A GROUP that is campaigning to open up churches to disabled people is holding its first national event to celebrate an inclusive Christmas, next weekend, at Newcastle Cathedral.
The event, “Howay in a Manger!”, is based on the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, but will include secular readings and songs, and has been simplified to make it approachable for people with learning difficulties. Also, the group that organised it, Disability and Jesus, is helping to fit out the cathedral with aids such as wheelchair ramps.
The order of service will be printed in large print and Braille, and projected on three large screens. A quiet space will be set aside for those who might feel overwhelmed by the hubbub, and guides will be available to meet people at Newcastle’s bus and railway stations. The organisers are even negotiating special deals with hotels near by.
Dave Lucas, one of the group’s three founders, who is registered blind, said: “The cathedral has been really helpful in setting this up and trying to accommodate our needs. The purpose of this event is to invite people of all abilities from right across the nation and beyond: disabled people, their supporters, people who feel they are out on the margins, people who do not normally feel comfortable in a church setting.
“We aim to provide a safe, non-threatening environment, with a simple, easy-to-follow service that is simple to participate in.”
The service grew out of a series of carol concerts for people with guide dogs held in churches in the north-east between 2002 and 2011. The organisers realised that people with other disabilities should be involved, and, in 2013, Mr Lucas founded Disability and Jesus with the Priest-in-Charge of St Peter’s, Stockton-on-Tees, the Revd Bill Braviner; and the Vicar of Christ Church, in Dore, Sheffield, the Revd Katie Tupling, who is the Bishop of Sheffield’s adviser on disability and inclusion.
“Unfortunately, many of the Church of England’s churches were built before the problems of disabled people were considered,” Mr Lucas said, “and they can be discouraged from attending services because of that. Many buildings are listed or protected, and adapting them can be very difficult or expensive. We want to work where we can to make churches accessible and welcoming.
“Our hope is that people attending this service will go home and start working on similar services where they live. It is our aim that those who do not normally feel at home in church should feel comfortable; that all disabled people should be able to access the building and facilities within it. We want to create an event that demonstrates to the wider Church just what can be done to make things inclusive.”
The Canon for Music and Liturgy at the cathedral, the Revd Clare MacLaren, said: “As a cathedral we strive to make all of our worship and facilities as accessible as we possibly can to those on the margins — and, often, sadly, excluded from mainstream church attendance. We are really excited to be working with Disability and Jesus to prepare what I think may be the only fully accessible carol service in an English cathedral this Christmas.
“We’re aiming for this event to be a model of best practice that is both honouring to our incarnate God, and affirming of God’s image in everyone of those who attend. The accessible carol service will have an appropriately Geordie feel, which is reflected in the title, ‘Howay in a Manger’, but it’s not restricted to locals. We are already hearing from folk across the country who plan to travel to Newcastle for the event.”