2016: A year when things started to shift

This is the time of year when many of us reflect on the year gone by, rejoicing in all of the highs and mourning all of the lows that we have seen or experienced during the last 12 months. We look forward to the year ahead, the opportunities and challenges that are to come.  This is a thoughtful time, a time of reckoning, a time of learning, a time of planning, a time of preparation…

I don’t know what 2016 has been like for you, in many ways it has been an unsettling year for many, but in an area where a great deal of my inspiration and passion lies, and maybe if you are reading this yours does too, it has been a year of extraordinary progress.  For those of us striving to make a difference for children and young people with additional needs or disability, especially in our churches and the communities served by them, this has been a very significant year indeed.

We’ve seen the church, in several key ways, starting to wake up to the needs of children, young people and adults with additional needs or disability within their congregations, and within the communities outside of their four walls, like never before. We’ve seen really important steps taken, initiatives launched, statements released, progress made.  There is much to celebrate as we look back at what has been achieved this year, here’s a few highlights:

Living Fully 2016
On June 23-26, in Rome, the Living Fully Symposium and Conference co-hosted by the Pontifical Council for Culture and The Kairos Forum, brought together persons with disabilities, theologians, clergy, religious, families, and laity for a four-day conference. We shared our stories, prayed together and explored the personal, pastoral and theological dimensions and implications of disability for people to live fully in the life of their congregations and communities.*

Our events identified the unique role and powerful witness that the Church can give in making ‘Living Fully’ possible for everyone.*  A few weeks ago the outcomes of this important conference were announced, and a journal which will contain the valuable work from this important conference was introduced: www.cultura.va/content/cultura/it/pub/rivista/xxiv3.html

*Excerpts from communication released by The Kairos Forum, December 2016

Churches for All ‘No Limits’ 2016
In November, the Churches for All conference, ‘No Limits: Additional Needs, Disability and the Church’, a collective of Christian charities across the UK, focused for the first time on children, young people and families with additional needs and disability, drawing people from churches across Britain together to help create places where all disabled people belong.

We had a range of excellent speakers and seminar leaders contributing to an inspirational and highly motivational conference, which sent delegates out to their home churches engaged, envisioned and equipped to bring about change in their communities. Watch out for more exciting outcomes from this truly memorable day: www.churchesforall.org.uk/conference-appreciation/

Meeting with Archbishop Justin Welby
A significant meeting took place just a few weeks ago which Mat Ray from Livability describes here: “Together with colleagues, I met with the Archbishop of Canterbury to talk about disability and church leadership. I believe that in my lifetime I will receive communion from someone with Down’s syndrome. I believe that we will see disabled people take leadership positions in churches across the country. I believe that we will see a loosening of the taboos around mental health, leaving our leaders able to share their mental health struggles. It may take 10, 20 or 30 years, but I believe that this is going to happen in my lifetime. So the question I ask myself is simply, what is my role; what can I do to make this happen?

 It feels like things are starting to shift. Although most churches still file disability under ‘Too Difficult: Ignore’, there is a growing community of thinkers, leaders and activists who are building networks, developing resources and finding their voices. And it was brilliant to find that the Archbishop of Canterbury agrees and is working to make this future a reality too. Things are shifting. It might take a while, but it’s started.”*

*Excerpt from Facebook post by Mat Ray, Livability, December 2016

Additional Needs Alliance
The Additional Needs Alliance www.facebook.com/groups/additionalneedsalliance is a collective of children’s and youth workers, church leaders, parents, activists and others passionate about helping churches to step up in including and creating places of belonging for children and young people with additional needs or disability. From humble beginnings, when I co-founded this group nearly five years ago with my fellow schemer and campaigner Kay Morgan-Gurr www.kaymorgangurr.com, it has seen significant growth during 2016.

From around 450 members at the beginning of the year we now have 856, and during the year the group has been a lively and informative place to connect with others on the same journey.  Over 1,200 posts, 2,300 comments, and 4,700 likes/reactions during the year give testimony to that!  It shows the need for support networks of this kind, as well as the desire of increasing numbers of people to get involved and make a difference.  Many of us have recently got together to explore how we can provide a menu of resources, training and support for the church across the UK and beyond through 2017; exciting times ahead!

These are just a small selection representing a great many other exciting developments and initiatives that we’ve seen in 2016 as the church steps up in how it responds to, engages with, includes and involves the community of children, young people and adults with additional needs or disability.

2017 promises to be even more exciting, so do follow my blog posts as I hope to bring regular insights and updates to help us all to join together and continue to see massive progress made. There is still much to do, but as Mat Ray says “Things are shifting”

Happy New Year!

Mark
29th December 2016

(Image rights: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

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