Our first ever national event celebrating an inclusive Christmas
will be held on Sat 16th of December in St Nicholas Cathedral Newcastle.
If you're not from the region come along make a weekend of it, do your Christmas shopping in Newcastle. We are negotiating with Newcastle hotels for special deals for those wishing to attend.
This event has long been a dream of Disability and Jesus, a dream that predates the formation of Disability and Jesus by many years, a dream that has it's beginnings as far back as Christmas 2001.
Until that point Dave had been very unhappy about becoming a guide dog owner, it felt like defeat, it felt like most of his hopes and dreams were in tatters, however Dave has a background in New Monasticism and finally was forced to admit that God might just have a hand in this when he was told he was being given a dog called Abbot, being led by this Abbot had huge significance for Dave.
Christmas 2001 has huge significance for us, on the same date, the 16th of December that year, Dave became a guide dog owner when he
qualified with his first guide dog Abbot
Only a couple of days later Dave attended a Carol Service on behalf of Guide Dogs at Sunderland Minster.
It was a wonderful event, the church was packed with visually impaired people, their friends and family and all their dogs, puppies in training, working and retired guide dogs.
This was an event which left a lasting effect on Dave. One of those thin occasions when the gap between heaven and earth is almost transparent. Having been so deeply affected, imagine how sad Dave felt when a few days later he heard that it was to be the last such event as the organisers were all elderly and wanted to retire from such things. Lots of people wanted to see the event continue but no one seemed to want to take on the responsibility of actually taking it on, to Dave's surprise not even Guide Dog's staff. Dave was simply not prepared to let such an event with such a profound deep spiritual significance simply slip away.
So having been so profoundly affected by the experience of that first service, he decided that he could not stand by and see the annual service simply disappear. Dave is a guitarist and has spent many years on the Christian music scene with amongst others, the Northumbria Community and has also played with many of the north east's well known folk musicians, so through these contacts Dave pulled together a gang of his mates and put together a band. A band they called Captain Humbug and the Elves of Doom.
It was important to Dave that guide dog owners should be able to get to the service under their own steam so he booked St Joseph's Church in Gateshead which is adjacent to the main Metro station. Dave produced an order of service in large print and in braille and arranged sighted guides to meet people at the Metro.
So 2002 saw the beginning of an event that was to become an annual highlight of Dave's year.
By 2003 the event had outgrown the Church in Gateshead and we moved to St Jude's church in South Shields where we remained until 2006.
2007 marked a significant step change in the scale of the event. By now news of the service had spread through the guide dog community and people were coming from as far away as Scotland, London, Manchester and Birmingham so we needed a bigger venue.
It was at this point we approached St Nicholas Cathedral in the heart of Newcastle and close to a mainline rail station, again making it easier for visually impaired people to get their under their own steam, orders of service were now being produced in several formats, volunteers were queuing up to act as sighted guides, dog spenders and more. We had the use of the Cathedral coffee shop for coffee and mince pies afterwards and numbers grew significantly to in excess of 450 that year.
Other things began to change too. We now had visually impaired people giving the readings and performing poetry and drama.
The day after the service that year Dave got a phone call from the daughter of a blind lady in her 70's, a lady blind from birth. Her daughter told Dave that she had gone to visit her mother the next day and had found her mother singing and dancing in the kitchen. It turned out the old lady had not left the house in almost ten years and had never in her whole life been to a concert. The daughter was overjoyed and told Dave she had never seen her mother so happy.
It was at this point that we began to realise that somehow mysteriously God had intervened and that there might be much more going on than we first realised.
The next few years saw the service go from strength to strength until in 2011 it reached a peak. During the previous couple of years Dave and Fr Bill Braviner had become friends and pretty soon Bill found himself being dragged in on the project in years 09 - 011. Together Bill and Dave grew the event, numbers grew and so did reach with people coming from all over the UK.
In 2012 the management structure of Guide Dogs changed and for reasons beyond our understanding we were told that we could do the service as long as we did not use the Guide Dogs name. As it happened this coincided with both Bill and Dave going through prolonged periods of ill health so sadly the carol service had to go, a source of great sadness to both of them.
In early 2013 Bill and Dave met Rev Katie Tupling and as a result Disability and Jesus was formed.
In the subsequent years we have built up a following of over 8300 on Twitter and have reached out far further than our old audience of simply the visually impaired community to the point where we now work across many disabilities and have a vast network of contacts throughout the UK and beyond.
So with that in mind we are going to be working with St Nicholas Cathedral in Newcastle, with our partners Inclusive Church and with many colleagues around the UK to organise a pan disability accessible Christmas event for 2017.
It is our aim that those that 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.
We want as many people from around the country who are part of the Disability and Jesus family to attend.
Ultimately we want to make this an annual event and even an event that might tour major cities around the UK on the run up to Christmas.
We have very big ambitious ideas, how much of this we will be able to be done will depend on the levels of support we are able to achieve, not just financial support but people with relevant skills who may be prepared to dedicate their time and energy to the project.
Things we will need to do include having the event signed for deaf people, have a live stream for those unable to attend, sound and lighting, video screens, production of braille and large print, hiring in of ramps, disabled toilets with hoists etc and much, much more.
We want this to be an exercise in faith, to be able to put on this event for free supported by donations and sponsorship through donations of both finance and skills. If you have skills to offer in these key areas of
British Sign Language
To provide all the services we need in order that the event is as accessible as possible we are going to have to hire in a great deal of both equipment and services. Here are some figures that we have been given by companies to act as a rough guide at the moment, these may well go up when we reach the point of talking specific details with these providers but for now we wanted you to realise just what an undertaking this is likely to be.
British Sign Language costs £900
Extra disabled toiling including hoist £1800
PA hire plus engineer £1600
Lighting + rigging + team £2400
Video services including screens and engineers £1900
Van hire £200
So as you can see we have estimated costs of around £9300 just to provide the basics and we know there will be lots of other expenses as we continue.
We are looking to raise £5995 of these costs through our Just Giving Crowd Funding Appeal https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/disabilityandjesusevents