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Widening your church welcome

01 May 2015

Sue Atkinson looks  at two guides with sad stories to tell


Mental Health: The Inclusive Church resource
Jean Vanier and John Swinton
DLT £8.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.10

Disability: The Inclusive Church resource
John M. Hull
DLT £8.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.10 

THESE two small, useful books are written to help parishioners to make their church more inclusive, i.e. with no discrimination "on any level, on grounds of economic power, gender, mental health, physical ability, race or sexuality" (Inclusive Church website). Each book has four sections: 1. Introduction; 2. Stories; 3. Theology; 4. Resources.

Each short introduction is written by a specialist in the field, and puts each book in context.

The stories are useful to ground the theology in the real world and they make interesting - although at times rather alarming - reading, demonstrating the poor treatment that too many people experience at their local church. I was surprised that each story is by an identified individual, sometimes even giving where they are working now. If a book in the series was to be about accepting people who have been sexually abused into the main life of the church, I doubt that identifying people would be appropriate.

The theology section in the mental-health book is clear and easy to understand, punctuated by further stories - and the challenge to all of us to listen to people with mental-health problems, not just leave it to the specialists, such as psychiatrists.

I very much liked the idea that the church's function is not so much about curing as instead about focusing on healing - and that is "something different; something deeper, more soulful . . . to do with finding wholeness, inner beauty, unity and peace".

The resources sections start with "further reflection with your church", clearly demonstrating that each book is not just for reading, but needs acting upon. This is followed by the listing of organisations and charities that might be helpful, and the identification of resources for further reading. Given the emphasis on depression in the book on mental health, there was a surprising omission of the wonderful work of Depression Alliance - the main mental-health charity for depressed people in the UK.

The theology section in the Disability book is written by John M. Hull, and he relates his blindness to the ways in which Christians use the idea of blindness sometimes to mean "sinful", e.g. in: "I once was lost but now am found, Was blind, but now I see."

The challenges in both books are for us to turn our churches into places where everyone is accepted, and that everyone can gain access to; and that we use language sensitively.

Sue Atkinson is the author of several books, including Struggling to Forgive (Monarch, 2014).

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