THE Archbishops’ Council has awarded £2.4 million to fund a series of initiatives designed to increase the participation of deaf, disabled, and neurodivergent people in church life.
Projects include vocation and leadership events, church guidance on signage and accessibility, mental-health chaplains, and deaf ministry.
The funding, announced on Thursday, is part of the £1.2 billion in distributions for the Church’s ministry announced by the Church Commissioners in 2022 for the current triennium, 2023 to 2025 (News, 13 May 2022). This represented a 30-per-cent increase from the £930 million apportioned for the previous triennium.
This latest award will be distributed in grants over the next three years, managed by the Church’s Disability and Deaf Ministry Task Groups.
One of the pilot schemes set to receive a grant is for the creation of more café-style spaces in churches across seven dioceses, in partnership with mental-health professionals and the charity Renew Wellbeing.
The Bishop of Bedford, the Rt Revd Richard Atkinson, who chairs the Committee for the Ministry of and among Deaf and Disabled People, described this as a “straightforward, simple idea” to improve mental health, and said that it already had a positive track record, in his diocese and elsewhere.
Speaking on Tuesday, he also highlighted plans to support the work of volunteers, including in deaf ministry, which he said had “declined substantially” over the past decade, as well as plans to enlarge the Church’s network of disability advisers.
Another 20 grants of up to £50,0000 will be distributed to projects in the Northern Province, which are making physical changes to buildings to improve access. In the same pilot scheme, smaller accessibility projects will receive a further 100 grants of up to £5000.
The Archbishop of Canterbury said on Thursday that the funding was “overdue”. “Everyone should have the opportunity to take part in the life of the Church. Without the insights and the gifts of disabled, Deaf, and neurodivergent people we are immeasurably poorer in our life together in Christ.”
Bishop Atkinson agreed that the “modest” award for this work was “long overdue”. He said: “At the present time, we are not fully inclusive, and many disabled people find that they encounter barriers to full belonging and participation.
“This funding will help the Church advance the journey towards equality and justice for Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent people and release many as yet unrecognised gifts that will enrich the church we are and the church we are becoming.”
Prebendary John Beauchamp, who is the London Diocesan Disability Ministry Enabler, and a member of the Disability Task Group, said: “As a blind person who has fulfilled 30 years of ordained ministry, I am encouraged by this funding and the signs of cultural shift that it indicates.”