FROM INCLUSION TO BELONGING: BREAKING DOWN THE WALLS
3rd March 2016
On Sabbath 20 and Sunday 21 February, Area 2 celebrated its first Disability Ministry Celebration and Training Weekend ‒ an event organised by the SEC Disability and Diversity Ministries director, Sophia Nicholls.
The Bristol Central church was packed with visitors from both Area 2 and the local community as the Sabbath morning message was given by Nigel Nicholls, Adventist Special Needs Association (ASNA) Chairman. Using the story of the great banquet feast in Luke 14, where the "poor, the maimed, and the lame, and the blind", are called to take part in the great feast, the speaker challenged the churches to look with fresh eyes to see if their churches were 'full', not in terms of numbers, but rather with people of different nationalities, ages, and with people who may have disabilities, be they visible or non-visible.
Using the illustration of a hammer, which can be used to break down walls or barriers, Nigel went on to describe 'creative destruction', the deliberate act of breaking down concepts and 'walls' in our minds, which can act as barriers to people coming together and seeing people's full potential. And then intentionally building up our knowledge, understanding and awareness of the needs and abilities of disabled people, who may previously have been on the fringes of our church fellowship.
The morning also saw testimonies from people who had experience of disabilities. Lucy Smith, a young lady with Down's syndrome, from the Bristol Lodge Causeway church, expressed her delight at having the opportunity to take part in the service, and of her deep desire to preach the Word of God, since she was a young child.
Lafrance Gordon related his inspirational story, of how after a severe stroke in 2001, he was determined to walk again despite having spent 40 days in a coma, and doctors saying he wouldn't be able to. Yet, by faith and determination, he recently realised his ambition to summit Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles.
The afternoon looked at practical ideas for supporting the ministry for people living with disabilities. Mike and Vicky Beamish of the Cheltenham church and parents of a young man with autism along with Andrea Obiero from the Gloucester church who is partially deaf, related their experiences of life within the church and community. They highlighted what they found worked for them and what they found challenging in church.
Sunday saw seminars and discussions, including 'The Disability Strategy as it relates to Evangelism, Everyone, Everywhere', 'Sharing Good Practice', 'Understanding Autism', 'Understanding Mental Illness', and 'Understanding Carers'.
Together with the launch of the Area 2 Disability Ministry Resource Hub (DMRH), members and visitors alike, were energised, and enthused, to reach out to people living with disabilities in their church and local community, and for churches to look again at how people with disabilities are involved in ministry alongside everyone else in the church, creating a sense of belonging.
Many members commented on how much they had learned, and how their 'eyes had been opened' through the experience of those who had disabilities or were carers.
Andrea Obiero observed that while churches can be more conscious and intentional in how they relate to people with disabilities, churches "should not make it too much of an issue", by "making people with disabilities stand out", but to rather seek to "integrate and involve members using their skills and talents."
The overall feeling from the weekend was very positive, with a clear message that there is more we can do in our churches, and that within everyone, there is 'something beautiful waiting to come out', as man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.
We have a duty to remove the barriers which prevent people from coming to Jesus and having a full experience in the church, by raising awareness, changing attitudes, and promoting inclusion by the full involvement of people with disabilities and special needs.
[Ian Sabadin / Sophia Nicholls]