What does ‘inclusivity’ boil down to in real life? What does an inclusive community look and feel like, if you’re part of it? Livability’s annual Ability Sunday, on 21 November, encourages churches to explore the difference between welcome and true inclusion.
Revd Peter Hubbard is vicar of Christ Church Bayston Hill, Shrewsbury. Inclusivity is something that shapes church life, says Peter, and the church has very close links with one of Livability’s residential homes for people with learning disabilities, Livability York House Shrewsbury (YH). ‘We are so blessed with York House and the links we have with people there. It’s part of our makeup to look out for them. One resident is a deputy church warden here. People from York House may have different communication skills but that doesn’t demean them as people.’ Involving YH in Ability Sunday service planning is a given ‘and we involve lots of people in the service’, he says.
For Revd Peter, an inclusive church doesn’t looks like something that only happens in the church building but in everyday life too. Chiming with this year’s Ability Sunday theme of connectability, Peter describes building inclusion as ‘a seven-day-a-week’ mission. For Christ Church’s congregation, this includes creating prayer links with each other, including YH residents, visiting YH to get to know residents and staff, and living authentic Christian lives together. Why work so hard at connectability and inclusion? ‘We want to build connections to those around us to express God’s love, which is for every person,’ explains Peter.
Ellie has experienced inclusivity – and its opposite – at first hand. She suffered workplace discrimination which left her ‘in a bad place, upset and quite bitter about my treatment’. Ellie’s employer didn’t take account of Ellie’s hidden disabilities and made assumptions about her ability and her support needs.
By contrast, Ellie experienced a very different environment when she began attending Christ Church. ‘It felt like a really lovely welcome,’ Ellie says, and she found the way people from YH were included ‘very reassuring. People wanted to include me, which was so different. They were open-minded and not there to judge – they speak to you as if you’re no different to anyone else.’ Ellie is now a PCC [Parochial Church Council] member, where she advocates for disability awareness and greater inclusion.
Ellie’s experience of church is echoed by David, who lives at Livability Brookside. David’s disability means he communicates in short phrases; he’s a member of his local Baptist church which he loves because he ‘likes to see people’ and he has found ‘a community, a group of friends’. He feels included by the ‘friendly, smiley congregation’ where ‘everyone is being helpful’. Like Peter, David feels inclusivity needs to reach beyond Sunday services and he would like church friends to visit people with disabilities ‘and see how disabled people live’.
Revd Peter feels there’s always more to be done: ‘I don’t feel we’ve achieved full participation for people with disabilities. Obviously things have been very different recently. We have to be intentional about connecting or we won’t really know how each other are getting on. It’s having a genuine concern for people – about looking outwards, not inwards, which I think is a key part of a good church.’