In the UK, there are over 11 million people with a limiting long term illness, impairment or disability. Around 6% of children, 16% of working age adults and 45% of adults over State Pension age, are disabled. This means that around one in every six people have recognised access needs. When this impact is extended to families and carers, it becomes clear that ensuring accessibility removes obstacles to access for around 35-40% of the population.
Those who have access needs are a large group of people, and a group for whom going out and accessing service provision is simply harder than it is for those without access needs. This group are often yearning for ways to participate in and interact with society, and are therefore often particularly willing to engage with those opportunities which are explicitly designed to be accessible. This means work on making church accessible can have a huge missional impact.
Anyone who makes a study of attitudes to disability in the Bible will find a contrast between the Old Testament view (that any form of blemish excludes people from full participation in the cult and worship of the people of God) and the New Testament position that all are welcome.
Despite this change in liturgical perspective either side of the Gospel period, there is a thread running through the entire Bible about how people with disabilities are to be treated in general. This is perhaps best summed up in the Old Testament by Leviticus 19.14: “You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God:I am the Lord”.- and in the New Testament by Matthew 18.6 (cp Mark 9.42): “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea”.
Disabled people are often marginalised, and certainly experience marginalisation on a daily basis. Jesus frequently gravitated to the margins, and had profound encounters with people whom he met there. His mission to them was the same as to anyone, and is often summed up in his words recorded in John 10.10 – “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”.
When Jesus gave the Church its Great Commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”, he meant everyone – and part of that Gospel imperative is that we must give people clear and accessible opportunities to engage with the Gospel message. Like those who made a hole in the roof so their friend could access Jesus’ teaching, we mustn’t let anything stand in the way. This proposal is for a project that will overcome obstacles standing in the way of large numbers of people, and encourage them to experience God’s love and God’s message of joy to the world.
In 2017 we ran a Christmas event in Newcastle, an event we called “Howay In A Manger” an event we ran as a kind of experiment to see what a more accessible Christmas service might look like, we had BSL interpretation, Makaton, braille and large print and ran a very simple easy to follow service, service where even the most profoundly disabled people were able to feel welcome and comfortable.
In 2018 we’;d like to expand the idea and hold “Howay In The Manger” type events in the regions, one again in Newcastle, one for the north west, one in Yorkshire, one in the midlands and ones in both the south east and south west.
We are looking to partner with others to bring this about, we will need central accessible venues in each region and we are open to either assisting you to run your own event or we can bring our team and do it for you.
If this is something you’d like to see in your region please get in touch soon and be prepared to roll your sleeves up and get involved with us, get in touch, sooner rather than later, the longer the lead in time we have, the better. Please spread the word far and wide and let’s make this happen.
Tel: 07703 347107