The Elders and I, led by our Church & Community Worker, David, have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to offer a warm welcome to all and how we can work to be as inclusive as possible. Being inclusive takes many forms, from meeting the needs of those with mobility problems or learning difficulties to ensuring our worship is accessible to all and that no one feels ostracised or alone.
We have begun work in many areas, including looking at modifications to the building, developing our use of Makaton and learning from others. Elsewhere in this magazine you will read an account of a training session that a group of us attended by an organisation called Through the Roof.
One opportunity to really put our warm welcome into action is in relation to one of our youngest members, Riley Adams. Some of you will remember Riley from pre pandemic days but others haven’t had the joy of meeting him yet. Riley is five, full of energy, very sociable and super friendly. Riley has autism and other sensory needs which means that for him church services can be challenging. Riley is very active and can’t sit for long periods. He and his family are very keen to attend church services and we are very keen for them to be able to do so. We are currently embarking on a lot of preparatory work to get us and Riley ready for him to attend services and junior church. When he attends you’ll probably notice him wandering around and have the opportunity to say hello to him yourself.
As someone from our church who attended the Through the Roof course said, enabling people like Riley to feel at home is ‘the responsibility of the whole church family’. I recently read an article which I found very striking. It was about Meerkats and Lions! I love seeing Meerkats at the zoo, they’re full of character and have a funny way of turning their heads 90 degrees to look round at what’s going on. However, in this article the Meerkats represented something less positive – those who turn their heads quickly when someone doesn’t behave in a way they would expect with, dare I say, a rather judgemental look in their eye. Lions, on the other hand, are fiercely protective and will defend their pride. They will prowl around and ward off any threat from others who might cause harm. In the article, it was pointed out how, in churches, we need to be lions, gathering around and supporting those for whom getting to church and getting through a service can be a monumental effort. What a powerful image, not least when we consider that Jesus himself was described as the Lion of Judah – and definitely never a meerkat!
Of course, Riley is not the only person in our church family with autism, and it is very important for us to grow in our awareness, to be kind, supportive and slow to jump to conclusions. Please remember that it’s always ok to ask questions to learn more or to find out how you can help. We delight that in God’s kingdom, ALL are welcome – even us!
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”
Matthew 19 v14