An Oral History of Livability Holton Lee
About More Than WelcomeMore Than Welcome is a new resource to guide your church in how to deepen relationships with disabled people and build a church where everyone belongs. Based on the idea of a journey – the resource will help your church go through three important stages, from a place of welcome, to inclusion, to participation.
Are disabled people represented within your church?As Livability visits churches and Christian events all over the country, church leaders often tell us that disability is not an issue affecting their church: ‘We don’t have any disabled people in our church.’
For 99% of churches this is just not true.
- The UK government recognises 11 million people as having long term illness, impairment or disability. That’s one person in six.
- The prevalence of disability rises with age so that almost half of all people over state retirement age are disabled.
- Disability is dynamic – people become disabled every day. Whether born with a disability, or acquiring it in a crisis, over time, through illness or old age, today’s ‘able-bodied’ church member is tomorrow’s disabled church member.
Seeing the invisibleWhat is much more likely is that we can’t yet ‘see’ disability. If disability is something that has not affected us personally, through family or friends, it can seem invisible to us.
We don’t realise that those sitting in the pews around us have often overcome barriers of all kinds to be there. Many people experience ‘hidden’ or ‘invisible’ disability in the form of mental illness or chronic condition. Or they may be disabled by barriers that society puts in their way. These could be barriers of other people’s lack of understanding and prejudices; or barriers to their opportunities and access to a wide range of activities and experiences.
From welcome to participationEvery church that wants to be a place of radical welcome needs to start by learning to see the invisible or learning to take a closer look / seeing barriers.
Churches must work to create spaces of hospitality and belonging, yet even a community of people who are superficially similar will reveal enormous differences.
Only when we consider the needs of others - and treat them as ourselves - can we truly create a place of welcome and participation.
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Supported by Justin Welby
An endorsement for More Than Welcome by Justin WelbyLivability’s More Than Welcome resource is endorsed and supported by our President, Justin Welby – The Archbishop of Canterbury.
When we look at Jesus’ ministry, we see that he related to each person as valuable, worthy and made in the image of God. He loved, lived and travelled with all kinds of people. His community often had little in common. From the excluded, to the broken, to the well-educated, all of them found new life and hope through their relationship with him.
If we truly seek to follow the example of Christ in our churches today, then we must seek to love, live and travel together with all those who are following him too.
This means our churches must be places where all can belong together. They need to be places where disabled people can belong, minister and share in the mission of God in the world. Without the presence, experience and skills of disabled people, we are incomplete. That is true in the church and in wider society. It is our calling to work to build the most effective routes to participation at every level of society.
It is a privilege to be president of Livability, and I’m delighted that this new resource will help churches not just welcome people with disabilities – but enable them to participate fully in every aspect of church life.
The resource is a wonderful affirmation of all the good work churches are already doing across the UK. But it also provides practical and hopeful support to go further on the journey. Perhaps you are just getting started by considering the accessibility of your church building. You might be developing your responses for how to support people living with mental illness. Or maybe you are growing leadership opportunities for disabled people. Every step of the journey brings something to celebrate.
Working together, it’s my hope, my personal commitment and my ongoing prayer that we create the kind of communities that Jesus would recognise. Communities where everyone is precious, everyone is welcomed, and where in shared worship and life together, everyone flourishes.
Justin Welby, The Archbishop of Canterbury and President of Livability
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The thinking behind 'Life Together'Why Christian community development? We believe that God is at work in his world, usually in the most unexpected places and people. Amazingly, he invites us to join him in loving mercy and doing justice, as we humbly walk alongside him. With eyes to see and ears to hear, we can learn to spot him at work, seeing afresh that everyone is made in his image and is loved by him. Each individual and community reveals something of the nature of God and his purposes that are rooted in Shalom: the restored relationship between each other, the earth and God, through Jesus.
Our approach: seeing the gift first. We recognise that much of our culture’s engagement in community life is focused on the need, or lack, of those experiencing poverty. This also shapes the ways that churches seek to connect with their neighbourhoods. We want to join with others taking a different approach, starting with an intentional focus on the gifts and strengths in churches and communities and seeking to enable people to build on their strengths and use them for the common good.
What kind of training works? Life Together was developed in response to our research into the kinds of training that Christians involved in their communities found most helpful. In the research we discovered that the most useful training was:
- Delivered locally and shaped by the local situation
- Focused on helping people to reflect on their experiences of community involvement to learn from them
- Holistic, in that it contained spirituality and Biblical reflection as well as practical skills. The ‘why’ as well as the ‘how’ and the ‘what’
- A journey, with time to think and try things out along the way
How the course will help your church build communityLife Together facilitators will take a flexible approach and tailor the course to your context regardless of whether you are new or experienced in community involvement. Our facilitators can help your church to:
- Evaluate your community involvement, seeing what’s good and where new approaches would improve your impact
- Learn from examples of best practice to develop ideas for new ways of working
- Develop skills in listening that help build transformative community relationships
- Engage in Biblical reflection that integrates discipleship with practical mission
- Think through your hopes and dreams for community engagement and shape an action plan to move things forward