A NEW resource guide for PCCs and congregations who wish to become more welcoming to disabled people has been published by the Christian disability charity Through the Roof.
The author of the guide, Ros Bayes, said that half the parents who attended a recent meeting with the charity’s head of trustees, Dr Mike Townsend, told him that they had been asked to leave a church because of their disabled child.
“I can’t imagine Jesus turning to any family and saying, ‘Your child is too disruptive. Please don’t come back again’; so we have to help churches to find a better way,” she said. “The churches, perhaps, have a feeling of not knowing where to start, and they think: ‘This is beyond us, we can’t do this’.
“There is still an awful lot of judgementalism: people assume that if a child doesn’t sit still, it is ill-disciplined and the parents should be doing a better job. There is little understanding of things like ADHD, sensory overload, or autism. The Church needs to look at this for some sort of formal education from its clergy and lay staff.”
Mrs Bayes, the charity’s training-resources developer, who has a disabled daughter, draws on her own experiences in the 32-page A4 booklet A Church That Cares: What does good pastoral care look like for families affected by disability? In it, she says that, while her own church had been supportive, a 2014 survey by Through the Roof found that parents of disabled children thought that churches were unaware of how hard and lonely it was to bring up a child with a disability.
“Most additional-needs parents seem to feel that their churches simply don’t understand the difficulties they face, and so don’t offer them the support they need” she said.
“Then there are families where one of the parents is disabled. They face challenges and emotions which most of the rest of us can only guess at. There are families where an elderly parent, disabled through old age, has come to live and be cared for by their adult offspring. Here you can have two parents in full-time employment, while juggling the needs of their own children and their elderly parents.
“Here and there are some excellent churches doing some amazing work. But there are also many families in churches which probably don’t lack concern or the will to help, but simply don’t know where or how to begin. It’s our hope that this publication will give you some ideas and fresh impetus to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in to the task.”
The guide offers suggestions and examples designed to make the work less challenging. These include practical, emotional, and spiritual support, both within meetings and for those who are unable to get to church gatherings. It looks at the challenges faced by disabled people, especially those who are themselves parents, and by mothers, fathers, and siblings of disabled children, as well as the disabled children themselves, and what kind of pastoral care really makes a difference.
“How would we want to be cared for?” she asks. “Jesus is clear: ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’. . . Most of all, the attitude has to be welcoming and loving: that goes a long way to making people really feel part of the church.”
The publication can be ordered from www.throughtheroof.org/shop/a-church-that-cares, at £5 plus p&p.