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Services are 'too wordy' to be inclusive

05 December 2014

By a staff reporter


PEOPLE who have cognitive disabilities, such as autism or dementia, are being excluded from church because of "wordy" and "cerebral" content that is aimed at the middle classes, the Christian group Inclusive Church has said.

The group is calling for changes to worship, and better use of music, to help those who have conditions that affect their brain, particularly as they get older - such as dementia and Alzheimer's - to participate in worship.

An ambassador for Inclusive Church in London, Dr Susanne Griffin, ran an event to encourage church leaders to make changes to their services. She said: "People with learning disabilities and autism or dementia - some of them struggle to communicate with words at all. As children, often Junior Church will offer them something, but as they become adults it is no longer so easy, and there is nothing for them. The worship is often aimed at the middle classes: it's academic and wordy, and so it is less attractive to people with learning difficulties.

"The event in London considered how we can make worship more accessible to people with learning disability or other cognitive impairment. I've heard of a mother whose daughter had Down syndrome and she put the wafer on the floor after she'd received it - a huge fuss was made, and the mother felt she could never go back to church again afterwards.

"Churches are a place of welcome, and, in these times of austerity, as more and more respite or other services for people are closed down, churches become even more important. We need to include carers, and clergy need to be educated about this from the start. After all, we have a simple message: God loves everybody and is always with us, and everyone can experience that."

The national co-ordinator for Inclusive Church, Bob Callaghan, said that the average church service, with liturgy and sermon, could run to between 5000 and 7000 words.

"If you can access this, then fine, but even in the very early stages of dementia people struggle, and the fact we have moved to Common Worship, which is less repetitive, doesn't help people for whom the old liturgy was so deeply ingrained they could say it without needing to read a service sheet.

"A very significant number of our churches are going to have to deal with the dementia time-bomb, because of the ageing population and the way this is reflected in the age of people in our churches; so this is an issue for everyone. This is more fundamental than improving access in churches - putting in a ramp or a toilet. It is about changing the way we worship, making more of music, which aids memory and well-being."

As many dioceses had cut the post of disability adviser, people were not aware of the resources that were there to help them adapt services and worship, he said.

Inclusive Church says that every church should seek to have a monthly accessible, multi-sensory service to draw in those with disabilities.

Resources to help churches are available at www.inclusive-church.org/disability


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