Have you ever felt led to change what you’re doing as a job, your role in church or something in your family life? These decisions aren’t always easy to make, especially if it’s something that you’ve done for many years. I believe, as a Christian, that if God has asked you to do it, he will be with you on the journey. About ten years ago God started me off on a change of course which would ultimately lead me to being an Inclusion Champion at the church we were at at the time. Here’s the story of those last ten years….
From the age of 16 I’d been involved as a volunteer in church children’s work, initially being trained up alongside a more experienced leader before running groups myself. About ten years ago whilst I was at a Christian event called Spring Harvest, I felt God asking me to be more involved with people who have additional needs. Now, there had been nothing mentioned about additional needs during any of the sessions at Spring Harvest, but during a time of prayer, I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. I usually find this is when God is trying to tell me something! At the time I was working in a preschool, but had recently applied for a job as a teaching assistant in an ASD unit at a local school. I got the job and assumed that this is what God was on about. How wrong I was – God was only giving me some practical experience of Autism! The job at the ASD unit was only part time, so I popped into another school (where my own children had been pupils) one afternoon a week to help listen to the children read. After about seven months of doing this, the Head Teacher asked me if I wanted a full time job at the school. After much thought and many prayers I accepted the job offer even though I was somewhat confused as I couldn’t see how it would fit in with God’s plan of me working with people with additional needs. What I had forgotten, of course, was that mainstream schools have children with ADHD, Dyslexia, Attachment Difficulties, Dyscalculia, Epilepsy, Autism, etc. So once again God was giving me practical experience – he really does understand how I learn!
In February 2016, I felt that my time at the school was coming to an end. I was starting to struggle with constantly pushing children to reach set targets and pass a variety of tests for the Government. It really came to a head when one of the year 6 children told me that the SATs made them feel stupid. Thankfully, I was able to convince them that they weren’t stupid (at least I hope so!), but I went home questioning why I was doing my job. However, I continued to stay at the school despite my misgivings, but in October 2016 I felt the nudge again to leave and seriously started to think it was God telling me to leave. After much thought, lots of looking at finances and much more prayer, I left my job in December 2016 with no other job lined up. God had given me an initial plan (handing in my resignation), but I had no idea what the next plan was going to be. I had complete peace about it though.
In January 2017, we were visiting a good friend in Birmingham. I told him that I’d quit my job and that I thought God was calling me to work with people with additional needs. He said he’d pray for me – I love having friends who are willing to pray on my behalf! Fairly soon I had emails from him telling me that God’s hand was on me and that he thought I was on the right path. The church Families Worker and I also started talking about what could be done to make our church more inclusive to those with additional needs (as well as praying about it too, of course!). I continued to work with the children in the church Sunday groups and with their toddler group. As a result I found myself going to a children’s and families ministry conference with the Families Worker at the beginning of February 2017 called Hand in Hand. Whilst I was there I felt God confirming what he had told me several years earlier. One of the speakers on stage talked about trusting God in the past, present and future. It really felt like God was saying that I had trusted him about the call to help those with additional needs and that I was to continue to trust him now and in the future. The song ‘Oceans’ was played just before the evening meeting. The first line of the song is “You called me out upon the waters” and it just felt as though God was saying that I’d been talking about it for long enough now and it was time to get out of the boat and start actually making a difference! The Families Worker prayed for me and said that she would arrange a meeting with the church leadership team so that I could share my calling. So a few weeks later, I was sat in front of the leadership team, with the Families Worker by my side, sharing what I felt God had called me to do. They listened quite intently, asked a few questions and then we were told that they would discuss it after we had left. A few days later I had an email asking me to take on the voluntary role of Additional Needs Co-ordinator for the church.
It was a role that I would have for the next two years. During that time I spent some time getting to really know those who had additional needs and finding out what things needed changing so that the church could become more accessible. Some things were quick fixes like buying Bibles that were easier to read, providing fidget toys for the various groups that met on a Sunday morning, making sure that ear defenders were available for those who needed them due to sensory issues, arranging for some people with additional needs to take part in services, etc. Others things took up much more time and a lot more planning. These included making a sensory room, organising training (from Urban Saints) for the church and several other local churches, helping to run an inclusive service, writing an inclusion policy and sensory profile for the church. I also helped set up a monthly get together for parents who had children with additional needs, visited the adults who had additional needs and introduced one page profiles for the children. One of the surprises was that I had some people letting me know that they had additional needs, when they’d never disclosed it to anyone at the church before – I assume it was because they now felt that they were in a place where they could belong. It wasn’t all plain sailing, of course, as change is not always welcomed by everyone, but I was so glad I took on the role of Additional Needs Co-ordinator. It was definitely the best job I’ve ever had (apart from being a Mum, of course!).
In June 2018, we first felt that God was preparing to move us on to a new church. I have to say I was very reluctant as there was so much more I wanted to do on the additional needs front. I’d also recently been diagnosed with depression & anxiety, so really didn’t think it was the right time to move churches and start to get to know new people all over again. However, as always God knew best! We didn’t actually move churches until April 2019 by which time my mental health was improving and we had received many messages and Bible passages from friends which confirmed we were on the right path. When talking to people at the new church, it was never too long before additional needs was mentioned by me! Although, we only met in person for about a year before Covid-19 moved the church online (and, therefore, made church more accessible!) the conversation about inclusion has continued. The PCC (Parochial Church Council) have a copy of the inclusion policy that I wrote. In March 2021 I was asked if I would consider joining the PCC, partly for my insight into accessible church and was subsequently elected on to it later that month. Six months ago, I also started this blog, which now contains several posts about additional needs. I’ve also been asked to be involved with an event and an interview, both linked to additional needs. I know these will take me outside of my comfort zone, but I believe they are what God wants me to do and I know he will be on hand, as he always is, to help me.
Well, that’s my story so far – I’m sure there will be far more to come! In those ten years God has taken me further than I thought possible. I’ve spoken at meetings despite not being a public speaker, I’ve written an inclusion policy despite thinking I wasn’t a writer, challenged people to think differently about whether church is accessible to all and, hopefully, made people feel like they belong within church.
What about you? Is God leading you on to something new? If you think he is, pray about it and get your friends praying too. Stepping outside of your comfort zone to do something new can feel a bit frightening, but God will be with you every step of the way. With God on your side you really can do more than you ever thought possible!
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