services are equally accessible with regards to the Equality Act, but we have a moral one too - we only have to read Galatians 3:28 for that."
Anne Carter added, “As churches, we need to find ways to follow Jesus’ example of welcoming everybody. Congregations often find this challenging but if we are not welcoming and inclusive of families and children with additional needs, we will be missing out on the richness and vitality of the whole body of Christ.”
A film was shown at the meeting, made at Christ Church, Armley (pictured above left), where the congregation has developed facilities to help those with additional needs. Several members of the congregation talked about the need to welcome young people with additional needs as full members of the church. Watch a two minute extract from the film below
Tom Bright, (pictured right), a member of Christ Church Armley for 30 years says on the film, “I’ve got a son who is 26 years old, who’s had learning difficulties from birth and has always been included in everything that has gone on here.
“He has been through a special needs Sunday school and as a young adult he loves coming to this church … when he gets to places he doesn’t like he will pull the car door shut but he never does that on a Sunday morning! He’s been coming here every week and he’s never bored of coming to church and he’s very welcomed here, nobody bats an eyelid if he suddenly leaps up and starts running around so the level of accepting here is fantastic.
But Mr Bright said that churches needed to think about their welcome. “I think [there is a need] to accept everyone as Jesus would have done. If a beggar came in they wouldn’t have been excluded; if a person with disabilities came in they wouldn’t have been excluded. It’s to accept everyone and to not go ‘Oh you’re different we don’t have something for you’. That would be my message to churches that we need to be thinking about – that diversity, not just in civility, but in all areas of life, is to be celebrated in our churches. … We serve everybody.”