Being welcoming and inclusive

We all like to think that we are welcoming and inclusive, and that our churches are places where everyone feels welcome, but there are many personal accounts which do not seem to support this hope.

Often, despite our best intentions, some people—especially learning disabled people—may feel excluded or unwanted. And that may include their families and carers.

Making the Word flesh

St John speaks of the Word made flesh, and central to our Christian faith is the relationship with the Living Word, Jesus Christ. Yet from an experience of church worship it might be tempting to conclude that Christianity is really about the spoken or written word and our ability to understand it. All too often worship becomes an encounter with a book rather than the Creator, the Living Word.

I invited a group of people with learning disabilities to help lead part of the morning service. The church at that time—I’m making no criticism—a very traditional church in its form and expression of worship... they had felt the presence of God amongst them and had been liberated in their worship. I treasure those moments because the people with learning disabilities are a gift to the church. – Rev John Roe. 

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For many families and indeed care support workers, attending a service of worship in a church can be stressful and uncomfortable; the silent disapproval of a congregation when a person with learning disabilities makes impromptu noises and movements or asks questions when they don’t understand.

So how can we, as church leaders, make our churches places where everyone feels welcome? 

  1. Raise awareness amongst the congregation through a talk or sermon on the issues people with learning disabilities and their families face - If members of a congregation feel uncomfortable when a person with learning disabilities makes impromptu noises, it is doubly more uncomfortable for a parent or care support worker.

  2. Train your welcome team to look out for families and care support workers.

  3. You might consider publishing a guide on welcoming people with learning disabilities - not just the welcome team but the whole congregation. Sample guides for welcoming people with learning disabilities and people on the autism spectrum are available for download. There is an accessible version from Prospects available for download specifically to guide a person with learning disabilities.

  4. Training a ministry team to lead accessible teaching. If you have several people with learning disabilities attending church services, you might want to consider setting up a small group with accessible teaching. Training for church ministry teams can be provided by Prospects.

Many people with learning disabilities have gifts that will benefit the church as a whole. Including people with learning disabilities in Sunday worship can have a profound impact on family life.

A parent may have the opportunity to explore their own faith and gifts as an individual, where previously they may have abstained from attending church services to care for their son or daughter alone at home.