Making the church family richer

As churches around the country prepare to celebrate Livability’s Ability Sunday this weekend, we talk to Revd Peter Homden, leader of an Anglican church whose approach to disability is ‘accommodate, don’t exclude’

‘At The Church of the Good Shepherd, we don’t see disability as something that impedes fellowship and worship,’ says Revd Peter. ‘Everything we do is inclusive.’

This Poole church of 95-plus people has at least ten disabled people in the congregation, many of whom play an important part in the church. ‘Simon, who has cerebral palsy, has been part of the church all his life and is on the church council, bringing ideas and his perspective to the team,’ says Peter. ‘Terry, who works at Livability’s Victoria School and who has a physical disability, is part of our preaching team.’

Sharing in worship with disabled people can bring a huge richness to church, says Peter. ‘I deeply value one guy called Peter, who is speech-impaired and absolutely loves to worship. I sit by him sometimes and we sing together, and it can move me to tears. I think it’s because it makes me appreciate how much Peter enjoys life, his acceptance of his disability and all that involves, and his response to God. It speaks to me big time.’

Including everyone

When society presents barriers that hinder a disabled person’s participation, The Good Shepherd tries to find a workaround. ‘We have several autistic members, and one lady, who comes with a carer, needs to get up and walk around, and talk out loud. She can sit in a part of the church where there’s a room that looks out onto the congregation, and the service is streamed, with a screen she can watch. So if she wants, she can go into that room, sit and colour sometimes, and still be part of the service.’

Moving from inclusion to participation

The church partners with a local disability organisation run an inclusive midweek café in the church hall. People who use the local day centre run the café, and are supported by church members, who get involved in the cooking, serving and clearing, create ‘an amazing atmosphere’, says Peter. ‘It gives an opportunity for disabled people to connect with others in the community who they might not ordinarily meet.’

Disability is at the forefront of the church’s plans for the future: as well as redeveloping the outdated 1930s building, with accessibility in mind, Peter is considering launching a new service which could give disabled people more one to one attention. He would also like to offer a chaplaincy service for carers ‘because often ‘they need support and help themselves’.

What does Peter find that being truly inclusive adds to church life? ‘The top things for me are the wonder it brings at a broader way of worship, and seeing the freedom and openness that some disabled people bring to worship and their faith – their understanding of Christ in their life.’

Read more about Ability Sunday our annual campaign, building churches where everyone can take part.

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