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Church: Accessible to all?

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This is a text-only version of an article first published on Friday, 20 September 2013. Information shown on this page may no longer be current.

"The Church cannot exemplify the full humanity revealed in Christ, bear witness to the interdependence of humankind, or achieve unity in diversity if it continues to acquiesce in the social isolation of disabled persons and to deny them full participation in its life," Breaking Barriers, Nairobi 1975. That statement is from the Fifth Assembly of the World Council of Churches.

It may be 38 years old, but it still applies today and was quoted in Welcome, Inclusion, Respect, a report that highlights how the Oxford Diocese is helping people with disabilities access its churches. The Door takes a practical look at what is being done. Stories that changed us: by Neil Warwick

In February 2013, the Diocese held a workshop at St Nicolas Earley to raise the awareness and sensitivity of our leaders to people living with a disability and how our church is open or not to all people.

Team leaders, wardens, PCC members and clergy all attended.

At the end of the workshop we were moved emotionally, informed and felt we had understood a little of what it is like to live with a disability.

We wanted something that addressed our hearts and minds, something that was beyond legislation, access ramps and hearing loops as these things are critical and yet should be a given these days.

We heard personal stories from people living with disability or alongside a disabled person.

Jan told us what it was like being a mother with two children who were living with a disability.

". . . one of the best and most meaningful experiences. . . " Church had been a beautifully accepting place at times and a colder judgemental environment too.

Ann told us what it was like being a woman living with Asperger's.

She showed us what a room full of people looks like and sounds like if you're living with Asperger's.

Haydon, a wheelchair user, enlightened and challenged us with his story of coming to see how he was made in the image of God - the struggles on the way to knowing that and the blessing of knowing that.

The workshop helpfully challenged and informed our values, theology and practice - it went below the surface - and it is what lies beneath in our theology and experience that shapes our practice.

We know we are a work in progress and must continually re-commit ourselves to be open to all people.

I can see how the workshop has already positively influenced our work with young people - in the preparation and running of a weekend away.

We also have first thoughts about enhancing the meaning of our worship liturgy with the use of images for those who find the words hard to interpret.

Ann, who led part of the workshop, has also produced a 'sensory pilgrimage' - prompting prayer and reflection through images and touch rather than just words - available to visitors.

The workshop was one of the best and most meaningful experiences in my four years at St Nicolas.

If you can host one, do it.

The Revd Neil Warwick is Vicar of St Nicolas, Earley. The Audio Door

Ready to record: The Audio Door team at the Cherwell studio.

"When you become blind, you can easily become isolated, and people forget about you.

But receiving the Door helps me feel connected with the rest of the world. " This comment, and others like it, are part of what makes it so enjoyable to meet every month at the Radio Cherwell studio to read and record the Door. It was just two years ago that a small number of volunteers, specially recruited for the purpose, met to audition for reading the Door aloud for blind and partially sighted listeners.

The project took some time to get off the ground, as we had to learn all about recording and editing, sourcing postal wallets and engraved memory sticks, and the mysteries of the free postal service for Articles for the Blind.

We were helped enormously with all this by Oxtalk, who also record their talking news at Radio Cherwell, and by Neil Stockton, the Chair of the hospital radio service, who has given very generously of his time and expertise. The group of volunteers has grown in number, and in confidence, and three people have trained themselves up in the technical side of the project.

The number of listeners has also grown, and more than doubled since we started.

Now that the service runs like a well-oiled machine, we are delighted with the comments of our listeners from our recent survey.

One person says: "It gives me a broader idea of what's going on across the diocese" Another says: "I like to talk about the news from the Door with other volunteers and with visitors when I 'church sit' at my parish church. "

This is just one of the ways that we can ensure that blind people can still participate in church life.

Many blind or partially sighted people are offered lifts to church; most parishes will have copies of large-print orders of services, notice sheets and hymn books (all should!) and many churches will print out the hymns for each Sunday in very large print, for particular parishioners who they know will benefit from this.

If you would like to receive the Door on memory stick, or know someone who would - or if you would like to volunteer as a reader - please contact: 01865 208225.

Access Audits - a volunteer's story by John Killman

In October 2009 Wendy Bryant contacted me asking if I had some personal or professional experience of some aspect of disability experience which I would like to use as a volunteer to help with access audits.

Having previously had some training and experience in mentoring people with disabilities back to work I volunteered with some trepidation.

I soon began to realise the breadth of "disabilities" that we consider.

As well as the expected physical, visual and auditory aspects, the team also considers the hidden disabilities such as epilepsy, diabetes, arthritis, autism, and various conditions which may cause chronic pain.

Wendy, as our team leader, always asks the leadership team of the churches we have visited to include people with disabilities in their community in the consultation process and often on the audit team.

My experience of these audits has been far from the types of Quality Systems and Health and Safety audits many of us have experienced in industry and commerce.

Although there is legislation to support improvements to disability access, I have found that the team focuses primarily on the scriptural reasons for this work; the historical desire to be welcoming and inclusive, to include the whole community in our worship, nurture, pastoral care and social life.

I have found our access audit work has been about education and encouragement.

As church communities we often do not have the resources to introduce all of the improvements we consider important.

However, if each church has a broad and rich representation of its mission plan and considerations for the building and education of the congregation, then each individual change can be more easily integrated into that plan.

The audit is, after all, about people and how our buildings, attitudes and behaviours reflect our mission.

John Killman is a Deanery Synod representative from Newton Longville, near Milton Keynes. For more informatin see www. oxford. anglican. org/disability or call Helen Keely on 01865 208214.

Wednesday Church in Didcot

Sheila chats to her helper Ethel at Wednesday Church.

WEDNESDAY Church meets on the first Wednesday of each month at St Peter's, Didcot, an easily accessible modern building.

In 2010, several of us from different parishes, who were concerned that there are many people with learning difficulties living among us for whom the churches seemed to be making little provision, met at Wendy Bryant's resource day 'Is there a place for me?'

We were particularly inspired by a contribution from John Rumble, head of a special school in Buckinghamshire, and by the work of Prospects. We determined to set up an opportunity for disabled people and their carers to meet and worship together.

Since March 2011, between 30 and 40 people meet at 10am for a friendly craft session with drinks and biscuits.

We go into church at 11 and our members contribute to our worship in many ways: lighting candles, ringing the bell, singing, sharing matters for thanksgiving and prayer and helping with Makaton signing.

Sometimes we include percussion, wave streamers or dance.

Even those in wheelchairs can join in!

Afterwards we return to the hall to eat our picnic lunches and enjoy the company.

We have been very glad to see friendships developing between members from different communities and the concern that they now show for each other.

Local churches have supported us generously.

We have been able to buy a data projector.

Powerpoint presentations showing words and pictures support our worship, which mixes the familiar and regular with the new.

This year we were able to hire a coach to take us to the Cotswold Wildlife Park, an outing which was much enjoyed.

Our team is ecumenical with different skills, which we value, and our members come from Style Acre, Home Farm Trust and other communities in the area.

We welcome everyone and have many friends.

The Wednesday Church team.

Page last updated: Friday 20th September 2013 12:00 AM
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